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Bollywood: The glamourous world of nepotism, hypocrisy, and sexism

2020 has been a year of chaos and mayhem, to say the least. But the one thing that got a lot of us through these exhausting lockdowns has been entertainment. And for people like me, entertainment generally means movies. 

Growing up, Bollywood was the epitome of glitz and glamour to so many of us. So, imagine our shock when the world that we so admired reared its ugly head with the news of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s passing. It was quite honestly the awakening that the industry needed. The flimsy veil that the industry wore to cover its evils seemed to have suddenly dropped and artists who were afraid of consequences and unfair treatment due to being outsiders suddenly started speaking up and calling out the perpetrators of all things venomous in Bollywood. As viewers, we have been justifying the wrongs of the industry for quite some time now. But when Bollywood actors suddenly started supporting the BlackLivesMatter movement, while very conspicuously ignoring the double standards and the systemic racism in Bollywood, it seemed like a good time to take a deep dive and see for me, what the truth was. So, did I find the truth? Well quite frankly, I don’t know what to believe anymore. Read on and find out for yourself, if you dare.

One of the buzzwords surrounding Bollywood over the last few years has been nepotism, courtesy of actress Kangana Ranaut and whether you agree with her rather extremist political opinions, credit where credit is due, she taught the nation a new word and lit a fire amongst those who entered the industry without the use of familial connections. But is nepotism all that evil? Hasn’t it given us wonderful actors like Ranbir Kapoor, Aamir Khan? To be fair, it does exist in pretty much every industry there is. The only difference being qualifications. A doctor’s son may become a doctor because of his father but no real hospital would grant him a job unless he had the qualifications for the same. Unlike a doctor or an engineer, an actor’s son can become an actor irrespective of his qualifications. And unfortunately, especially recently, star kids have the looks and the horse riding and belly dancing skills, but real acting qualifications? Not so much. They have access to some of the best film schools in the world thanks to their backgrounds but alas, for the most part, they choose to indulge in outlandish PR antics instead. And despite all this, they are often backed by some of the biggest banners (also referred to as flagbearers of nepotism) in the industry for their debut films and get way too many opportunities even if they fail for the umpteenth time. As for the outsiders, the same treatment is not extended to them. Many actors who’ve worked in the industry in one form or another, for decades in some cases, don’t even get secondary roles in big-budget movies despite their experience and they most definitely aren’t paid the same. And if an outsider somehow manages to break the glass ceiling, he or she is quickly brought back to the ground with the help of fake blinds and sometimes even fake sexual harassment allegations by those who act like bouncers to the exclusive club that is Bollywood. Meanwhile, star kids continue to live it up and all of their bad behaviour and criminal activities even, are often swept under the rug to the extent that movies are made about actual terrorists to whitewash them whereas if an outsider even so much as hikes his fee (and often rightfully so), he or she is often called overrated. Such is the hypocrisy in the industry. Speaking of which, one very recent example comes to mind.

The BlackLivesMatter campaign in the US has been around for years, but this year after the unlawful deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the tension seemed to have boiled over, with thousands swarming streets to protest and demand the arrests of the murderers despite the ongoing pandemic. And as is Bollywood’s obsession with everything American, our stars soon joined Hollywood actors in their bandwagon. The only difference being there was no research done into the subject matter because of which a lot of people ended up posting things like AllLivesMatter without realizing that they were giving voice to a campaign that generally is considered to be a racist apologist hashtag and is heavily frowned upon. But things don’t end with stupidity here. After the barrage of posts and tweets, suddenly a lot of the actors who were until recently promoting brands like ‘Fair & Lovely’ and other fairness products were called out for their hypocrisy. But barring a few like Priyanka Chopra who has in the past accepted responsibility and stopped promoting such creams, not many others accepted accountabilities for their actions. The idea that fair is better in general stems from the euro-centric beauty ideals that the world seems to be obsessed with. Indian women and South Asian women in general have time and again been told that they are ‘dark but pretty’, which loosely translates to ‘bleach your face and you’ll find a suitable husband’. Bollywood has played a huge role in this with very few dark-skinned actresses being brought to the forefront and those that are, have often been asked to get glutathione injections making them appear fairer. And somehow this standard of fairness is often expected to be upheld by women only. Men on the other hand are often expected to be the quintessential ‘tall, dark, handsome’ Mills & Boons stereotype. It is almost like in Bollywood, rampant colourism and sexism go hand in hand.

Plenty of us has cringed when a 20 something actress is often cast to play the love interest of a 50 something-year-old actor pretending to be a college-going boy. But insipid movies aside, sexism in a workplace environment isn’t new, is it? We’ve seen female characters in movies reduced to tropes such as love interest, mother, sister, and worse, the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ who only exists to “cure” the hero from his depressive, brooding state. Female characters in Bollywood are generally either expected to be the ‘demure good girl’ or ‘the feisty girl who only ever fights with everyone’ or ‘the shallow, catty diva’ and other such stereotypes. It is almost as if the writers have never met multidimensional real-life women. Oh, and let’s talk about the new age pseudo-feminism wave that has washed over Bollywood. In their opinion, feminism only means drinking, smoking, using cuss words, and frequently sleeping with different men. Not that there is anything culturally wrong with that but there are feminists everywhere who are highly educated women who balance homes and careers or housewives who choose to be homemakers as it is their wish to do so. But Bollywood hardly chooses to show this side of women. Female friendships solely exist on male-bashing and generally end when one of the protagonists falls in love with our hero leading the jilted woman to end the friendship. Because what is women’s purpose in the world, if it doesn’t revolve around men?

Honestly, as the audience of Bollywood, the onus of certain things also lies with us. We should start by supporting movies that rely on good scripts and performances as opposed to star power and mind-numbingly unbelievable action. We can also ensure that we expect more from our directors and writers while also supporting smaller, independent movies that star outsiders and give them a chance to showcase their abilities. If and only if we do better and watch more responsibly, we can expect a real change. And as it often happens, life imitates art. Artists will inspire the everyday folks and maybe just maybe we will be able to see an India that won’t have to rely on the standards set by our colonizers to feel validated.

About the Author

Devanshi Mehta is currently pursuing her MBA from Indian Institute of Management, Raipur. She has worked as Account Manager in Deloitte.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.

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