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Bollywood nepotism debate: Heeramandi, Sharmin Segal and Sanjay Leela Bhansali |

Bollywood nepotism debate: Heeramandi, Sharmin Segal and Sanjay Leela Bhansali |
Bollywood nepotism debate: Heeramandi, Sharmin Segal and Sanjay Leela Bhansali |


Nepotism in Bollywood has long been the subject of heated debate. The industry, known for its dynasties and influential families, has often faced backlash for perpetuating inequality and limiting opportunities for outsiders. While some argue that nepotism is a natural consequence of family lineage, others condemn it as unfair and detrimental to meritocracy. The issue has attracted particular attention following controversies involving child stars and their privileged access to opportunities.
A blast from the past
In 2017, when Kangana Ranaut had graced the Koffee couch with Karan, she had touched on the subject of preferential treatment and named Karan as the flagbearer of nepotism. The apparent reference being that the director usually cast only on child stars. Years later, Karan Johar said he “grew up to accept” trolling and that “nepotism made me a jaani dushman”.
Sharing his thoughts on the subject, the filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt says: The word nepotism was coined as a tool to bring the mighty Bollywood industry to its knees. And of course, there are countless hungry, shame-hungry, adulation-seeking young people. India is a young country, they are all there. So this kind of labeling appeals to them. »
Bollywood's latest tryst with nepotism
The Constitution arrived on OTT this month, bringing with it its opulent settings, archaic ambience, fervor of patriotism, poignant literature and a hornet's nest of nepotism waiting to be stirred up! Sharmin Seghal, who essayed one of the central characters, was criticized for her lack of expression and trolled just because she was the director's niece. She literally had the whole Heeramandi (read: cast) rallied to the defense, but the damage was done and the public understood SLB's nepotistic gesture!
Did you also know that nepotism is present in Heeramandis Shahi Mahal?
Interestingly, Heeramandi's crux also toed the line of nepotism, with Manisha Koirala aka Mallika Jaan keenly wanting her own daughter Alamzeb to inherit the status of Huzur (chief courtesan) of Shahi Mahal. But beyond the screens, this debate led trolls to question a non-conformist filmmaker like Sanjay Leela Bhansalis vision and shred a performance, little by little. It seems that SLB may not have planned this free ride for its series, but nothing escapes the audience.


Is it fair to question the vision of a seasoned filmmaker?
Not only Sharmin, but even Sanjay Leela Bhansali is questioned about his judgment regarding casting his niece, who happens to be an actress, in Heeramandi. While recognizing that the power to make or break a star lies with the audience, Mahesh Bhatt ironically says that a filmmaker should not be ashamed! Filmmakers can give an opportunity to those in their own fraternity or lineage. Yes, access is a success and the debate will continue until the cows come home. But in my opinion, a person who truly has star material will somehow make their way to the top, the industry is full of glorious stories of people who came from no background and no godfather. So reducing this debate to an absolute yes or no is childish. When you isolate an incident like this and go deep to tear apart a renowned filmmaker who has a glorious history of getting the best out of actors, then you are doing a lot of harm by erasing everyone in one fell swoop , says Bhatt, whose daughter Alia faced a lot of backlash after being launched by Karan Johar.
Nepo babies take it all!
Even if the industry tries to deny the existence of nepotism, outsiders, who have borne the brunt of it, will never hesitate to reveal the truth. Kriti Sanon, who won a National Award for her performance, had once revealed how she fell prey to favoritism in Bollywood when she was replaced by a child star in a project. While Rajkummar Rao also faced a similar situation when he was replaced due to nepotism. “I was supposed to do a movie, but all of a sudden I wasn't in this movie overnight. Someone who is famous and happens to be a child of a star got this role. In my mind, I think it wasn't fair, just because you can control things, you know people, you can make calls, it's unfair,” the actor shared in a recent conversation. .
In a contrasting view, filmmaker Aditya Chopra tackled the subject during a documentary series and used the unsuccessful career of his own brother Uday Chopra as an example. One of the things people tend to overlook is that not everyone from a privileged background is successful. I can express it without mentioning others. I can simply articulate it by mentioning my own family. My brother is an actor and he's not very successful. Here is the son of one of the greatest filmmakers. He is the brother of a very great filmmaker. Imagine a company like YRF that launched so many newcomers that you couldn't make a star out of them. Why couldn't we do it ourselves? In the end, only the audience will decide that I like this person, that I want to see them. No one else,” Aditya had shared.
Is a red carpet rolled out to welcome the child stars?
Zoya Akhtar recruited the hottest and most influential child stars for its film The Archies, but it didn't land as expected. Star parents were excited about the debut and the industry was delighted, but understanding why the film failed to woo audiences is a story for another day. However, bringing together such a valuable collection is a task in itself. We asked Vicky Sidana, the man behind the casting of films like Baby and Bodyguard, if filmmakers prioritize child stars? He feels that there is no pressure or preferential treatment as such because everyone is auditioning. Big stars have money, but they always call if their child can audition for a particular project. Audition or not, child stars are already following in the footsteps of their famous families, as soon as they decide to launch into cinema. That's right, when a child star is chosen, curiosity about the project automatically increases. It makes a difference because everyone wants to know how Shah Rukh Khan's daughter will work or what Sunny Deol's son looks like on screen, adds Vicky.
Marketing made easy, career made difficult!
Highlighting one of the biggest benefits of casting a child star, Vicky quips: It becomes easy for marketing when you hire a child star because there is no denying that their name adds value to the project.
Providing an overview of the measures, business analyst Komal Nahta adds: “The label makes it easy. The marketing budget, expensive these days, does not depend on the star it highlights. In fact, the producers benefit from it since there is a lot of talk about the project because of the child star, and the advertising is done with a lower budget. But ultimately, if a film doesn't work, it's not because of its star, but because of its merit. Because whoever buys the ticket is looking for entertainment.


The industry mobilizes for talent
Throughout the ongoing debate over nepotism, the industry has vigorously defended itself, highlighting cases of child stars who received no family support. However, the Internet remains unmoved by this argument. Nepotism can give someone a first opportunity, but beyond that, it's either a crippled career or a successful life. In support of this idea, Bhatt says: There are all kinds of people in the film industry who go out of their way to seek out new people, right? And I've done that my whole life. I did my best to recruit people from diverse backgrounds. I personally think the discussion needs to continue because being close to a child star will bring several benefits.
Look at Salman Khan. He was at no point chosen by Salim Khan. Salman Khan never got a job because Salim Saab lobbied for him. Salman has created his own path. So the answer is: should they do it or not? Why not, that’s my answer, asks the filmmaker. Hoping for the trial to end, Mahesh Bhatt says: “I think the debate has served its purpose, now it's a wiped coin.


Sanjay Leela Bhansali EXCLUSIVE on ETimes: The secrets of Heeramandi and the magic of his lens in Bollywood

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