Suhana Khan, daughter of the “Badshah of Bollywood” himself, Shah Rukh Khan, recently graced the cover of Vogue India at the bright young age of 18 to a widespread criticism and accusations of nepotism.
A few of our BG’s have some THOUGHTS about this… Check them out:
Bollywood’s Bread & Butter
Nepotism has been Bollywood’s bread and butter recruitment initiative from time to time. Literally, it was the only active recruitment policy, until beautiful Indian women began making a splash at international beauty competitions like Miss Universe and Miss World – then Bollywood opened up the recruiting pool a bit wider to include them, and their supermodel peers. The true outsiders, who have made it through the tightly guarded gates, despite the almost insurmountable barriers, have been the badass hustlers who got in by ‘the skin of their teeth,’ the ‘sweat of their brow,’ coupled with huge amounts of luck.
Of course, nepotism exists in other industries, and it happens in Hollywood, too (please see Catherine Zeta-Jones’s latest magazine cover with her daughter, Cindy Crawford, Kendall Jenner, and insta models et all), but not in the same way. In Hollywood they have access but it’s icky, and it’s recognized by everyone for what it is, and until the recent rise of Instagram ‘famous for being famous’ crew – these people usually haven’t been taken seriously. They aren’t given the biggest launch pads right off the bat (if they are, the audience and the industry openly calls them out), or awarded the best opportunities straight out of the gates. Meanwhile, in Bollywood it’s the most basic of things, a completely accepted, respected, and perpetuated practice.
I’ve been critical of Bollywood nepotism in several of my posts already, and I would normally have jumped at the chance to vehemently critique the hell out of this, but I don’t see Suhana as the true culprit here. Now, did she get the cover solely because of nepotism? Hell yeah, she did! That’s not even up for debate. She has done nothing yet in her life for her to merit the cover of Vogue, except being her famous father’s daughter.
But then again this is the magazine that put Kendall Jenner on their 10th-anniversary cover, passing over several worthy Indian models, so their credibility in this area is ‘meh’ at this point.
Her father, Shah Rukh Khan is a true blue outsider. He hustled his way to the top, surpassing probably even his own expectations, I think. Nevertheless, he’s still a product of his industry. He’s also just doing what has always been done… He’s giving his children the leg up that all parents hope to give their children. Suhana Khan is privileged beyond measure, she comes from power, and of course, the advantage that she has is an unfair one. One, we must remember, she would have no matter what she chose to do, but it’s extra icky in the film industry which should be about talent and acting chops. In truth is it’s about the money just like it is in every other industry.
Let’s not kid ourselves, for Vogue India it was about the $$ at the end of the day. They knew that working with the SRK and perhaps his wife Gauri Khan too, would help cultivate an already existing and fruitful relationship, and it would get them appropriate exposure and the big bucks.
Bollywood is an industry too and is interested in making lots and lots of money. It’s an industry churning out products for our consumption, and we buy it because we love art, and in India it’s really truly one of the few escapes for the people. However, we shouldn’t for a second think that only audiences decide who sticks around and becomes a star! There is an entire industry (us here at BG are a part of it, as well!) and film fraternity that strategizes ways to leverage, salvage, and spin everything so that we buy it. The new paparazzi and insta fame game has been exported quite successfully to India, a country that already had quite a robust celebrity-obsessed culture. Tie in all the nationalist propaganda disguised as patriotism, and big business money, including the mafia power plays… It’s a huge global entity now with tons of money involved to keep us all wanting more. There is no denying that.
So as a business decision, having Suhana Khan on the cover makes sense for Vogue India and Shah Rukh Khan, and even Suhana Khan.
My whole beef with nepotism and the power and privilege of Bollywood folks is that it goes unacknowledged and unchecked, and thus perpetuates. It pisses me off to no end when Bollywood’s products of nepotism tell us in interview after interview that they have it even harder than the complete outsiders, and “the audience will decide” whether they have the acting talent worth keeping around or not. As if the whole industry backing them has no claim to their success, as if they weren’t raised in circles of privilege and handed access to the best of the best in the industry! As if the industry powers don’t have a vested interest in seeing their children, their brother’s children, their friends etc., succeed!
Not to mention this entire “look at us we’re so progressive” bullshit they’ve all been preaching from their pulpits of privilege whilst completely ignoring or erasing the reality that they’re continuously benefiting and perpetuating an inequitable system.
Please spare us. it wouldn’t be so bad if they owned it you know what I mean? — Sundeep Hans
Important to Empathize
As much as we like to hate on the children who are born to stars and who choose to adopt their parent’s profession as well, it is important that we empathize with the pressure they face to become successful stars whether they have the acumen for it or not.
Much like many of us who have well-educated parents, we too have the same pressure to be extremely successful in our own lives whether we choose our professions ourselves or coerced into them due to family pressure, children born to megastars are expected to do no less.
As many jokes as we like to crack about Suhana Khan’s Vogue cover, it is important that we understand that she is the daughter of a man loved more than god and lives with the pressure of having to surpass his success to make a dot on the radar in Hindi films. She might have a good start due to her father’s significance in the industry, but at one point her talent will speak for itself and she will succeed by her own merit or fall into the shadows of her father.
The pressure is insurmountable, and as easy as it is to discredit her, it is important to empathize with the pressure she might be feeling to attain success in an industry she knows, whether that is what she wants or not. Because after all, most of us have been there at one point or another. — Harshita Ganesh
A Deeper Look at What It Means to Be Privileged
Nepotism has been a hot-button issue in Bollywood for a number of years. I sat in the audience last summer as Karan Johar, Varun Dhawan and Saif Ali Khan made their infamous nepotism joke at IIFA 2017, and like everyone else, I thought it was weird and uncalled for.
This newest controversy involving Suhana Khan’s Vogue cover has made me take a deeper look at what it means to be privileged and whether we should criticize others based on their privilege. Many of our staff at Brown Girl live in first-world countries. We are privileged in that specific way. Our parents, grandparents or ancestors struggled to give us better lives, and many of us were just born into our privileged circumstances. We didn’t have to work for it ourselves.
The conversation about Suhana Khan’s privilege is no different. She was born to a father who established himself as a superstar in less than a decade of working as an actor. An outsider during a time of a much more tightly knit industry and the son of parents who died early on in his life, it is no surprise that he would provide his children with opportunities that he did not have – one of the most grand spaces to call home, higher education abroad and, in this case, professional connections.
Celebrity culture in India is unlike anywhere else in the world. Bollywood actors, especially, are treated as royalty. Heightened public interest in their personal lives breeds an atmosphere in which anyone around them also becomes a part of the spotlight. ‘Star kids,’ as they are usually called, are certainly no exception.
A primary example of this is Taimur Ali Khan, son of Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan. Perhaps one of the most famous star kids of his time at just one and a half years old, he is ever present on social media in the form of memes and paparazzi shots.The paparazzi continue to follow him around because the public interest in the only child of Kapoor and Khan has become somewhat of a phenomenon. While it is easy to say that the Hindi film industry perpetuates nepotism, it is important for us to acknowledge our role as the mass public. Publications like Vogue cater directly to public interest and what will sell the most copies of its magazine, and a Suhana Khan cover was a sure money maker.
Also, nepotism is prevalent in every industry in countries around the world. It is a rampant problem in Hollywood as well. The best example is Kendall Jenner. At 22 years old, she is the highest paid model in the world. No offense to any diehard fans, but I don’t see anything particularly special about her to give her that type of professional status, aside from her famous family. She is given opportunity after opportunity because of the family she hails from, and if it was truly acknowledged by the American or international entertainment or fashion industry, she would not have such a high profile career.
Now entering the professional world, I have learned that what often sets one candidate apart from the next is their connections. It is not fair, I definitely agree, but we need to recognize that many of us use nepotism at one point or the other to be accepted into our top-choice universities, receive a job offer or gain preferential treatment.
[Read Related: “Priyanka Chopra: Proud to Be a Woman of Color”]
I cannot fault these young men and women for making the most of their opportunities or for knowing the people they know. Yes, they have it easier. They don’t have to be put through the ringer of auditions or work as tenaciously for just one chance at a role in a film as an outsider, but they are just trying to follow their dreams like everyone else. As unfair as nepotism is, It is also unfair to judge the talent of children of stars before their work has even been seen.
As with other types of privilege, the key is in recognizing the advantages one has. One cannot change the circumstance in which they were born, but they can identify and acknowledge it. This is where Bollywood has made slow progress, but star kids have demonstrated their awareness of their privilege and the ways in which their family name has contributed to their career as an actor.
Recently, in an interview with The Times of India, Alia Bhatt said, “Of late, I have realised that there is no need to defend the nepotistic nature of the industry because it does exist. The reason why it has become an emotional debate is because those who don’t get a chance, it is difficult for them. If I was on the other side, I would be heartbroken. I may have felt the same way.”
Also, in the beginning of the interview below, Janhvi Kapoor expressed her awareness of the reason she gained popularity even before the release of her first film:
I believe that these are steps in the right direction, and perhaps it will be the younger professionals in the film industry who will be able to push to change Bollywood’s nepotism.
Before the pitchforks are raised over the next debut of a celebrity’s son or daughter, I leave you with one last question to ponder over: If you came from a famous lineage, would you not use familial connections if it could help you achieve your dreams? — Gabrielle Deonath
Ivy League Acceptance Rates (Legacy vs. Non-Legacy)
Legacy applicants enjoy higher acceptance rates than non-legacy applicants. For example, the admission rate for Princeton legacy applicants in 2009 exceeded the admission rate for non-legacy applicants by 32 percentage points.
At first, I was quite bothered/annoyed by Suhana Khan being on the Vogue cover since she hasn’t even made her Bollywood debut or has done anything significant (to my knowledge). However, after thinking about it further, I realized this is just what Indian society has reinforced and perpetuated by its ever-growing infatuation with celebrities and their lives.
The only reason people like myself have gotten upset over this example of nepotism is because it’s right in our faces and it’s seen through a super familiar household name. The stark truth is that the legacy and nepotism issues here in the US, especially when it comes to college admissions and the like, are so much more far-reaching and problematic than this.
[Read Related: “Kangana Ranaut Calls Out Karan Johar and Nepotism in Bollywood”]
These are the real issues we should be paying attention to, not whether some kid made it on a cover of a magazine that people are going to read no matter the controversy surrounding it anyways. — Tina Lapsia