Recently, Nepotism has been a controversial topic in Bollywood.

Some think of it as a corrupt and illegitimate process that steps upon more deserving competitors to reward the mediocre often based on family connections. Others think of it as an unseemly but inevitable path taken out of human nature. So what really is it? And what are the far-reaching implications of nepotism?

Nepotism is simply defined as the practice of favouring particular people on the mere basis of who their family is. It is essentially the opposite of meritocracy which focuses on those with more merit in the field.
Now the answer might seem clear. Of course, nepotism is bad. Of course, people should be chosen on the weight of their skills, not upon the popularity of their parents.

However, things aren’t always just black or white. For now, let’s restrict ourselves to nepotism in the film industry alone. Movie sales largely rely on three factors- the script, the main actors’ marketability and the advertisement of the film.

Introducing new faces into the industry requires some complex decisions. Even if the actor has stellar performance and the script is praiseworthy, sales remain low if no one is aware of the actor’s presence. Take for example the debut of actor Vicky Kaushal in the much-lauded film Masaan. Regardless of its impeccable acting and incredible reviews, it was a flop at the Box office. It only made a paltry 4 crores.

On the other hand, we have movies like Student of the Year 2, which also welcomed three new faces. Despite its pathetic plot, over the top sequences and poor acting skills, it raked in around 100 crores.

At the end of the day, film houses are working for money. Let’s look at the differences between these two movies. Student of the Year 2 relied largely on its star cast- children of formerly famous actors. Masaan on the other hand relied on the skill and expertise of the writers and actors. And one emerged a clear victor in the case of sales.

The fact is that while films attempt to make art and push creative boundaries, most of all they cater to an audience. For a ‘star kid’, companies don’t need to invest much in marketing the actor as the audience is already familiar with the actor for years. Most also attach the prestige and popularity of the parent to the child. Unfair as it is, these actors don’t need to be excellent to bring in large sales due to their parentage, and that is a huge advantage.

Actors from non-famous backgrounds will have to solidify themselves in the industry before they are financially successful and can bring revenue from their meritocracy. And even that often requires a stroke of luck, exceptional acting skills, and perhaps even extraordinary looks.

It makes sense that companies back children of famous individuals more readily than they do for newcomers. Think about it yourself. If Mark Zuckerberg’s child comes up with an app to sell in the market, they will be able to procure investors and funding a lot easier than the average Joe will. Even if he graduated from Harvard.

Moreover, this process is not restricted to the film industry. In a collectivistic country like India, family legacy is everything. It is common to get employment in India based on ‘family connections’. The individual might be qualified but networking is everything, and often a good word is more valuable than a loaded resume.

Family legacy becomes a ‘brand’ that people learn to associate with, and this tends to be largely beneficial in industries that require the support of the masses. You will be hard-pressed to find nepotism in the medical industry or the engineering industry because these fields employ based on individual merits. However, when it comes to politics, films and the media, you will find an abundance of family businesses.

However, nepotism only goes as far as the initial movies of the actor. On average, the audience is interested in ‘star kids’ for about 2-3 movies, before the excitement is dampened. From here, the actor needs to stand on their own. The Hindi film industry has seen multiple children of celebrities being shot down into oblivion after repeated poor performances.

At the same time, there are numerous celebrities who aren’t from film backgrounds but after having proved their worth, have become big names in the industry like Priyanka Chopra, Shahrukh Khan, and Anushka Sharma.
To conclude, nepotism does exist in Bollywood. It does limit the opportunities of newcomers while giving the descendants of established stars an enormous advantage. However, this isn’t all-consuming and only really extends to the initial aspect of an actors career.

Moreover, if we really wish to eradicate the system as a whole and ensure meritocracy reigns supreme, it is important to remember that the audience holds the power here. The day the general public ends their fascination with the children of celebrities and treats them like normal individuals, that’s the day that nepotism ends.

  • Adyesha Singhdeo