Karan Affairs: In Defence Of My Nepotism

Published: March 29, 2017 07:00 IST
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I read the papers, I go on Twitter, I surf the internet, and everyone seems to be having the last word on the nepotism row. And now I am going to too.

For two reasons: one) it all started on my show and two) I can't handle the nepospasms.

What are nepospasms, you ask? It's a new condition arising from fear of the word. Everywhere I go, the word nepotism chases me. I run, but it finds me! Once upon a time, people didn't know what nepotism was, or care what it means now it feels like it's become the national word. We don't just have a national bird, it feels like now we have a national word too!

So, let's get some facts straight: I agree and I accept that nepotism is a reality, that it exists. Nepotism is a result of easy access to an exceptional resource. I acknowledge that my father was a producer and that made my first film, even the idea of it, possible. But let's also not forget that I started as the son of a producer with five failures behind him. I entered the world of films as AD (Assistant Director) to a first-time director (and yes, it wound up being DDLJ, but we didn't know that then!). But still, even if I didn't recognize it as access at the time, that's what it was.

And yes, I have launched Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan, and, yes, maybe you can say nepotism played a part. You can argue that there was proximity and I leveraged it, that there were relationships at play which were factored. David Dhawan was, and is, a friend. I took his son on as an AD as a favour to that friend. And then I saw talent. And then I platformed it.

When it came to Alia, I wasn't even talking to Mahesh Bhatt! I've even gone on record saying we had issues. We had auditioned 5,000 people and she was one of them. If there was anyone better than Alia Bhatt, she would have been in the movie, but there wasn't. She just stood out. Maybe her name played a role in why, but I think her body of work already proves that's not it.

But for arguments and everyone's headlines' sake, let's say, sure, it's another sign of the industry's parochial, insular ways. Accepted? Ok. Now, so what?

What should we do? Stop working, or doing the work we want to? Should we not do this because we're lucky enough to be born to these families? Even if I acknowledge my luck, what difference does it make to anyone's life or career?

I'm not going to diss something that happens to be a phone call away, just to search and find and hunt for it in a place it may or may not be in! I am not taking the onus of platforming every great actor this country has. I'm not here to further talent, I'm here to make my own life. When I'm told "in your position" you should be doing this... Why? Maybe I'm in this position because I've taken the right calls, the ones that serve my company and the audience best.

To stay relevant in this industry over 20 odd years is not easy - and I'll do what it takes. Nothing matters more to me than the commerce of my art. The success of my company, my legacy: these are of paramount importance to me. Unabashed and unapologetic.

And genuine talent can exist and does even in a world that's insular. They are not mutually exclusive. Did I cast Ranbir Kapoor because he's Rishi Kapoor's son? Of course not. I cast him because he's staggeringly talented (by every measure and metric that exists) and he fit the part perfectly.

When Sanjay Leela Bhansali mounts enormous films with Ranveer Singh, he's not thinking "I must cast an outsider because I'm not nepotistic." All he's thinking is that Ranveer is talented and he will bring in the audience. They're the only things that count.

We're not NGOs! We are businesses with bottom lines and budgets. And tomorrow if I want to launch Shah Rukh Khan's son because he's Shah Rukh Khan's son and I believe I can gain from it, why won't I? I run a company, it's a balance of commerce and art, and both matter.

I have also launched Sidharth Malhotra who has nothing to do with anyone, but why bother mentioning that! And, by the way, Kangana has done a Dharma film. We have offered roles recently to Nawazuddin Siddiqui and to Irrfan Khan which they have turned down! And that's fine, I hope we'll be able to work together later. They are not obliged to do films they don't think will work for them, and I am not obliged to cast anyone unless I think it works for the movie.

And, you know, currently we're auditioning for Student of the Year 2 and we're not finding anyone! I swear the only girls who are not bad are those with a connection. I don't know why or how because we've tried everything to find a girl from Bangalore, from Delhi, but we can't make it happen! And everyone will call me nepotistic. Again!

And while we're on the subject, may I point out that while we can (and have) put the star onscreen, we cannot make the audience arrive. So if it is a nepotistic world, we're not the only ones guilty of it. Taken a look at any entertainment website recently? They're full of star kids. It's all about Sara (Ali Khan) and Jhanvi (Kapoor) and Aryan (Khan) and Aarav (Kumar). They step out and they're photographed, they're the ultimate clickbait.

So you tell me, if stardom doesn't matter to you either, then stop writing about them. If nepotism is this terrible crime, and people should be rewarded for merit's sake, then stop taking and publishing their pictures too. Before their careers even have a chance to start, they're the story. The top story. An editor of a website once told me that stories featuring star kids get more traction than stars, they do better, quite often, than their parents! So are media houses also nepotistic? Why aren't they searching for new talent? Or interesting teens who aren't born to famous parents? There are many talented teenagers doing amazing things, why aren't they making it to the pages why aren't blogs being written about them?

And so here's my limited point. If we're to blame, then everyone is to blame, or better still, no one is. There is no blame, nor should there be. To each their own, as long as no one is being deliberately discriminated against. If I am a product of nepotism, fine. If the talent I've launched is a sign of nepotism, fine. But I'm not alone. You are doing it too. With your headlines, in your political parties, in a thousand industries across the country.

This is not about me objecting or nullifying the issue, I'll accept it. Can you? If for no other reason than I need these damn nepospasms to subside.

(Karan Johar is one of India's best known film and television personalities)

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