Mayank Shekhar: Why Saif Ali Khan is partly right

By  Mayank Shekhar | Mumbai | Posted  25-Jul-2017

It's certainly nurture, not nature, that helps anyone in a profession that is best understood by those with generational background

Recently, Varun Dhawan, Karan Johar and Saif Ali Khan landed in hot water over a jibe against Kangana Ranaut and supporting nepotism. Pic/AFP
Recently, Varun Dhawan, Karan Johar and Saif Ali Khan landed in hot water over a jibe against Kangana Ranaut and supporting nepotism. Pic/AFP

Political correctness has, for a while, been the tyranny of our times. If you don't agree, simply look at the reverses or reactions to it, with trolls online, who get away passing off their hate and bigotry for honesty and irreverence. Yet, on a scale from KRK to Trump, no one is likely to go so far as to mention 'eugenics' (controlled breeding) to defend anything, let alone nepotism. Actor Saif Ali Khan did. And that was mildly appalling.

For one, Trump would instantly associate that e-word to the Nazi justification of Holocaust. KRK, if he looked up the dictionary, would know it's the old rationale behind a bulk of Indian society arguing against inter-caste marriages - Brahmins being placed at the top of the pyramid (and there are sub-categories even within that).

Saif oddly associated eugenics to talent in acting! It's more formally applied to looks, build, skin-tone, intellect (and maybe he meant that more). Only when inter-caste, even inter-religious, marriages became relatively common, did people from my parents' (or grandparents') generation realise what a bunkum theory eugenics was.

The progeny of mixed race couples (to use a broader description) inevitably turn out fine, if not better than either parent. Regardless, I can show you really good-looking people whose parents you won't be able to recognise; likewise, the opposite. Even if beauty is subjective, DNA is luck of draw for humans.

But who cares about that anyway, if you go back to the nature vs nurture argument. With the latter, you get dealt a great/terrible hand, depending on three things: location, location, location (of where you're born). This would be true for whatever profession you wish to pursue. Is it truer for traditional show-business, which has forever seemed like a mirage for everyone looking-in, starry-eyed, from a distance? Of course.

Let's face it, talent apart (which is a given), show-world - unlike movies, music, or any other art - is the business of creating stars. In a true sense, Bollywood has chiefly concentrated on creating movie-stars - often done through larger-than-life hoardings, dramatic on-screen entries, songs, photography (low angle and top shots) - carried forward on-ground, with active help from image managers, ad industry, and pamphlet journalism that benefits from hoisting a figure, who the readers/viewers are deeply interested in. It's peculiar that every Indian glossy (on fashion or interior design) has a movie-star on the cover.

Even the mainstream press has eyed the same faces, since it progressively moved from being a left-wing (batting for the underdog) kinda enterprise, to a right-wing (celebrating the overlords) circus. This is the star-system, where fame feeds off fame. Can so much investment on one generation naturally spill over to the next? Sure. Or it won't, if the public doesn't accept.

Showbiz, like politics, is most democratic only at the ground level. So, too bad that Rajiv Gandhi's or Mulayam Singh Yadav's sons aren't kicking ass currently. Because the public didn't vote. The same for Rajendra/Raj/Manoj Kumar's kids, eventually.

Either way, the old-world private producer was very different from a structured political party, or a professional studio. Would he invest in a complete newcomer, mortgaging his home? Yes, if that's his own son (if not a star-son). He had even more to lose otherwise. Let's see what's changed? Rishi Kapoor (Raj's son, Prithiviraj's grandson) had 23 leading ladies debuting opposite him. Some of their names he can't recall anymore, let alone where they are. This would be unimaginable for male leads.

Earlier, stars and producers wouldn't send their daughters to work in movies as often - for reasons best known to them. This isn't the case anymore, hence a new, massive back-gate in the community. Unsurprisingly, a fresh debate (in case you are still interested) on showbiz and nepotism started with Kangana Ranaut, the only genuine rags-to-riches story, firing the first salvo.

Of course, the gatekeepers would be happy to let in whoever, so long as they sense profits. They can test new waters, given more avenues to gauge public acceptance, and develop talents - web, television, off-stream cinema…. Access to camera, screen, and an audience isn't as hard. Fame finds newer routes. You could become an overnight sensation through a YouTube video gone viral.

I know quite a few such heroes (before and after their viral fever), many of them losing it - because, really, they can't tell what's hit them momentarily. And it occurs to me that maybe, like old money, there is such a thing as old fame.

I watch some filmy kids, in comparison, who seem to wear super-stardom and their connections rather lightly. Perhaps someone who's lived around a fawning public all their life, seen the ups and downs of it through their parents' own, observed closely the ephemeral fickleness of it all, might be in a position to handle stardom and excessive attention (a lot of it undeserved) more easily, rather than getting carried away by the first wind.

Age, of course, offers much wisdom in such matters (some are born with it as well). Surely, everyone can overcome this gust sooner or later. This isn't to say a starkid, in the context of showbiz, doesn't hold a natural advantage in this regard. I sense they do.

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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