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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The Descendants


In showbiz, a famous family name might guarantee a meal ticket but free lunches don’t come easy, writes Saibal Chatterjee
SAIBAL CHATTERJEE | Issue Dated: November 3, 2012, New Delhi
Tags : abhishekh bachchan | amitabh bachchan | imran hashmi | uday chopra | bollywood kids |

In October last year, the Mumbai movie industry was witness to an interesting sideshow. Voluble adman Prahlad Kakkar, speaking on a panel at the 2011 Mumbai Film Festival, dubbed Bollywood a “pop and mom shop”. Tongue firmly in cheek, he quipped: “Abhishek Bachchan has delivered 17 flops in a row but he is still going strong. He is unique – he should be in the Guinness Book of World Records.”

The reaction was predictably prickly and prompt. Bachchan Jr hit back at Kakkar, calling him a “better stand-up comedian than an ad filmmaker”. The usually argumentative ad industry doyen retreated and tendered an apology to the actor. But did he really need to? He had, in the garb of a jocular jibe, only articulated a generally accepted fact of life in tinsel town.

Sons, daughters, nephews and nieces of Bollywood stars, producers and directors are indeed a charmed lot. It is a closed, incestuous industry in which ‘outsiders’ are viewed with suspicion, if not outright contempt, unless the newcomer in question happens to be too gifted to be ignored.

Would Uday Chopra have had an acting career (for whatever it is worth) had he not been producer-director Yash Chopra’s son? Or, would anybody have consistently backed Tusshar Kapoor if he was not Ekta Kapoor’s brother and Jitendra's son? Who you are related to matters in moviedom.

Flops can derail the careers of the best of screen actors, but star sons and nephews are never affected by box office debacles and patchy performances. They keep returning like bad pennies.   

But there is a flip side to this blood-is-quicker-than-bank-balances story. In the movie industry, an actor is only as good as his last film. Star sons and daughters might get a head start in the business owing to their family ties but the box office has absolutely no respect for genealogy.

Even the Bachchan name means little at the multiplex ticket counters.

The likes of Uday Chopra, Tusshar Kapoor, Zayed Khan and Fardeen Khan, to name only a few, do have a longer rope in showbiz than wannabe stars without famous surnames. But when it comes to a sustained run in the sun, it is quite another story.

Unlike politics, where the clout of a powerful parent can ensure the progeny safe passage into the corridors of authority no matter how undeserving the latter might be, the movies have a way of quickly sifting out those that lack talent and tenacity. The big league is reserved only for those who can pull in the crowds Friday after freaky Friday.

But trust the Mumbai movie industry to never give up on a terrible idea. Currently running nationwide are two films that prove that bloodlines always trump meritocracy in Bollywood.

Karan Johar’s Student of the Year features Alia Bhatt (daughter of Mahesh Bhatt and Soni Razdan) and Varun Dhawan (director David Dhawan’s son).

Similarly, the lead actor in Sanjay Gadhvi’s Ajab Gazabb Love is Jackky Bhagnani, producer Vashu Bhagnani’s son. Jackky’s is an interesting case. He made his debut in 2009 with Kal Kissne Dekha. The film had no takers.

So the young man is back to give stardom another shot. Why wouldn’t he? You get a second chance if your doting dad is one bankrolling it and grab it with both your hands. But whether the lad will eventually make the grade – rest assured that you haven’t seen the last of him yet – it will depend entirely on whether he actually possesses the chops.

Movie stardom doesn’t come easy. And when it does, it is a wriggly commodity. It might be in the genes for some but it still needs constant nurturing. Else it slips though the fingers. Nobody proves the adage more eloquently than the Kapoors, Hindi cinema’s first family.

They have been in the spotlight without a break for well over 80 years and all three sons of Prithviraj Kapoor have been hugely successful in various capacities in showbiz. Yet the family of only one, Raj Kapoor, has managed to keep the mantle intact.

Nothing has been offered to them without a struggle. While Shashi Kapoor’s children, Kunal, Karan and Sanjana, did not make much headway in the movie industry, Raj Kapoor’s grandchildren, Karisma, Kareena and Ranbir, have proved that there is more to them than just a storied surname. As the fourth generation of the Kapoor clan, Ranbir has quickly carved a niche for himself, independent of his illustrious grandfather and talented father Rishi Kapoor.

Aamir Khan’s nephew Imran, Anil Kapoor’s daughter Sonam or Mahesh Bhatt’s nephew Emraan Hashmi can fall back on a support system within the family whenever needed but they have to rely on their own instincts when it comes to a crunch.

Acting is a skill-intensive profession and success in this domain hinges on mass acceptance. So a famous family name can at best only help one get a toe in the door. Walking in and finding a foothold isn’t always a cakewalk.

It is significant that two of the men who rule the Bollywood roost today – Shahrukh Khan and Akshay Kumar – had nobody in the industry to prop them up when they arrived on the scene.

One might argue that Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Hrithik Roshan were born in the Mumbai movie industry and received some early help from their fathers. Yet, they got ahead in life on the strength of their own talent.
In the arena of sports, too, skills play a crucial role. Sunil Gavaskar’s son, Rohan, is a case in point. The southpaw was expected to go places but he never got out of the shadow of his iconic father.

Kris Srikkanth’s son, Anirudh, did benefit a tad when his dad was India’s chief selector but that advantage did not translate into long-term gains. New member of the selection committee and Srikkanth’s former teammate Roger Binny, too, has a son, Stuart, who is in the reckoning for a national call-up. But he’d be on his own if he were ever to be thrown into the cauldron of international cricket. 
In showbiz and sports, a known family name might guarantee a ticket to fame, but the meal is rarely, if ever, served up on a platter. It takes some doing to get to the table and grab a seat.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017