Let’s move on from this simplistic debate of nepotism in Bollywood

Anurag Minus Verma

anurag minus verma 07 2020For the last few weeks, nepotism and insider/outsider has become the trending topic. As an outsider who is working in the Mumbai industry for more than 5 years, I would like to add that the debate of nepotism is a simplistic debate. There are much deeper issues which are plaguing the industry and if you are genuinely interested in reforming the industry then please consider these points.

1. Real harassers of new outsiders are mostly powerful outsiders

These so-called outsiders after gaining power act even far worse than nepotistic people. These outsiders then become casting agents, senior film editors, cinematographers, heads of production houses, etc. They then harass outsiders in their exclusive non-nepotistic ways. Case in point: Kangana Ranaut after becoming powerful in Bollywood might not give chances to talented outsiders. She has employed her family members in her production house. Even many co-stars (outsiders) from Manikarnika have complained of harassment by Kangana where their roles were edited. [1]

2. The main problem with Bollywood is that it operates as an ‘unorganized sector’

There aren’t any exact rules and regulations by which you can be assured to be paid with respect to any industrial rates for your labor. This happens a lot with freelancers where they are paid random amounts. Also, there aren’t rules as to who will get to direct/act in the film and talent is the least important criteria. It’s all a cozy club. This results in gross inequality and a lack of chances for people.

Let me throw an important question here: Is it a good idea to nationalize Bollywood? This idea may sound over the top but let's ponder a bit over it.

Nationalization can open up new avenues and ensure reservation/diversity/scholarship measures.

For instance, if you think that nationalization will hamper freedom and artistic control then think of FTII. This premier institute is controlled by the government. It still remains one of the top-most film schools of this continent where people from all backgrounds arrive to fulfill their dreams of pursuing filmmaking. It also has schemes of reservation and scholarship for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. We are well aware of how FTII is a pioneer in producing some of the best cinematic works in the country. Such diversity ensures excellence. Reservation and representation are the real ‘merit’ and it must be seriously considered for the overall development of the nation.

One argument against this idea is that government intervention may bring censorship but there has always been censorship in the film. Every film in the end has to be approved by the censor board which is named as - Central Board of Film Certification. No film can be released without getting certificates from it.

However, I understand that there are many issues with nationalization but these are still lesser than what is happening in Bollywood at the moment. Without any radical changes one can’t expect any change or diversity. Especially when this whole sector is firmly controlled by a handful of powerful families who operate on their whims and fancies.  

Nationalization isn’t even a wild demand. The same demand has been long standing for the BCCI.

In the West, UCLA releases Hollywood diversity reports to ask moral questions. [2] In India can Bollywood reform itself and understand the need for diversity? The answer is definitely NO. So far its records have been abysmal, to say the least. How about making this a rule where participation is ensured?

Bollywood is not just an entertainment industry but also an opinion-making sector. Films influence culture, behaviour, view points and national memory. Then why should there be a monopoly of only one kind of culture?

Take the example of some of the bollywood films: Shah Rukh Khan flaunts his janeu in Zero, Dhanush plays a Tamil Brahmin in Raanjhanaa. Madhavan plays Manu Sharma in Tanu Weds Manu. In the Karan Johar universe, all the beautiful people wearing swanky Manish Malhotra costumes are Chopras, Kapoor and, yes, Malhotras. You’ll never find a character named Ram Jatav or Poonam Valmiki or Priyanka Meghwal.

Representation of marginalized cultures (who are in majority as per population) are mostly done by elite upper caste filmmakers who look at things from their own Savarna gaze. (Example- Article 15).

To fill this gap we need more diverse voices from different backgrounds. What can be the best way to do this ?

3. The industry is still not the safest place for women.

Many still receive creepy messages/advances from producers/creatives. Mind you many of these creeps are not all products of nepotism. Many are in fact self-made creeps who have somehow made it 'big' in Bollywood. There aren’t strict guidelines that can assure that immediate actions will be taken on the complaints. Even people who were named in the 'Me Too' campaign faced no consequences whatsoever. [3] This again is the direct result of the cozy club structure of Bollywood. Can we allow one of the most coveted sectors to go completely berserk and not come under any rules and regulations ?

Perhaps by making some rules and with radical intervention, we can bring some structure which can un-mess this thing called Bollywood?

That, in my opinion, would be the greatest tribute to Sushant Singh.



[1] https://www.theweek.in/news/entertainment/2019/02/01/was-hurt-manikarnika-actress-role-cut-down.html

[2] https://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/2020-hollywood-diversity-report

[3] https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/vikas-bahl-super-30-me-too_in_5d1b3408e4b03d611641bc73



Anurag Minus Verma is a writer and filmmaker based in Mumbai. He finished his Masters in Arts and Aesthetics from JNU, Delhi. He also studied at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. He is the author of the book : I love you but only on weekends.


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