Meet the Parents: The Nepotism Edition

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Meet the Parents: The Nepotism Edition

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

M

eet Simba. Simba is an unbearably adorable lion cub who dreams of ruling his territory one day. But Simba can’t stay out of trouble; he’s got a knack for flirting with danger and ending up at the mercy of the savage hyenas. Luckily, big daddy Mufasa is never far away, pouncing in to scare off anyone who dares threaten his cute cub. Simba has a fuzzy little growl, Mufasa roars fiercely, and all the haters scatter, leaving the lion king and his prince in peace.

That’s a perfect plot for a Disney movie intended for ages three and above. However, if you replace the stuffed toy-resembling animated lions with human adults in flesh and blood, things start looking a lot shiftier. Let’s look at our stand-ins, shall we?

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In place of Simba, we have Ranbir Kapoor, who is a 34-year-old man and the executive producer on his own film, Jagga Jasoos. With a budget of over ₹100 crore and a box office collection of less than half that amount, the film turned into Ranbir’s own version of Simba’s Elephant Graveyard.

The evil, nasty hyenas are film critics and audiences, led by director Anurag Basu. Hyena-in-Chief Basu apparently delayed the film’s release by two years, and put the icing on the cake by refusing to show the film to producers (our Simba included) before it hit screens. Given the scenario, how was Ranbir Kapoor to know that his latest venture would tank so miserably?

Still, he managed to stick around long enough to pick up a National Award for Hum Tum. He would also prefer if you don’t pay attention to the fact that mommy dearest was the censor board chief at the time.

If that’s a question that never occurred to you, Mufasa’s got you covered. Our real-world Mufasa is Twitter’s most savvy sexagenarian: @chintskap. For the normies, that’s Rishi Kapoor. In true big daddy fashion, he put Basu on blast in the media, laying blame for the film’s failure in a neat pile at Basu’s feet, far, far away from Ranbir. Of course, Basu’s need for extra time and refusal to screen the film were clearly the work of an “irresponsible director” and not of an artist seeking creative independence. According to Rishi Kapoor, Ranbir needs sympathy and understanding, instead of derision, for professional missteps because he is a cuddly little cub and not a grown man.

So Rishi comes out roaring for his boy, shielding him from critics, haters, and the world in general. Some will argue that the man is acting out of his protective parental instincts, and what’s wrong with that? To them I have a counter-question: Does a 34-year-old need parenting? Or is picking between Katrina and Deepika the only decision Ranbir is capable of making on his own? Has it occurred to Chintu that his belligerence is only making Ranbir look like a Sid who hasn’t woken up yet?

Rishi Kapoor’s fiery reaction to his son’s failure also comes at a very inconvenient time for the Kapoor khandaan. Thanks to a certain Queen, Bollywood has discovered its very own N-word. The koffee went cold months ago, but the nepotism debate is still raging. Bollywood’s established clans like the Kapoors and the Khans have been called out publicly for favouring their offspring over the thousands of struggling outsiders scratching out a miserable existence in Lokhandwala and Versova flats. Too often are innocent, movie-going audiences subjected to the sight of Tusshar Kapoor and his like trying to convince us that they can act, sing, and dance.

It’s definitely a good thing that someone is calling out these star kids for their delusions of grandeur, but nepotism is a two-way street. Star kids are one side of the coin, star parents are the other. Like Rishi Kapoor, star parents end up using their celebrity status to protect their children from the consequences of their missteps. While Sr Kapoor’s defence of Ranbir can’t be classified as nepotism, it is the foundation of this malaise. This kind of cushioning from the blame is something Bollywood’s outsiders don’t have the privilege of.

Rishi and Ranbir Kapoor aren’t even the most egregious example. For that, we have to look toward Bollywood’s biggest brat and his daddy – Salman and Salim Khan. Whether it’s an offensive tweet, an offhand comment, or straight-up manslaughter, Salim is always in Salman’s corner, propping his boy up on the twin crutches of denial and delusion. Sallu bhai, amazing human that he be, decided to pay this goodwill forward, when he took alleged girlfriend abuser and Brat-in-Training Sooraj Pancholi under his wing to launch him in a blockbuster film.

Star kids are the raw fuel on which the engine of Bollywood’s nepotism runs, but their parents and mentors are the oil that keeps the engine running along nice and smooth. They serve as a hype crew, disaster-management squad, and safety net for the fledgling careers of their little ones. For all his talk of eugenics and being bred for your role in life, Saif Ali Khan’s acting career wouldn’t have survived his initial years as a hero ka dost in the industry if he didn’t have the comfort of being Sharmila Tagore’s son. Still, he managed to stick around long enough to pick up a National Award for Hum Tum. He would also prefer if you don’t pay attention to the fact that mommy dearest was the censor board chief at the time.

Bollywood’s Mufasas might do well to re-watch the old classic Lion King. As long as Mufasa is around to protect Simba, the cub never realises his true potential. It took Mufasa falling into the midst of a stampede to sever Simba’s dependency. Only when Simba’s safety net is snatched away does he grow into his potential and assume his place as the rightful lion king. Maybe our filmy parents would do well to go the same way.

Long Live the King.

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