To whomsoever it may concern,
Over the last few days, a lot has been said and written about the skit on the IIFA stage by Karan Johar, Varun Dhawan and yours truly. Let’s first see what happened here. “Nepotism Rocks” was a joke on stage. It’s not something that I wrote or something I believe in. It was a joke on ourselves, between Varun (Dhawan), Karan (Johar) and me. It was not supposed to be a big deal, but I realised at some point, that it might have offended Kangana (Ranaut). I called her and apologised personally. That should be the end of it. Everybody needs to take a chill pill and back off.
However, in today’s world, apologies are made through Twitter or though some other social media platform. That, is basically apologising to your fans and the world in general, instead of apologising to the person concerned, because you don’t want to lose support. These are the times we live in. We wish each other happy birthday or offer condolences on social media. This is another reason I don’t want to be on any social media platform — it feels fake. As far as the issue of saying something stupid on stage goes, I’m sure it’s not the first or the last time I’m going to say something stupid in an attempt to be funny. And I apologised to Kangana, so I don’t owe anybody else an explanation. The issue is over.
What I can’t seem to understand are some of the media reactions to this. While most people have been sensible, three reporters from the websites BollywoodLife, The Quint and Elle India, made a point of saying that all I did was use big words like eugenics and genetics. I think it’s extremely relevant in a conversation on nepotism, which means family favouritism, to talk about genetics and eugenics. Eugenics means well born and in a movie context, the genes (the DNA we’re born with, not the blue trousers we wear) of, let’s say Dharmendra’s son or Amitabh Bachchan’s son or for that matter, Sharmila Tagore’s son come into play.
Because people are interested in what their children will be like and whether they will have the genes of their parents, in terms of their talent. If you need another example, then take race horses. We take a derby winner, mate him with the right mate and see if we can create another grand national winner. So, in that sense, this is the relationship between genetics and star kids. Hope that’s clear? As for the girl from Elle: I’m sorry you found words like eugenics in a conversation about nepotism misplaced. Perhaps if you got your head out of the hemline of the actress of the month and read a book, your vocabulary might improve.
The real flag bearer of nepotism, I’d say is the media. Look at how they treat Taimur, Shahid’s daughter Misha or even Shah Rukh’s son AbRam. They photograph them and hype them up to be the next big thing and the child has no choice. From a young age they have to deal with being celebrities, which they don’t really deserve, before they can even speak or talk, leave alone understand what is happening.
So, what is nepotism? I think nepotism means when you give somebody from your family a job that somebody else is better suited for. But, is that what happens in movies? Is that what people mean when they say that there is lot of nepotism in film industry? I think perhaps what Kangana means (and again I’m only assuming here) by nepotism is that people from Dharma or Yashraj are against people like her, who have come up the hard way without their support and that they only support their own people. Whether that is true or not I have no idea and it’s none of my business.
Nepotism is probably least prevalent in the movie industry and rampant in politics and business. Nepotism in dynastic politics is a well-known and unspoken truth. It’s the same in business. But nobody talks about that.Nepotism is Donald Trump putting his daughter in the White House rather than someone who is better qualified. Actors are the soft targets. So if you say star kids have an advantage, of course, they do. It’s an advantage created by the press because people are interested in them. There is a curiosity to see Taimur, Sara or Ibrahim. It’s supply and demand. People want it, media serves it. So we’re all part of the same vicious circle in that sense.
What’s at play here are three systems. Aristocracy, the rule of the best, which is what this industry is. Ruled by the best. Also, meritocracy. It is ruled by the people with the most talent and it’s also ultimately tempered by democracy, which is people power. Nepotism cannot work in the film industry because it is a democracy. The film industry is the most fair line of work. So yes, maybe I got a chance because of my mother, but that is more genetics than nepotism. It’s a genetic investment that the producer was making.
Compared to an outsider, maybe I had a better chance of meeting people, but Akshay is also an outsider. When people saw him, they gave him a chance rather than give me one because they are businessmen who can spot talent. And when a hero walks in, they know. They want to imagine me as a privileged prince and so, it’s nice to pull me down once in a while, I imagine. For every star kid, there are many guys and girls from total non-filmi backgrounds. Take Shah Rukh Khan, Sridevi, Madhuri Dixit-Nene, Jackie Shroff… it’s an endless list. Everyone knows this is the only industry where a spotboy can become a superstar. And to the idiot who gave the example of Arjun Kapoor for nepotism, I would just like to say that every film he has done, has worked. He should be an inspiration as an unlikely hero, not pulled down for nepotism. And that is the reason he is here. Not because of his father or uncle. It’s the audience that makes a film a hit, not the family members, otherwise all kinds of people would be ruling the roost.
Lastly, Johnny Depp once told Kate Moss — and I have forgotten his advice and I’m never going to forget it again — Never complain and never explain. That’s good advice, I think.
Saif Ali Khan
And Kangana Ranaut’s response
All the debate and exchange of thoughts on nepotism is exasperating, but healthy. While I enjoyed some of the perspectives on this subject, I did find a few disturbing ones. This morning, I woke up to one such open letter (circulating online), written by Saif Ali Khan.
The last time I was deeply pained and upset about this issue was when Mr Karan Johar wrote a blog on it, and even once declared in an interview that there are many criteria for excelling in film business. Talent is not one of them.
I don’t know if he was being misinformed, or simply naïve, but to discredit the likes of Mr Dilip Kumar, Mr K Asif, Mr Bimal Roy, Mr Satyajit Ray, Mr Guru Dutt, and many more, whose talent and exceptional abilities have formed the spine of our contemporary film business, is absolutely bizarre.
Even in today’s times, there are plenty of examples where it has repeatedly been proven that beyond the superficiality of branded clothes, polished accents, and a sanitised upbringing, exists grit, genuine hard-work, diligence, eagerness to learn, and the gigantic power of the human spirit. Many examples, all over the world, in every field, are a testimony to that. My dear friend Saif has written a letter on this topic and I would like to share my perspective. My request is that people must not misconstrue this and pit us against each other.
This is just a healthy exchange of ideas, and not a clash between individuals.
Saif, in your letter you mentioned that, “I apologized to Kangana, and I don’t owe anyone any explanation, and this issue is over.” But this is not my issue alone.
Nepotism is a practice where people tend to act upon temperamental human emotions, rather than intellectual tendencies.
Businesses that are run by human emotions and not by great value-systems, might gain superficial profits.
However, they cannot be truly productive and tap into the true potential of a nation of more than 1.3 billion people.
Nepotism, on many levels, fails the test of objectivity and rationale. I have acquired these values from the ones who have found great success and discovered a higher truth, much before me. These values are in the public domain, and no one has a copyright on them.
Greats like Vivekananda, Einstein and Shakespeare didn’t belong to a select few. They belonged to collective humanity. Their work has shaped our future, and our work will shape the future of the coming generations.
Today, I can afford to have the willpower to stand for these values, but tomorrow, I might fail, and help my own children realise their dreams of stardom. In that case, I believe that I would have failed as an individual. But the values will never fail. They will continue to stand tall and strong, long after we are gone.
So, we owe an explanation to everyone who either owns, or wants to own these values. Like I said, we are the ones who will shape the future of the coming generations.
In another part of your letter, you talked about the relationship between genetics and star kids, where you emphasised on nepotism being an investment on tried and tested genes. I have spent a significant part of my life studying genetics. But, I fail to understand how you can compare genetically hybrid racehorses to artists!
Are you implying that artistic skills, hard-work, experience, concentration spans, enthusiasm, eagerness, discipline and love, can be inherited through family genes? If your point was true, I would be a farmer back home. I wonder which gene from my gene-pool gave me the keenness to observe my environment, and the dedication to interpret and pursue my interests.
You also spoke of eugenics — which means controlled breeding of the human race. So far, I believe that the human race hasn’t found the DNA that can pass on greatness and excellence. If it had, we would’ve loved to repeat the greatness of Einstein, Da Vinci, Shakespeare, Vivekananda, Stephen Hawking, Terence Tao, Daniel Day-Lewis, or Gerhard Richter.
You also said that the media is to be blamed since it is the real flag-bearer of nepotism. That makes it sound like a crime, which is far from the truth. Nepotism is merely a weakness of the human nature; it takes great deal of will-power and strength to rise above our intrinsic nature — sometimes we excel, sometimes we don’t. No one is putting a gun to anyone’s head to hire talent they don’t believe in. So, there is no need to get defensive about one’s choices.
In fact, the subtext of all my talk on this subject has been to encourage outsiders to take the path less traveled. Bullying, jealousy, nepotism and territorial human tendencies are all part of the entertainment industry, much like any other. If you don’t find acceptance in the mainstream, go off beat — there are so many ways of doing the same thing.
I think the privileged are the least to be blamed in this debate, since they are part of the system, which is set around chain reactions. Change can only be caused by those who want it. It is the prerogative of the dreamer who learns to take his or her due, and not ask for it.
You are absolutely right — there is a lot of excitement and admiration for the lives of the rich and famous. But at the same time, our creative industry gets this love from our countrymen, because we are like a mirror to them — whether it’s Langda Tyagi from Omkara or Rani from Queen, we are loved for the extraordinary portrayal of the ordinary.
So, should we make peace with nepotism? The ones who think it works for them can make peace with it. In my opinion, that is an extremely pessimistic attitude for a Third World country, where many people don’t have access to food, shelter, clothing, and education. The world is not an ideal place, and it might never be. That is why we have the industry of arts. In a way, we are the flag-bearers of hope.
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