The Hindi film industry hasn’t had an effective leadership that is universally accepted ever since the retirement of Reliance Entertainment Chairman Amit Khanna and the death of veteran director Yash Chopra. Producer-director Karan Johar could have taken over, but the nepotism debate has made him a polarising figure. Kangana Ranaut would like to believe she runs the film industry, but she is in a minority of one. Vivek Agnihotri speaks from the margins through The Kashmir Files’ extraordinary success, no doubt assisted by the establishment’s approval. The film has given him a longed-for legitimacy. So, it won’t be a stretch if Aamir Khan takes on the role that the industry desperately needs at this moment—that of an elder statesman who can support the good and call out the bad. Aamir has the body of work and the love of the audience. So, it’s good to see the actor putting his personal troubles behind him and making public appearances on behalf of the industry. So, there he was endorsing Nagraj Manjule’s joyous Jhund (2022) with its empowering message of sport as an instrument of affirmative action, and here he was practising ‘Naatu Naatu’ with NTR Junior and Ram Charan, stars of SS Rajamouli’s RRR (2022). It was while he was doing so that he endorsed The Kashmir Files, putting on record his belief that it is a film that has touched the emotions of all who believe in humanity. Aamir has also, in recent interviews, expressed regret at focusing on his career to the exclusion of all else, revealing that he has used his downtime to introspect and correct. As he prepares for the release of his next film, Laal Singh Chaddha, one hopes to see and hear more of Aamir’s voice of reason.
“Arrey jab shakti, sampati aur sadbuddhi yeh teeno hi auratein hai, toh in mardo ko kiss baat ka guroor?/When Shakti, Lakshmi and Saraswati are all female, why are men so full of themselves?” Prakash Kapadia, who wrote that applause-worthy dialogue in Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022), first penned these words in his Gujarati play Manusmriti in 1986-87. His powerful words have earned him the trust of the difficult-to-please Sanjay Leela Bhansali, a fellow Gujarati from the same area in Mumbai, C Ward. Bhansali came to see his Gujarati film, Dariya Chhoru, in 1999, and was so impressed that he offered Kapadia the dialogues of Devdas (2002). Kapadia, who worked in the diamond machine tools business and owned a plastics factory, among many other accomplishments, loves words. But as he points out, increasingly, the world has less and less patience for anything lengthy. So, from the theatre-style cinema of the past, movies now have 80-120 scenes. “Everyone thinks they don’t have enough time,” he says, “which is silly because time doesn’t change its pace.” He is a great admirer of Amitabh Bachchan, the only actor he knows who asks for his dialogues in the Devanagari script, and also of Ranveer Singh, who likes to hold his hand during readings, to feel the vibrations necessary for his “Prakash-isms”, as he calls them. Coming from theatre, Kapadia knows exactly when audiences will applaud. Now, he is waiting for Bhansali to read the first draft of his version of the 1952 classic, Baiju Bawra, which he calls a revenge story. Bhansali will get around to working on it after directing the first episode of his Netflix series based on Kamathipura.
India is not quite the only nation where nepotism extends from politics to cinema. Many of the new generation of rising stars in Hollywood happen to be second-generation actors. It started perhaps with Goldie Hawn’s daughter Kate Hudson, continued with Dakota Johnson, who is third-generation Hollywood, being the daughter of Melanie Griffith (with Don Johnson) and granddaughter of Alfred Hitchcock heroine Tippi Hedren. Margaret Qualley, so effective in Netflix’s Maid (2021), is Andie MacDowell’s daughter. And most recently, Louisa Jacobson, who played Marian in Julian Fellowes’ The Gilded Age (HBO, 2022), is Meryl Streep’s daughter.