Without a godfather

Mar 13, 2013, 07:44 IST | Asha Mahadevan

A Bollywood break without connections may be incredibly hard, but out of towners can gatecrash this party and do it in style, like this panel discussion showed

Nepotism rules in Bollywood and has been ruling for a long time now,” admitted Karan Johar in his opening remarks at a panel discussion called, ‘Gatecrashers Who made the Party: The Out of Towners in Bollywood’ at FICCI Frames 2013 yesterday, held at the Renaissance hotel in Powai. The annual three-day meet is Asia’s convention on the business of media and entertainment. It aims to bring together industry leaders to discuss various issues.

Karan Johar, Sujoy Ghosh, Gauri Shinde, Kabir Khan and Amit Sadh
Karan Johar, Sujoy Ghosh, Gauri Shinde, Kabir Khan and Amit Sadh. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

Those on the panel with Karan Johar for the discussion on Gatecrashers were Sujoy Ghosh (‘Kahaani’), Gauri Shinde (‘English Vinglish’), Kabir Khan (‘Ek Tha Tiger’) and Amit Sadh (‘Kai Po Che’). They, said Johar, are some of the few people from outside the industry who have made their mark in Bollywood in recent years.

Kabir Khan makes a point
Kabir Khan makes a point

“I am what you can call the brand ambassador of nepotism,” said Johar to much laughter from the audience. “For me, moderating this discussion is actually quite ironic.” For Khan, being on the panel meant, “life had come full circle”. Recalling his struggling days he said, “Back in 2002-03, I would come to FICCI to meet the producers and discuss my script (of his first film Kabul Express).

Gauri Shinde
Gauri Shinde

I would get a pass through a TV channel I worked for because I did not have the money for the fee. The producers on panels would say they are looking for new scripts and I thought by the end of the week, my film would have a producer. But there is quite a gap between what was said and what actually happened.

Karan Johar without the coffee
Karan Johar without the coffee

Yash Raj Films and Dharma Productions were the only production houses I didn’t approach but Adi (Aditya Chopra) got my script from someone else and agreed to make the film. It took me 1.5 years to find a producer but when I look back and listen to others’ stories of their struggle, I think my struggle wasn’t so bad.”

Amit Sadh knows they're listening
Amit Sadh knows they're listening

Unlike Khan, Ghosh did not even know FICCI existed, he said. “It took me three years to make my first film. But I didn’t expect it to be an easy process. I kept at it.” That begs the question, how much is talent and how much is destiny? Said Shinde, “It is definitely both. Being at the right place at the right time helps.”

Sujoy Ghosh says his piece
Sujoy Ghosh says his piece

For Sadh, it was a very tough journey. “I had gone for an audition and when I walked into the room, this person, I won’t name him, I don’t want to embarrass him, said I don’t have the ‘IT’ factor. Then he started checking my hair. I was like is this about talent or not?

I went home that day and cried. I was ready to give it up. I had sold my house so I could study acting at Lee Strasburg Institute (in New York). I was ready to go back and do some kind of illegal job there because I had been on TV by then and I couldn’t now start working at a MacDonald’s here. Kabir encouraged me a lot during that time,” said Sadh.

Considering how easy star kids have it weren’t there feelings of angst, Johar asked the panellists. Said Khan, “Not for me but I did see it in others who were struggling for many years. Especially when the kids from film families make films which we think are not up to the mark.” Added Johar, “There’s a lot of delusion among film families.

My mother thought I would be a good hero. Don’t you think there should be some kind of self-policing?” Shinde was the first to agree with Johar. “Yes. If you have tried it two times, three times and it hasn’t worked, get another job! You may be blind to the fact that you can be a better art director or a costume designer instead.

If they don’t self-police, then maybe we should have a committee that does it for them. The kids should try looking in the mirror and see whether they can act or not and then tell themselves, I can’t do it.” Added Khan, “It’s not possible to look in the mirror and say that. But yes, a kid from a film family gets a second chance, a third chance if their first film doesn’t work. If you are from outside and your first film doesn’t work, you are out.”

Ghosh however had a different take on this. “I believe in nepotism. If I am a parent, I want to give my kid the best,” he said. “In defence of the film kids I would like to say that age is a huge factor. I know that if I don’t make it by a certain date, my family won’t have anything to eat. These kids are young, they have a little luxury. So we should let them be delusional and let them try. Maybe it will work for them, maybe it won’t.”

SRK, yeah
No discussion about out of towners making it big in Bollywood is complete without a mention of Shah Rukh Khan. He is of course the biggest success story in recent years. With Karan Johar on stage it was but natural that a question regarding King Khan was one of the first to be asked by a member of the audience when the floor was thrown open for interaction.

When asked to recount any tales of his struggle that Shah Rukh may have told him, Johar instead described his first meeting with Shah Rukh. “Anand Mahendroo was making a TV serial Indradhanush. He wanted a fat kid for a role and he called up my mother because he had heard she has a fat son. I reached the venue for the audition sharp at 9 am. Anand Mahendroo was busy in another room. At around 11 am, this guy walks in, sits down and starts doing a crossword.

He drinks several cups of tea till 4 pm when Anand Mahendroo finally comes out of his room. He tells me to wait for a couple of minutes because he wants to talk to the other guy first. And this guy tells him, “I came here to tell you I don’t want to do your show.” Anand Mahendroo is shocked. “It is the lead role! You have been sitting here for so many hours just to tell me you don’t want to do the role?” And this guy shrugs and says, “Yes. I don’t want to do TV anymore, I want to do films.

Your tea is good and I didn’t have to be anywhere else so...” He leaves and then Anand Mahendroo tells me, “You know that guy? He is Shah Rukh Khan, that TV actor.” So you see, Shah Rukh didn’t struggle. He knew he wanted to be a star, said it, put it out in the universe and achieved it. It shows that self-confidence and self-esteem can do wonders.”

In response to another question, Johar said that if it had not been for his family connections, he wouldn’t have been in films. “I would have been a fashion designer or in advertising or done something else creative but not films. I don’t think I would have had the gumption at 23 to get out of my comfort zone and enter films.

If my dad was not a producer and if he had not known Yashji (Yash Chopra), and if it hasn’t been for this combination of nepotism, I wouldn’t have been in films.” The panellists did agree that there is a gap between those from out of the industry who create content and those within the industry who can execute that content. Said Kabir Khan, “YRF tried to bridge the gap with a script cell where anyone could submit their script. But that ended up causing more trouble as people started accusing YRF of plagiarism. They had to shut down the cell.”

None of the four panellists regretted their struggle. Said Shinde, “You have to believe in yourself and then find someone who believes in you. If you have a good story to tell or can contribute in any way, you can be a part of the industry.” Agreed Ghosh, “The industry has been very kind. Even when I was rejected, I felt I was a part of the industry. I know half the industry because they have rejected me. See, no one is going to hand you anything on a platter. You have to believe in yourself and keep at it.” Sadh too said, “There were times when I had my doubts. But you have to look in the mirror and tell yourself, ‘I can make it. I am the best’.”

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