It's time to send out this key message to Bollywood before the situation deteriorates further - get real. Wake up! Enough of declaring arbitrary hierarchies, enough of the preening and posturing, and definitely more than enough of the sickening self-aggrandizement. All this bakwas talk of who rates as 'Bollywood Royalty', which stars make the cut as A-Listers, and some more rubbish about the First Families of Bollywood. This is all so unmodern and feudalistic! But then, it is also Bollywood all the way! Think of the absurdity of it all - a bunch of people in the movie business sit in judgment and preside over who rates, who doesn't, who counts, who doesn't. These unwritten, unstated 'laws' deeply affect the professional and personal lives of countless big and small members of the vast showbiz community. This insidious and vicious practice has been going on for as long as I can remember. This is the notorious 'Camps and Clubs Culture', with no transparency and a complete absence of fairplay.
There are indeed many routes to wiggling one's way into these hallowed and flawed camps. The price for entrée is steep indeed. But the winnings, once a person cracks the invisible barrier and crashes into the inner circles, are stupendous! Apart from access and fame, it is the money. Always, the money! Look at the jump in earnings of some who made the cut during the past ten years. Look at the real estate they possess, the cars they drive, the couture they flash. Which ambitious young person can resist the temptation to play ball, if the stakes are this attractive? Errr... a few principled and self-respecting ones. Those out in the wilderness today.
Around 20 years ago, the old order of influential 'movie moguls' started being replaced by a new, brash breed of adventurers - some who were born into these very same families and some who attached themselves to aggressive production houses that had replaced the old studio system. The new men on the block prided themselves on their 'professionalism' - by that they meant they went out and hired MBAs to run the show, while they snorted and partied. The so-called 'corporatisation' of Bollywood was a bit of an eyewash - all surface slickness, and smart offices with suited-booted CEOs, instead of the old-fashioned 'dens' preferred by the original power brokers, with lackeys and chamchas in gaudy, polyester clothes.
All this nonsense about upgrading very ordinary folks who had evolved into 'stars' and repositioning them as 'royalty' was a sharp marketing idea to lend an air of elusiveness and exclusivity to men and women who were no better and no different than you and me. Some were talented, some, not. Point being, they were just professionals doing a job! Which 'royal' lineage could any of them claim? Ditto about 'First Families of Bollywood'. First in what? The same applies to 'A-Listers' - another nasty way of exercising exclusion and discrimination, which had nothing to do with talent and everything with marketing and garnering mega buck endorsements.
As for those hyped to the sky 'awards' which rake in serious money - let me not even go there! Most were - and are - fixed. By the very same coterie which decides who gets which award and in what category. Their 'boys' and 'girls' always walk away with the top honours, and to hell with how brazen this favouritism looks to film fans. There are pay offs and trade-offs galore, and with so much riding on the award winners' next films, this is considered a fair and square quid pro quo. Some stars from the clique get to dance at the awards for a fat fee, while others 'host' the event - also for an obese fee. These are the same people who perform at the weddings of top industrialists and receive limited edition sports' cars in lieu of fees. After all, they are billed as 'family friends'.
Very few 'outsiders' were allowed in despite their far superior track records. In this closed world of deal-making and wheels within wheels, arbitrarily elevating or demoting someone was a piece of toast. There existed a tacit understanding between all the players to close ranks and diminish whosoever was the target. With the tragic death of Sushant Singh Rajput, it is this can of worms that has been opened. And the stink it has raised can no longer be ignored. This was long overdue and it is a pity that Bollywood needed a tragedy this large to begin a deep cleansing exercise.
The most significant fall out of Sushant Singh Rajput's death is that for the first time in decades, Bollywood is like a headless chicken with a lot of lost folks sulking and seething in utter confusion, wondering where they failed in perpetuating their power. There are no leaders, no spokespersons - it's a free fall. And a free for all. Nobody is speaking in the same voice, and it appears the script has been changed when no one was looking! Is anyone on the same page? Going by the evasions and defensive comebacks from the very people who believed they were invincible till a month ago, Bollywood is confronted with its own ugly face and an absence of leadership. The bubble seems to have burst finally, and all those pompous and arrogant personalities who pushed 'lesser beings' around while propping up their pets, are left scratching their heads and wondering where they tripped up.
The rise and growing popularity of OTT platforms during the pandemic is acting like a great equalizer by democratizing the process of entertainment like never before - case in point being talented actors like Sushmita Sen and Chandrachur Singh coming into their own and winning fans in a taut, well-made drugs-and-crime series called Aarya. Or that little gem titled Axone which provides a rare, honest and sensitive glimpse into the world of young professionals from the North East of India, trying to hack it in Delhi.
With no access to multiplexes and cinema theatres, the writing is on the wall. Audiences have switched to a medium that is going to be the future. Digital is the way forward. There goes the pumped-up star system! And there go all those Kings, Badshahs, Nawabs and Bhais of Bollywood. Younger audiences really don't give a damn They prefer talent over tinsel.
Authenticity is all that matters - in life - and entertainment. So, please guys - get real. Get off your high horses. The world has changed when you weren't looking. Forget all the hogwash about 'filmi royalty' and 'first families' tripe. If a few of those bhandas (myths) get broken (as they no doubt will!), the shabby truth will be hard to stomach. Most of those strutting around as the 'elite' of Bollywood have pretty shady and tawdry antecedents that will not stand up to scrutiny. Some of the biggest names have emerged from the streets - and that is a true medal worth flaunting. Why change the original narrative? Own those roots! Be proud of where you came from. Stop behaving like entitled maharajahs and maharanis from a bygone era.
Time to take off those fake painted masks while sticking to the asli N95 ones.
(Shobhaa De is an established writer, columnist, opinion shaper and social commentator, who is considered an authority on popular culture.)
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