Moimeme asked me about Ranbir Kapoor and why he is still getting work, and some one else asked me what I thought about Pratalekha’s recent interview and how she struggles to get work. And then October came out promoted on Varun Dhawan’s name primarily, and flopped. And I think I figured out what the issue is, it is the problem of the 3rd film.
Nepotism works in hundreds of complicated ways through out Indian society, not just in films. Just, for example, if you arrange your daughter’s marriage as part of a business deal, is the deal then nepotism (since your partner is now your son-in-law) or is the nepotism a result of the deal? Which came first?
Within the film industry, as I explained in elaborate detail, we have to remember it is still essentially a family business. And in a family business, you turn to family first. They are free labor, for one thing. For another, you want to set your son or daughter up in the same profession as you, make sure they are “settled” in life and help them get their start. And finally, you can trust them. You are putting enormous responsibility on their shoulders and you want to make sure they won’t let you down.
In film, this translates to Emraan Hashmi making a ton of films for Bhatt productions because he is family and they don’t have to pay him (or at least, not much). Or it translates to Rakesh Roshan giving his son a big launch in order to set him up and send him on his way to a successful life. Or it translates to Yash Chopra choosing to cast the son of his old friend Sharmila Tagore in Parampara because he knows him and knows his family and knows he won’t let him down.
(Parampara! Such a bad movie!)
There is the final element, more and more important lately, of security in your film promotions. The children of stars, like for instance Jhanvi Kapoor, have name recognition right off the bat. And face recognition in most cases, from all the candid shots of them at weddings and family photospreads in magazines and instagram photos the media reposts. A big help with film promotions.
So, let’s look at Dhadhak as an example. Because of the script (young lovers) it would work best with two newcomers. Dharma productions bought the rights and planned a major release. If you are risking this much money on a film that HAS to have newcomers in it, you will want to use people who you know well through family connections, who will appreciate the opportunity and maybe not charge as much, who you like and enjoy being able to do them this favor of helping them get started, who you can trust to do the best job they can or else you will call their parents, and finally as a bonus, who already have name and face recognition in the audience.
So, fine, I have no issues with nepotism within that first film. There are reasonable reasons for a producer to make that choice, logical and sound business practices. And more importantly, that first film isn’t impossible for someone to get without nepotism. Maybe not a Dharma productions big budget thing, but a smaller film with a riskier role, yes. Taapsee Pannu, for instance. She was already acting down south, but her Hindi break came because she agreed to a tricky role in Pink and did such a good job in such a good film that she immediately made her mark. And that is a film that you could not get through nepotism, would in fact lose if you were related to someone. No one wants to cast someone they watched grow up play an attempted rape victim, no one from the audience wants that either, you want a total unknown that people can come to fresh, both the director and the audience.
But then let’s look at the second film. The second film is a result of the first film. The first film was glossy and big budget (that’s why they wanted the familiar name to headline it, that’s why your parents lobbied to get you the part, that’s why the producer wanted to be sure he wouldn’t be throwing all this money away on someone he couldn’t be sure would show up and do the role). Because the first film was glossy and big budget, most likely it was a hit. Doesn’t matter how your performance was, the film was a hit because of other elements, and suddenly your name is everywhere.
So you get that second film. The film based on the new name recognition and so on that you have from the first film. This may not come from a producer who has any connection to your family, it’s not technically nepotism, it’s more sort of nepotism once removed. You got this film on your own “merits”, but of course those merits were only put on display for the world thanks to that first movie that you got thanks to the family you were born into.
This film comes to you easily, but it is also your true test. This is the film the industry will be watching to see what you can do now that the training wheels are off. This is where people disappear never to be seen again. Pratiek Patil, for instance, he had that really remarkable performance in Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na, and then he signed Ekk Deewana Tha, it flopped, he was out of the major leading hero parts for ever. Neal Nitin Mukesh, same thing, he had Johnny Gaddar which was a great launch and then followed it up with Aa Dekhen Zara which flopped terribly, and from then on he was stuck in supporting roles.
And if you hit, this is the film that takes you to a new level, that actually does show your merit. Alia chose to sign an extremely challenging role after her easy guaranteed launch film and used the year long shoot to hone her acting abilities, by the time Highway came out, she had shown that she had the ability to succeed as an actress with or without the name. Sonakshi Sinha went a different way, chose a blizzard of action heroine roles all in one year, establishing her as a good action heroine and an actress who was ready to take those roles and not look for something more. She made her choice and built the career she wanted on her own merit too.
And this second film is also easy (well, not impossible) for an unconnected person to get. Kangana Ranaut, for instance, took a difficult job in a cheap film in Gangster and did a great job. And then Woh Lamhe with the same cast and producer, a couple stupid low budget things, an ensemble, and then Fashion which was her real “second” film, the one that was signed after Gangster came out and let her prove that she really had something. Once you have that first film with the unusual role that would be more likely to go to an outsider than an insider, you can get that second role based on the performance you already had in the first film and can prove that you were more than just a flash in the pan.
(Taapsee got a whole bunch of small roles and then Naam Shabana)
This is where nepotism starts to bother me. The first film, sure, there are certain roles that will just always go to insiders. The second film, that builds off of the first film. Yes it’s not “fair”, but then life isn’t fair, every career has these things that make it harder. And producers and directors have the right to cast whoever they want if they think it is best for the over all film, even if the reason it might be best is something like “her father will help put up the money” or “her famous name will help with promotions” or “his first movie was bought and paid for by his father but it was a hit, so I’m gonna take advantage of that.”
But the 3rd film, why cast the connected one in the 3rd film? At this point, they are no longer new and cheap, or new and exciting. They are established. They can take the roles that are just good roles, not particularly written for them or anything. But that also means that those same exact roles could be played by an outsider actor. One who doesn’t have a set persona to match the script, or a famous name to help with promotions, but can play the role and help support the film as a whole.
It’s these films that start to burn me. It’s limiting the industry to always only cast from the same small group. And it’s not fair to outsider actors. Give Alia Student of the Year, sure, I don’t care. Give her Highway too, she had dozens of offers and she chose wisely there. Give her Udta Punjab too, she was brilliant in that and her baby face was perfect for the role. And Humpty Sharma also, just right and built on the chemistry she already established with Varun. And then of course Badrinath also. But Shaandar, 2 States, Dear Zindagi, Kapoor & Sons, those roles could have been played by any talented young actress. She did a good job with them, but someone else might have been able to do a better job. And the films could have survived on their own without needing a big name as a draw in that particular part. Kapoor & Sons, playing the career woman torn between two brothers, that could have been Kirti Kulhari. Dear Zindagi, that could have been Sayani Gupta as the conflicted young woman.
(Sayani Gupta. She had the break out role in Margarita with a Straw, was wonderful in Fan and Baar Baar Dekho, but somehow can’t break out of the “scene stealer” position to the “top of the casting list for the heroine” position)
If a film is strong and you are casting a role that isn’t carrying the majority of the promotions, there is no reason to cast a known name. And the “known name”, at this point in the career, is the gift of nepotism. If you are an outsider, you didn’t get that launch film, and you didn’t get the follow up film, and you don’t get the FilmFare interviews because people are curious about you thanks to your parents, and you don’t get the “candid” shots at family parties blowing up on social media, all you have is your performances and whatever career you can build for yourself.
And here’s where “nepotism” makes me angry. It’s not the family helping out their kid. It’s not that first producer doing a favor for friends. It’s not that second producer building on the big launch either. It’s the 3rd producer, who could pick any actress or actor in the world for this particular part and not effect the success of their film, and yet they are so tunnel visioned that they cannot think to look outside of the same 5 names. It’s nepotism 3 times removed, they aren’t a friend or family, but they are blind to the artificiality of the support that friends and family have given this person.
And this brings me to Ranbir Kapoor. He got the launch film, and the film flopped but his name and face became known to the world from the promotions, he came out of it okay. So he got his follow up film, Bachne Ae Haseeno which built heavily on his family history in order to turn his name to the optimal advantage. And it was a hit.
(This is a ridiculous effort to sell Ranbir to the audience. But it’s fine, because it worked, people turned out to see Rishi Kapoor’s son and discovered it was a clever script with great songs and good actresses. The producers used Ranbir, his fame and name is the only reason this film worked)
His 3rd film was Wake Up Sid. Which he got because he was best friends in a deep muse-artist way with the writer/director Ayan Mukherjee. But in a larger sense, I am sure othat film got the green light thanks to Ranbir’s name. If he had just been Ranbir Smith who was best friends with Ayan Mukherjee, then the film might never have got funded, or Ayan might have been pressured to pick someone “known” instead.
And then his 4th film was Ajab Prem Ki Gazab Kahani. Which I’m not saying was a bad movie, or that he did a bad job, but it was a strong script with a good director, many actors could have done well in that part. Maybe even brought something special and fresh to the film that Ranbir did not.
Ranbir had a string of hits after that, about half being films only he could have pulled off, and half being films that any good actor could have turned into a success. And then he had an equally long string of flops. And I am frustrated by both of these things!
In the string of hits, at least some of those guaranteed films could have gone to someone else. For example, Amit Sadh managed to get launched in a risky lower budget film Kai Po Che and then struggled for 2 years to get another role. He could have been in Anjaana Anjaani instead of Ranbir and maybe turned that flop into a hit with his new energy. Ayushmann Khurrana was stuck in a series of terrible scripts post-Vicky Donor. He could have been great in Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year. Ranbir had to do Barfi, and he had to do Rockstar. But some of those other movies could have had a different actor in them, they didn’t need the Ranbir star name or the Ranbir particular acting style. They were his hits, but they cold have been someone else’s hits.
(Ranbir did a good job here. But picture Ayushmann instead. It works, right? This isn’t a role that HAD to be Ranbir, the way Rockstar did)
And then there are the flops. Which are even worse, because they are Ranbir’s flops, but maybe if they had been with another actor they wouldn’t have been flops. Besharam with Ali Zafar might have been a hit. Tamasha with Nawazuddin Siddiqui would have been so odd that people would have had to pay attention.
And yet he STILL keeps being offered movies! I’m not going to make the mistake of blaming Ranbir for taking films that are offered to him. He clearly works hard on every part and commits to every film. And he chooses his scripts with care, only taking projects he cares deeply about.
What frustrates me is the people on the other end, the ones who don’t bother running through the list of every possible actor who might be best for their film, but just go “nope, gotta be a big name, Ranbir was just in the gossip columns, we’ll use him.”
So, I’ll make this simple since Karan Johar is the one who keeps coming up in this stories. Karan Johar casting Alia in Student of the Year-fine, okay, he saw something in her and knew her parents would keep her up to scratch and if he had to cast a teenage unknown actress in that role, why not use one who could bring a name to help with promotions and could be relied on to show up for work every day because her Mom would bring her?
Karan Johar casting Arjun Kapoor in 2 States-that’s okay too, Arjun had a nice high profile launch in Ishaqzaade, no reason Karan shouldn’t try to pick up on that to help his little rom-com.
Karan Johar casting Varun Dhawan in Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania-it was the perfect Varun role, there really was no one else who could play it. Karan could have honestly considered hundreds of actors and still landed on Varun.
Karan Johar casting Alia in 2 States-No. It wasn’t a role that made sense for her, she was playing a good 4 years older than she really was which was also the same age that most young struggling actresses are. It had a really strong script, good songs, and the name recognition from Arjun Kapoor and Chetan Bhagat. Any number of actresses would have been more appropriate for the role, and would not be needed for the promotions or any other considerations outside of being right for the role, he should have cast one of them.
(At the very least he could have found an actual southerner! Deepika for instance)
So, that’s what bothers me. The 3rd role. The one that isn’t written just to launch you, and the one that isn’t a direct follow up to take advantage of your new name recognition, but the one that could have really gone to any actor, known or unknown, and is just going to you because the industry is in the habit of only thinking of the same few actors.