"It is my karma where I’m born."
Nepotism, the practice among those with power or influence of favouring relatives, friends, or associates, especially by giving them jobs, exists in every field of work but questionably is more highlighted in entertainment.
Fans of Hollywood are currently having serious conversations around nepotism, with many pointing out the privilege models, actors and singers have due to their celebrity family relationships, labelling them “nepo babies.”
Whilst Hollywood fans might just be waking up to nepotism in Western cinema, Bollywood fans have been aware of the powerful families of actors and actresses, whose fame transcends down each generation.
Nepotism is engrained in Bollywood’s skeleton and there are many actors and actresses you see on screen who is likely to have a famous parent or grandparent.
For example, descendants of Raj Kapoor, one of the pioneers of Hindi cinema in the 1950s, have been incredibly successful in Bollywood, especially his son Rishi Kapoor and grandson Ranbir Kapoor.
So, who are Bollywood’s biggest nepotism babies and what impact have they had on the industry?
One powerful Bollywood family that may come to mind are the Bachchans, headed by actors Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan.
Arguably, their son, Abhishek Bachchan is the biggest product of nepotism out of the clan.
However, DESIblitz reported in 2020 that Abhishek has never received any finance from his father, nor has he “picked up the phone on anyone.”
Other nepotism babies have highlighted their privilege or have simply claimed nepotism doesn’t exist.
In 2022, DESIblitz reported that Alia Bhatt, daughter of filmmaker Mukesh Bhatt and actress Soni Razdan, said she’s never been rejected or ever had to audition for a role.
Those in the filming industry, including A-list actors, have much experience auditioning, even after winning prestigious awards.
So arguably, Alia’s case is very unusual.
In an interview with Midday India, Alia claimed that the debate is “manufactured” and hopes she can “shut the conversation down through her movies and prove that she is actually worth the space she occupies.”
She stresses, however, that the opportunities “come easy” due to her father’s hard work but argues that she’s working hard too.
Alia’s husband, Ranbir Kapoor, is the 4th descendant of the Kapoor family.
He openly speaks about his background on the AIB Podcast, stressing that he wouldn’t be in the room without his family name or relationships.
Ananya Pandey, daughter of Chunky Panday, is another actor who recognises her family connections.
Speaking to iDiva, she said: “I feel like coming from a film background does give me an advantage over others because access is the hardest part to overcome.
“The fact that I can meet a Karan Johar is something that is available to me because of my parents.
“But I also believe you can have access but what you do in that room is purely dependent on your talent.
“If you have access and don’t have the talent to back it up, people won’t invest their money in you.
“Having said that, I do believe nepotism exists and it exists in all industries, not just Bollywood.”
In 2022, Karan Johar, Indian filmmaker and host of the talk show Koffee with Karan, offered Shanaya Kapoor, daughter of Sanjay and Maheep Kapoor, her debut role in Bedhadak.
As reported by DESIblitz, the film faced backlash for nepotism.
A social media user wrote: “So Karan Johar continues with his tradition of launching star kids i.e Shanaya Kapoor in Bedhadak.”
Shanaya told Zoom TV Digital, however, she wants viewers to feel she deserves her role:
“I want my performance in this film to make people feel that I earned this opportunity, that I didn’t waste it or that I didn’t take it for granted.
“I’ve worked very hard and I will continue to.
“It’s not even something I want to keep repeating because that is the job. You’re meant to work hard, and I have.
“I hope people recognise that when they see my work.”
Kareena Kapoor, daughter of Randhir Kapoor and Babita, granddaughter of Rishi Kapoor, shares very dissimilar opinions to her cousin Ranbir.
In an interview with Rajdeep Sardesi for India Today, Kareena appeared with her sister, Karisma.
When discussing nepotism, Kareena simply said: “[It] does not exist.”
Later she said: “The audience has made us.”
Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, daughter of Anil Kapoor, acknowledged her connections via Twitter on Father’s Day in 2022.
She said: “Today on Father’s Day I’d like to say one more thing, yes I’m my father’s daughter and yes I am here because of him and yes I’m privileged.
“That’s not an insult, my father has worked very hard to give me all of this.”
She faced backlash for her concluding statement: “It is my karma where I’m born and to whom I’m born.”
Many people replied to her Tweet, arguing her usage of karma had many casteist connotations.
Journalist Stuti Mishra tweeted: “It’s not anyone’s ‘Karma’ or past life goodwill to be born where they are born.
“It’s nobody’s right to be privileged, some people just are.”
“Do you think people who are born in underprivileged houses have done something wrong to deserve that?”
Nepotism is a touchy subject for many celebrities.
Some may feel threatened as if their talent is not enough to secure their place in Bollywood.
However, it is without a doubt their connections and family names accelerated their journey to fame.
Non-nepo Bollywood Stars
There are also actors in Bollywood who have found success without connections to the industry and solely on their hard work and talent.
Shah Rukh Khan, also known as the King of Bollywood, initially hoped to pursue a career in sports.
It was a shoulder injury that held him back and encouraged him to look towards acting.
Shah Rukh Khan appeared in many Hindi television series before earning his film debut in 1992 with Deewana.
Deepika Padukone also had different aspirations before acting.
Initially, she imagined she would emerge into a sporting career as a professional badminton player, like her father.
She decided to pursue a modelling career but got cast for music videos at the same time when she was 21.
Kangana Ranaut is another example of a successful Bollywood actor who had completely different expectations growing up.
Her parents wanted her to become a doctor but she decided to move away from her hometown and pursue modelling.
During this time, she used to live on “bread and aachar as she didn’t have enough money.”
It was during this period her modelling agency sent her to Mumbai to audition for her debut film, Gangster: A Love Story.
Is Nepotism entirely Bad?
Many Bollywood actors have called out nepotism and expressed how they haven’t had a fair share of opportunity compared to actors with connections in the industry.
In an interview with Pinkvilla, Kriti Sanon revealed she was replaced by a “star kid” without knowing the reason why.
However, this experience had not diminished her motivations in the industry as she feels as if “everything happening for me and not happening for me is good for me.”
Kangana Ranaut also called out Karan Johar the “flag-bearer of nepotism” for not accepting “outsiders” of the industry.
Kangana also called the industry out for side-lining Sushant Singh Rajput.
The actor took his own life in 2020.
A legal case was held against Karan Johar, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Salman Khan, Ekta Kapoor and others claiming that Sushant had been denied opportunities due to nepotism but the case was later dismissed.
The conversation around nepotism will continue for many years to come, especially as it exists in different industries such as politics and finance.
Overall, nepotism becomes a danger when it stops outsiders from specific industries from having equal opportunities and finding success.