Harshvardhan Kapoor; Kangana Ranaut and Ayushmann Khurrana
There is a scene in the forthcoming Satyajit Ray anthology on Netflix, Ray, where Harshvardhan Kapoor, playing an entitled young Bollywood actor, Vik, credited with “just one look”, meets a Radhe Maa-styled godwoman, Didi, whose one look is considered so divine that people keep everything aside to be blessed by her. Naturally, our young Vik has an ego the size of the hotel suite he is staying in and he gets into competition with Didi, to see who and what wins: the magic of cinema (a little more than 100 years old) versus religion, which is ancient. It’s not important who wins. What’s important is the casting by director Vasan Bala. What could have been a clever comment on celebrity degenerates into a vanity project for a born-with-a-silver-spoon star child who is trying very hard to become famous. When Anil Kapoor did something similar with Anurag Kashyap in Netflix’s AK vs AK (2020), it was an authentic comment on a life lived in the spotlight (ironically the name of the Vasan Bala short in the anthology). Bala could have learnt from Ray himself. When Ray had to capture the self-absorption of a superstar in Nayak (1966), he cast a bona fide matinee idol Uttam Kumar in it, rather than his protégé and movie regular Soumitra Chatterjee. But when Harshvardhan tries to play a version of Uttam Kumar/Anil Kapoor, it seems fake and pompous. As does his constant harping of wanting to be an artist. And therein lies the tragedy of second-generation starlings in Bollywood post-Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. In an unravelling that began when Kangana Ranaut sat on the couch of Koffee with Karan in 2017 and called him out as the flag-bearer of nepotism in the film industry, there has been a slow rise in anger against what had come to be accepted—that star daddies and mummies would want to launch their betajis and betijis into the same industry as them, with all the help they could get to monetise their pedigree. While the starlings get ready to hit the screens, which means losing weight, learning dance, action, riding, and a little bit of emoting as well, they have also, in recent times, taken to developing their social media following. So Suhana Khan routinely treats us to views from her New York apartment and her fabulous holidays, while her bestie Shanaya Kapoor shows us glimpses of her daily routine, which includes brushing her teeth, wearing beauty masks, and doing stretches. And do we care? Well, apparently some do, unless the entire following can be attributed to cringe-bingers. Suhana has 1.8 million followers on Instagram, Shanaya has 711,000 followers. Neither of them has made their debut yet. Privilege is not new. What is new is its blatant flaunting through social media in a nation where so many realities co-exist with inequalities.
The Name of the Game
Children are not the only ones who suffer from a sense of entitlement in the hermetically sealed world of Bollywood. Parents can be equally insular as well. There is no other reason to burden one’s child with a name like Taimur, a conqueror who was feared for his vicious plundering, on the pretext that he was also a great builder. Even as the world waits to know what Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor Khan have named their second child, perhaps the photogenic little boy should be told that his father rejected the name Faiz (which in its simplest definition means beneficence) in favour of the 14th century conqueror.
Time to Campaign
His social entertainers are commercial hits and no less than TIME magazine recognised Ayushmann Khurrana’s value as a conversation-starter on taboo subjects when it voted him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Now comes word that UNICEF has appointed Ayushmann as its ‘Celebrity Advocate’ for the children’s rights campaign EVAC (Ending Violence Against Children) in India. He joins an elite group, including former England football star David Beckham, who also works on this campaign globally. Says Ayushmann: “I have tried to contribute towards bringing positive change in society through cinema.” Now he can make a direct impact on society as well.
Did You Know?
Karthik Subbaraj, the wonder kid director from Chennai, made his father, a pharma company owner, act in his movies once he started directing rather than the other way round. Gajaraj Subbaraj’s debut as an actor was in his son’s 2012 debut movie, Pizza. Something Bollywood could pick up from the Tamil film industry, apart from remaking their movies.