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The Nepotism Effect: Inherited Talent or Purchased Opportunities?

As older actors retire and leave the golden flare of the spotlight, we see other young faces enter, and some are fairly familiar for a reason. Dominating the entertainment industry, mainly in film and modelling, are the children of famous stars who have graced the stage for many years. However, it seems that merely being related to a star does not always make you a star. 


Focusing on the film industry, specifically Bollywood, famous names like Kapoor and Khan take over the end credits of popular films. Although, having a famous last name does not always guarantee an incredible performance. Director Zoya Akhtar, who also directed the box office hit Gully Boy, created a live-action adaptation of the American Archie comics this year, set in the context of 1960s India.


The premise of the film follows the adventures of Archie and his gang when developers threaten to destroy their cherished park for a construction plot. The story follows any typical teen drama film with song and dance numbers for extra flair. Although, the real problem lies within the inner workings of the film.


According to Collider, many fans were let down by the movie as its “performances lack inventiveness and conviction”. When examining the cast of the film, the age-long issue of nepotism and its interference with performance quality comes into play. The Archie comics are comprised of many characters, but the most infamous trio are Archie Andrews, Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge. 


Who plays these three characters? It’s definitely not names you haven’t heard of, the leading character Archie is played by Agastya Nanda, he’s also the grandson of film superstar Amitabh Bachchan, who has been involved with the industry since the 70s. Betty is played by Khushi Kapoor, hailing from the Kapoor dynasty known for four generations of actors, directors and producers. Veronica is played by Suhana Khan, daughter of “the King of Bollywood” Shah Rukh Khan. 


Zoya Akhtar, director of The Archies, has connections in the industry as well. Her father, Javed Akhtar, is a renowned screenwriter and lyricist, while her mother, Honey Irani, is an actress and screenwriter. Her brother, Farhan Akhtar, is a famous writer and filmmaker, the dialogue in The Archies was written by him. 


Fans criticised Akhtar for her choice in casting the three young stars as the leads in her film, and she responded to this backlash in an interview with The Juggernaut:


“I think it (the debate) is about privilege, access, and social capital. I completely understand having anger or frustration at the fact that you do not have the access some people get so easily. That is a conversation to be had. Everyone needs to have the same kind of education, job opportunities, et al.” 


Adding further to her response against the nepotism claims, Akhtar mentions “My dad came from nowhere and made a life for himself. I was born and bred in the industry, and I have every right to follow whatever I want to do. As part of his network and what he made, I know those people. What am I going to do, disown my dad because I want to be a filmmaker?” 


Fellow producer, Reema Kagti, brought up her own experiences of not having any connections in the industry compared to Akhtar but managing to release her first film before Akhtar. Kagti also brought up another perspective on nepotism, “A famous actor’s son will be launched, but he’ll not last if he doesn’t work. It (nepotism) exists everywhere. You’re not going to go to an industrialist and ask them to give their business to all these people, right? It’s complicated, and I think people tend to make it black and white.” (The Indian Express)


Bollywood film stars are not entirely obvious to the nepotism issue either, during the 7th season of Koffee with Karan, hosted by Yash Johar’s son Karan, self-made actor Ranvir Singh subtly called Karan out on his apparent bias for “nepo babies”. The attitudes toward nepotism vary largely between Hollywood and Bollywood. While American actors try to separate their legacies from their children, in Bollywood, family ties are a reason for celebration. 


Snigda Sur, the founder of The Juggernaut, gives his take on the issue for thred. stating:


“So much of any creative industry, or the entertainment industry, is too reliant on network in India, as opposed to basically meritocratic channels. It feels like it’s much more about the network you have, whether you have a lucky break, whether you somehow know the casting director, whether you somehow had dinner with the right director and the direct connection.”


Nepotism has been branded as a natural occurrence in the film industry, creating barriers for actors, writers and filmmakers whose parents are not film icons. Opportunities to act in blockbuster films and the freedom to choose gigs are not a luxury afforded by most. Bollywood certainly has a severe case of nepotism lurking in the production and casting of films, an issue that never really goes away. Amongst all the Kapoors and Khans, actors like Deepika Padukone, Ranvir Singh and Ayushmann Khurrana are proof of breaking down the nepotism barriers for new talent. 


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