Two issues overwhelmed the Mumbai film industry during the Covid lockdown. One was the ‘insiders versus outsiders’ debate, which has stymied the careers of many talented youngsters. The other was drug use. But equally unfair is the practice of selecting certain outsiders, especially those not particularly talented, to become stars. Take the curious case of Vaani Kapoor. The young woman from Delhi made her debut in 2013 in Shuddh Desi Romance, as the second lead with Parineeti Chopra and the late Sushant Singh Rajput. She was fairly pleasant in that. Three years later, she was the worst thing in the unbearable Befikre, Aditya Chopra’s third film as director. And she added no value to War, Siddharth Anand’s 2019 bromance with Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff. But Yash Raj Films, of which Chopra is boss, has persisted with her, adding her to Ranbir Kapoor’s period dacoit drama Shamshera. Not just that, Yash Raj talent Ayushmann Khurrana acts opposite her in Abhishek Kapoor’s Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui and Chopra’s friend Akshay Kumar cast her, along with Lara Dutta and Huma Qureshi, in the Vashu Bhagnani-produced spy thriller Bell Bottom. Clearly, having Adi Chopra as mentor can make up for the gaping hole where talent ought to be. This is precisely what is wrong with Bollywood. It still doesn’t understand that the era of power without accountability is over. Audiences have rejected or ignored Kapoor multiple times, yet she is being given plum parts. The sad part is that those who can and usually do resist this blatant display of male privilege—equally entitled male actors who usually exercise veto power over their female leads—choose to remain quiet and prefer to earn brownie points with one of Bollywood’s most powerful men. 2020 put old-style Bollywood, with its shadowy deals and its manipulative starmakers, on the backfoot. Yet nothing seems to have changed, whether it is the obsession with star children or shutting down of talented outsiders who don’t network with the right people.
Farah the Dependable
She’s one of the brightest women in the Mumbai film industry and also one of the most generous with her time. No surprises then that Farah Khan is one of the many celebrities who will turn up in the Hindi version of Netflix’s French hit Call My Agent! produced by Applause Entertainment, which made the critically acclaimed Scam 1992 in 2020. The talent agency in the six-episode first season is run by Rajat Kapoor and has Aahana Kumra, Prateik Babbar as well as Ayush Mehra. Farah has already played herself in Netflix’s scripted reality show Masaba Masaba, as a perpetually starved director with a penchant for casting herself. The other celebrities who will have walk-on parts are Jackie Shroff, Richa Chadha and Ali Fazal, Nandita Das and Tigmanshu Dhulia.
Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011) made Zoya Akhtar the reigning queen of male bonding. Here was a woman who had turned the female gaze on a group of men, chronicling their coming of age. The artist in search of his father; the uptight, upright good son in search of himself; and the money-chasing machine in search of a woman to rescue him. Now we hear, after the triumph of Gully Boy (2019), which she hopes has permanently shut up those who have called her the princess of posh pain, she is working on a movie about three women friends. She hopes to start that after shooting the second season of the hit Amazon show, Made in Heaven. The cast she is looking at for the movie?
Priyanka Chopra, Katrina Kaif and Alia Bhatt. Swoon.
Did You Know?
Dev Patel’s casting as David Copperfield in Armando Iannucci’s comedic retelling of Charles Dickens’ beloved novel was inspired. An example of what Priyanka Chopra calls “colour-conscious” casting which allows opportunities for ethnicities that have not been portrayed onscreen. But did you know when he first got a text from his agent about the movie, Patel thought he was playing the magician David Copperfield. He hadn’t read or heard of the novel.
Well, he certainly knows all about it now. Patel has been nominated for ‘Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy’ at the 2021 Golden Globes for The Personal History of David Copperfield.