(L to R) Taapsee Pannu, Alyy Khan and Ananya Panday
The smartest way to counter exclusion from a particular set is to create one’s own club. Priyanka Chopra Jonas did it on a global scale by creating a niche for herself in Hollywood and aligning with other Brown women such as Mindy Kaling and Lilly Singh. This was after the Mumbai film industry had sidelined her and declared her career was over. We all know how that turned out. Bollywood has its own unique way of signalling whether a talent has arrived or not. Magazine covers, conversations on celebrity chat shows, and perhaps one of the most prized events—invitations to Diwali parties. This year, it wasn’t just music boss Ramesh Taurani and fashion designer Manish Malhotra who hosted parties for the faithful but also younger stars like Kriti Sanon and Bhumi Pednekar who invited friends and family. It’s legitimately an occasion for everyone to dress up and decorate their Instagram feed with photos shot by paparazzi. But the most thoughtful event was organised by Taapsee Pannu’s production company. Called Outsiders Films, it featured men and women who don’t normally get invited to the more established gatherings. From the talented Geetika Vidya Ohlyan to director Anubhav Sinha, it was an occasion for the outsiders to mark their presence. Taapsee says it clicked for more reasons because a lot of people who are probably never made part of the Diwali party club of the film industry could be part of one where they met people like themselves. “The joy was unmatched,” she says. What is so distinctive about Taapsee is that she doesn’t wallow in victimhood but creates opportunities for others, such as through her production house which doesn’t make movies only starring her. For those who have no famous last names, or haven’t become famous enough for the establishment to seek their attendance, such good-natured defiance is essential. Each generation requires a champion who will remind newcomers why they came to Bollywood.
Going forward, given where most of the second-generation stars have been educated, Halloween celebrations will acquire the same cachet as Diwali. Already this year, professional party boy Orhan Awatramani, who is usually seen accompanying Janhvi Kapoor and Nysa Devgan (that is Sridevi Junior and Kajol Junior for the uninitiated), threw a Halloween party attended by celebrities and the media. So Ananya Panday (Chunky Panday Junior) came dressed as Poo, Kareena Kapoor Khan’s character in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001), Shanaya Kapoor (Sanjay Kapoor Junior) was Princess Mia of Genovia from The Princess Diaries (2001) and Navya Naveli Nanda (Amitabh Bachchan sub-junior) was Princess Jasmine from Aladdin (2019). Aryan Khan (Shah Rukh Khan Junior) came with kohl in his eyes but it was not immediately known whom he was cloning. The party received blanket coverage despite only Ananya Panday actually being in the movies among all of them. Yet, their social media following is enviable, with the paparazzi stalking them every time they go to a party or an event. But then celebritydom has become a performative art, and the women especially, whose photographs sell the most, have to learn to pout in a particular way, stand at an angle, and learn to sit and stand without any wardrobe malfunction. Compare this with a newbie coming from outside the hallowed portals of famous last names and generational wealth. Education, grooming, labels are a given, as is social media success.
Scene and Heard
An unintended consequence of a change in the showrunners of Shantaram, the Apple TV+ series, was that Radhika Apte lost a big international moment. She was in the pilot, playing Kavita, a journalist who is hot on Shantaram aka Lin Ford. Apte was replaced by Sujaya Dasgupta, a British-Indian actor, which is very much in consonance with the show that has barely any Indian actors and is not even shot in Mumbai, the city in which the novel was based. The only person who seems to have been authentically cast was also ironically the British-Pakistani actor who was also in The Serpent (2020, based on Charles Sobhraj’s exploits), Alyy Khan. He plays the upstanding and proud slum lord of Sagarwada in Shantaram. Viewers may remember him as Sheikh Omar in A Mighty Heart (2007), and the particularly oily producer in Luck By Chance (2009).