Controversy
Bollywood’s nepotism debate rages on.
Kangana (L), Saif Ali Khan (R). PTI photos

If you haven’ been on the internet at all in the last few days, you’d be familiar with the ‘nepotism debate’ which has taken Bollywood by storm. 

After the infamous “Nepotism rocks!” chant by director-producer Karan Johar and actors Varun Dhawan and Saif Ali Khan, the former two apologized for the same. While Saif did apologise to Kangana Ranaut, he attempted to provide an explanation for the chant but ends up mixing up nepotism with genetics and eugenics.

Saif’s explanation

In an open letter to DNA dated July 21, Saif notes that that the “Nepotism Rocks” chant was just a joke between Karan, Varun, and him and not something that he believed in. It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal, he wrote, adding that he apologized to actor Kangana Ranaut personally later, because he realised it might have been offensive to her. 

He then goes on to criticise social media, and how people often resort to apologising on those platforms, instead of apologizing to the person concerned. “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,” he observed. 

He then reiterated that having apologized to Kangana, he doesn’t owe anyone an explanation… And then proceeds to do just that. 

“I think it’s extremely relevant in a conversation on nepotism, which means family favouritism, to talk about genetics and eugenics,” Saif wrote. He then explains that eugenics means “well born” which, as Buzzfeed India Editor-In-Chief Rega Jha points out, is not even close to what it really means. Eugenics is essentially selective breeding between those with desirable characteristics, and eliminating others. 

Saif continued his ‘well-born’ argument, saying that eugenics is the reason why some people like “Dharmendra’s son or Amitabh Bachchan’s son” or “Sharmila Tagore’s son” (himself) have acting in their DNA.

He also tried to justify his stand by explaining how race horses are bred so that the offspring can be “another grand national winner”. He even attacked an Elle journalist and wrote, “Perhaps if you got your head out of the hemline of the actress of the month and read a book, your vocabulary might improve.” Later, he calls the media the biggest flagbearer of nepotism. 

Saif offers his definition of nepotism in the letter, stating: “I think nepotism means when you give somebody from your family a job that somebody else is better suited for." But, like eugenics, that’s nowhere near what nepotism really means. The Cambridge dictionary defines nepotism as “the act of using your power or influence to get good jobs or unfair advantages for members of your own family.”

He then goes on to write, “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.”

Saif then goes on to claim that nepotism is probably “least prevalent” in the film industry unlike in business or politics. He argues that nepotism could not work in the film industry as it was a democracy. 

Saif Ali Khan ends the letter with some words of advice that Hollywood actor Johnny Depp gave to supermodel Kate Moss – “Never complain and never explain.” 

Kangana’s response

Kangana responded to Saif’s open letter on Saturday with her own letter in PinkVilla. She started off by saying that this exchange of ideas on nepotism was exasperating, but healthy. 

Taking the examples of yesteryear actors and directors like Dilip Kumar, Satyajit Ray and Guru Dutt, Kangana said that even today there were many examples which showed that “grit, genuine hard-work, diligence, eagerness to learn, and the gigantic power of the human spirit” also exist beyond superficial indicators of glamour. 

Clarifying that she is expressing her own views after being acquainted with Saif’s, Kangana said that they shouldn’t be pitted against one another. Countering Saif’s claim that his apology to Kangana effectively closed the issue, she argued that nepotism wasn’t her issue alone. 

“Nepotism is a practice where people tend to act upon temperamental human emotions, rather than intellectual tendencies,” she wrote. “Nepotism, on many levels, fails the test of objectivity and rationale,” she adds later. 

She also registered her opposition to Saif's comparison between race horses and artistes to explain his ‘better genetics’ argument. “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,” Kangana argued. 

Debunking Saif’s argument about eugenics, Kangana says that if the human race had figured out a DNA to pass on “greatness and excellence”, we would have had more Einsteins, Da Vinci, Stephen Hawking and the like. 

Kangana also disputes Saif’s allegation on the media as the greatest flagbearers of nepotism, as if it was a crime. Asserting that nepotism is far from being a crime and that no one should be forced to hire a talent they don’t trust, Kangana said, “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.”

Acknowledging “bullying, jealousy, nepotism and territorial human tendencies” as inherent parts of the entertainment industry, Kangana said that there are always ways to go off-beat if one doesn’t find acceptance in the mainstream. The privileged, she said, are merely a part of the system, which exists around chain reactions.  

Kangana also pointed out that change was only possible if the baton was taken by those who wanted it most. 

A lowdown for the uninitiated

The controversy over nepotism in Bollywood erupted when Kangana Ranaut accused director-producer Karan Johar of nepotism on his show Koffee With Karan earlier this year. The actor pointed out that the Hindi film industry is unwelcoming to outsiders like her.

Over the last few months, Karan Johar has refused to move on from the issue, taking several digs at Kangana in the recent past, including accusing her of playing the ‘victim card’ and the ‘woman card’.  The actor, however, responded with sass, observing that he plays the ‘dignity card’ when she fights the world. 

Refusing to let the matter die down, Karan together with buddies Saif Ali Khan and Varun Dhawan poke fun at Kangana (in her absence, obviously) at the recently held IIFA awards. To cut a long story short, they say that Kangana should talk less, and chant “Nepotism rocks”.

Social media outrage followed, as people point out how Karan and his little skit proved Kangana’s point.