Readers Write In #87: Why nepotism might be good for Indian cinema… and Kangana Ranaut (?)

Posted on July 14, 2019


(by Sairam Yadavilli)

It was the summer of 2016 and Paul Pogba had just moved back to Manchester United for a then world record fee of just under 90 million pounds. And it was the just the beginning of skyrocketing prices for half decent players. Now considered a steal, it was looked at with much ridicule back then. Since that transfer, we have had some mind-numbing numbers, 96 million pounds for a 20-year-old Dembele, 105 million for a bench warming Coutinho, 160 million for a teenage Mbappe, and almost 200 million for the always injured Neymar, being the more significant among those.

During the same time, in a different part of the world, a different kind of industry was raking in the “moolah” – Bollywood. The only difference being, the former was based on talent, and the latter, not so much. Up until 2015, some of the highest grossing Indian films were 3 Idiots, EkTha Tiger, Chennai Express, Dhoom 3, Bang! Bang!, Happy New Year, Kick, PK, Bajirao Mastani, Dilwale, Prem Ratan DhanPayo, ,Baahubali: The Beginning, BhajrangiBhaijan and Sultan. The formula for a successful movie (equating success with money, resulting in profits, and therefore well-fed families) was simple – have a Khan star in them. Since then, however, we have seen movies like Dangal, Tiger Zinda Hain, Secret superstar, Baahubali: The Conclusion, Thugs of Hindustan, Simmba, Andhadhun, Padmaavat (Padmaavati – just to piss off some people), Sanju, 2.0 and Uri. While some of them still had the Khans, people were also open to watching other “stars”. However, people might argue that these movies also cost a bomb to make, and I fully agree with that argument. Therefore, even a look at the most profitable movies threw up either “stars” or “star-kids”. This should have actually sealed the argument. But nothing is ever so simple in a complex country such as India (now don’t call me anti-national).

I am not sure how many of you have heard of this company called “Reliance”. Now, when its Chairman Ambani Sr. passed away, Ambani Jr. was made the Chairman, and his brother the vice-chairman.

Let’s look at another company – the TATAs. First it was Tata super Sr., followed by Tata Sr., followed byTata’s nephew, followed by Tata Jr., and then the Tata that we all see today.

But this is not nepotism, is it?

These companies affect the lives of over a billion people, as they have their hands in everything from petroleum to powder, from shoes to steel, and from cricket to cinema. And yet, we are more interested in who is cast in “Housefull 567” or “Golmaal returns yet again for the thousand and twentieth time with the same old nonsense that is passed off as comedy”. And do not even get me started on politics.

There is this point of view that is very prevalent – “Cinema is Art”. Of course, it is. But as far as most production houses are concerned, cinema is business. And Business is as much art as cinema is. The bottom line is money, and of course profits. There are directors, producers, distributors, financers, cameramen, makeup artists, music, lightning and all the people associated with the 64 art forms, and their families to feed. And so, irrespective of how much someone loves cinema, no one is going to make movies if they see empty cinema halls.With the superstars’ ever-increasing remunerations, the increasing production costs, the need to shoot every song in a “new location in some corner of Europe”, film makers need a return of investment. And with the increase in content, people can now pick and choose what to see. So, the only ‘category of people’ that are not too ‘pricey’ and yet can realistically pull in some money are the “star-kids”.  But wait, aren’t people going to come and see you and me running around a tree? Would they prefer to see SRK’s son over me? Really?

And then comes the biggest argument of all – Talent. Coincidentally, Sachin’s son is talented enough to castle English batsmen. Also, coincidentally, Arthur Waugh’s sons were talented enough to write “Island in the Sun” and “Brideshead Revisited”. While genetics has not been able to explain “talent” very convincingly, there is tons of evidence to it.

Also, the fact that a person growing up around people belonging to a certain art form or profession is bound to pick up a thing or two.

And finally, content is king, and audience – kingmakers. People always decide the “Superstar of the Friday”. While having influential families can give you a break or two, and sometimes twenty, there is only so many movies they can make if the audience is not accepting of them. No one has that much money to burn.

So, let the star-kids try their hand. And hope that the profits go into making “small” or “independent” films too. For, if the producers finally need to find a “Kangana”, they would need to humor a “Kapoor”.

And now, I will wait my turn and hope for a producer/director to give me a break.