Wake Up Sid’s director Ayan Mukerji is from a family of actors and producers. Lead actor Ranbir Kapoor is from an even more famous clan of stars. Lead actress Konkona Sen Sharma represents Bengali art house royalty. Producer Karan Johar is a second-generation film-maker. Whatever else Wake Up Sid turns out to be, it will remain a truly representative snapshot of the star-family complex that has currently mesmerized Bollywood.
Wake Up Sid is the latest in a long line of films that features second- and third-generation actors and film-makers. Of course, it’s probably only a coincidence that the movie’s list of credits checks off four of Indian cinema’s most well-known surnames. Mukerji and Johar most likely cast Kapoor and Sharma based on their previous track records rather than their family trees. Yet it is increasingly difficult to escape the hold that biology has over destiny in Bollywood. Movies both big and small feature at least one relative of either a faded or an existing talent. Star kids are propelled into the galaxy with more fanfare than space missions. The law of the box office catches up with them eventually and many of them burn out, but they get the kind of launch that aspiring actors sweating it out in acting schools and television serials can only dream of.
Just like jewellers and textile tycoons, Bollywood stars are passing on the business to their progeny and trying to keep the wealth within the family. The financial stakes in Bollywood are higher than they have ever been. Movie budgets run into crores. The profits from some films can wipe out the deficit of a small country. Public relations professionals will tell you that star kids provide the kind of publicity money can’t buy. Star kids, especially those who become actors, remind audiences of their famous relatives and ensure at least some interest in their movie projects. There is also a sense of security among financiers, producers and even viewers that a movie featuring a big name is in safe hands. Second-generation Bollywoodwallahs, who are well versed in the ways of stardom and know how to handle themselves in front of the camera, can be a blessing in an age where television coverage of Bollywood is at its peak.
Clannish: Kapoor (left) and Sharma in a still from Wake up Sid.
The Hindi film industry used to be a mythical place that welcomed outsiders with open arms. Star kids have always been around, from the days of Raj Kapoor, but there always seemed to be enough place for anonymous characters to make a name for themselves. The Kapoor kids were steeped so deeply in cinema that they couldn’t dream of doing anything else, but that’s why they were the Kapoors—they were special. Then everybody else decided to follow their example. The attempts by Sanjay Dutt and Kumar Gaurav to capitalize on their famous surnames in the 1980s must now be regarded as early signs of the Bollywood star-family complex. Whatever else you think of Shah Rukh Khan, he is remarkable because his ascendancy to stardom took place in the decade when Salman Khan and Aamir Khan, both children of industry captains, had already been put into orbit.
There is still a large degree of meritocracy among directors and writers who are not backed by well-known fathers and uncles. Contemporary film-makers tend to be urbane, well educated and the children of army officers or public sector bank officials. They bring to the job training and an outsider’s eye. However, the faces that light up the marquee often belong to star kids. It doesn’t seem to matter if the inheritance is dodgy or doesn’t match up to expectations. Anybody remember Mala Sinha’s daughter Pratibha? Or Manoj Kumar’s son Kunal Goswami? Why should we bet on Prateik Babbar or Imran Khan, neither of whom is a patch on his more famous relative? Yet there are enough success stories—Hrithik Roshan, Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor—for it to seem worth the risk.
There is so much surplus around these days that even if star kids don’t become A-listers, they can be accommodated lower down the pecking order. Flop actors such as Tusshar Kapoor and Fardeen Khan continue to hang around as second and third leads in multi-starrers—probably until they can replace themselves with their likenesses.
Wake Up Sid released in theatres on Friday.
Nandini Ramnath is the film editor of Time Out Mumbai (www.timeoutmumbai.net).
Write to Nandini at firstname.lastname@example.org