Star Spangled Banners: The pedigree bug in Bollywood

chandrima-palFor the industry that thrives on nepotism, cliques and coteries, there is just enough room for famous last names on the hi-tech vanity vansc-paul1

Despite what some electoral analysts would like us to believe, we love our bloodlines. True, the scions of political families have been losing some of their shine, but in the film industry, famous last names continue to make stars out of babies even before they learn how to bawl.

A few weeks ago, Tiger Shroff, son of Jackie and Ayesha Shroff, was heckled on the Internet for his effeminate looks and supposed lack of acting talent. While his mama came to his rescue, hitting back at detractors, the cub took it on his angular chin and smooth chest. Tiger enjoyed a massive launch that for days had leading entertainment supplements, TV anchors and formidable film critics hailing the birth of a new star, while hawing and hemming over whether he can act (a question one has stopped asking for the likes of Akshay Kumar and Salman Khan). But as insiders will tell you, the film was declared a hit, thanks to the aggressive marketing and PR, while Shroff Senior’s goodwill ensured his boy received enough support within the fraternity to soften the public blow.
Barely did we survive the assault when another star kid, Raj Kapoor’s grandson, Armaan Jain, is being foisted upon us. He has his brother-in-law Saif Ali Khan as producer, while A.R. Rahman has composed for the debut film. Star cousins and uncles and aunts, Bachchans, Khans and Kapoors have already anointed him as the next big thing. Does it really matter what the audience thinks of him?
Fathers and sons have always had a special relationship in Bollywood. In 1981, Rajendra Kumar set the standard for this bond when he produced Love Story to launch his son Kumar Gaurav. In 2000, it was Papa Roshan doing the same for Hrithik. It has been a tough act to follow, but something that has not really deterred a Kumar Taurani or David Dhawan, from trying to replicate the formula.
c-paul4Even Aamir Khan could not resist dipping his fingers into his nephew Imran Khan’s debut film. The daughters, few and far between, are no less privileged, with Sonakshi Sinha and Sonam Kapoor running neck to neck when it comes to leveraging their lineage. Sonakshi for the longest time answered every question with what her father would have to say about it. The last few years have been rather interesting for the film industry. On the one hand, you’ve hand production houses such as Yash Raj Films and Dharma Productions, discovering and encouraging new talent and actors such as Irrfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Rajkumar Rao, Sushant Singh Rajput and Ayushmann Khurrana who have garnered both critical nod and audience love.
On the other hand, you have star kids being launched in expensive vanity productions and big marketing monies being lavished on pushing them to the top of the pile.
For every Ranveer Singh, there is an Armaan Jain; for every Huma Qureshi, there is a Sonam Kapoor. In other words, for every outsider making good their talent, enterprise and luck, there is one who is happy getting a little ahead on the back of a famous surname. While a young Varun does show some potential, he also runs the risk of being trapped in his father’s dream – that of churning out commercial films with his own Govinda. While we all know about Ranbir and Sonam’s high-decibel blue debut, how many of us remember which was Rajkumar Rao or Nawazuddin’s first film?c-paul2

The magic of Bollywood is in its many stories of second chances, missed opportunities, nobodies from small towns courting success with a new name, identity, bangla (bungalow), gari (car). It is about the waiter who now flies in a private jet, the son of an activist who now owns the country’s most well-known landmark after the Gateway and the Taj Mahal and the regular guy from suburban Bombay who moved from overcrowded local trains to reigning the marquee in the 80s.
But the next few months will see yet another pedigreed lot take their positions before the camera – Suniel Shetty’s daughter Athiya, Aditya Pancholi’s troubled son Sooraj, J.P. Dutta’s daughter Nidhi and Vinod Khanna’s son Sakshi. For the incestuous industry that thrives on nepotism, cliques and coteries, there is just enough room for famous last names on the hi-tech vanity vans. Evidently, the film industry continues to draw the lines between the stars and the actors. With some exceptions of course.

(Chandrima Pal has been writing on society and lifestyle in Mumbai and is the author of ‘A Song For I’)