Will the nepotism debate post Sushant Singh Rajput’s death lead the way to a more level playing field?
Let’s emerge from the pandemic with a fairer, better, more innovative Bollywood
Pandemics accelerate disruption. Social and cultural shifts that would normally take years, even decades, happen rapidly, in a short time.
I read this on social media in the early days of the lockdown. It certainly seems to be true of the Hindi film industry.
In the last four months, things we couldn’t have imagined have come to pass — the box office is closed; multiplex owners have issued veiled threats to producers; the industry is facing estimated losses of ₹10,000 crore; an Akshay Kumar film is going straight to streaming; stars are lying low; and the most gut-wrenching — a talented and successful actor, Sushant Singh Rajput, has died by suicide.
Bollywood’s power structures are being upended and the ecosystem is churning furiously. There are too many unknown variables at play to predict how this will pan out. But here are some things I hope will happen…
A more level playing field:
Sushant’s tragic death has thrown into sharp focus the scourge of nepotism, which continues to plague the business.
Thankfully, the rise of casting directors in the last decade began the process of bringing talented actors instead of privileged actors to the fore. It’s imperative that the industry prioritise cultivating new talent — especially in front of the camera. It’s also imperative that instead of playing blame games and arguing over who’s the biggest villain, viewers understand that the buck really stops with them.
As Tripti Dimri, leading lady of the critically acclaimed Bulbbul (2020) and Laila Majnu (2018), said to me in an interview: “The entire power is in the audience’s hands. My film [Laila Majnu] was in the theatres for seven days. I went to see it on all seven days and some days there were just two or three people sitting there. If the audience won’t support us, why will makers want to work with us?”
An age of innovation:
Unprecedented is the word I’ve heard most often in the last few months. Every sector is grappling with the new normal and trying to innovate. I chaired a panel discussion on new methods of film financing and distribution that could boost independent filmmaking. Directors and writers are trying to find stories that can be told within the limitations imposed by the pandemic — ambitious in idea but intimate in form and execution. Studio owners are seeking ways to keep cast and crew safe. Creative solutions are being found for post-production — all post for the Hotstar crime series Aarya was done remotely. Bollywood is in survival mode, and it’s survival of the most inventive.
The last two years have seen writers come to the forefront. Thanks to streaming platforms, the people penning the stories are finally getting their due, and being heard.
Writers are even heading projects — Sudip Sharma, writer of the screenplay for NH10 (2015) and co-writer on Udta Punjab (2016), was writer and showrunner on this year’s excellent Paatal Lok.
Solidarity and solutions — these words were in an email from filmmaker Atul Sabharwal. I can’t think of a better way to combat the pandemic.
If you need support or know someone who does, please reach out to your nearest mental health specialist. Helplines: Aasra: 022 2754 6669; Sneha India Foundation: +914424640050 and Sanjivini: 011-24311918
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