In the last season of ‘Koffee with Karan’, actor Kangana Ranaut sparked a row when she termed the host, Karan Johar, the ‘flag-bearer of nepotism’ in Bollywood. Since then, there has been a raging debate about nepotism in Bollywood. The media has grilled many a star, and their patrons, on whether they would have made it without their famous ‘surnames’.
But surprisingly, Salman Khan has escaped media censure on this issue, despite the fact that no Bollywood star in recent times has promoted his family members as vehemently and flagrantly as has he.
Recently, Salman produced a movie called ‘Love Yatri’ under his banner to launch his brother-in-law Ayush Sharma, who is the husband of Arpita Khan. The movie came a cropper at the turnstiles, but one wouldn’t be surprised if ‘Bhai’ casts Ayush again as a sidekick in one of his upcoming movies. Or, better still, include Ayush in a movie directed or produced by him.
This has been a pattern for the last couple of decades.
Salman’s brother Arbaaz Khan started out as an actor with ‘Daraar’ (1996), but failed to cut the mustard. Due to visible lack of acting chops and screen charisma, Arbaaz stopped getting roles in big movies. But Salman came to his rescue and cast him in prominent roles in his films such as ‘Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya’, ‘Hello Brother’, ‘Garv’ etc. These films kept Arbaaz afloat, though barring ‘Bhai’ films, he only got inconsequential roles in B-grade films.
When Arbaaz completely stopped getting movies as an actor; Salman decided to turn him into a producer with ‘Dabangg’. The film was a blockbuster and was the highest grossing Bollywood movie of 2010. Later, Arbaaz directed ‘Dabangg 2’ with ‘Bhai’ and reaped a rich windfall. Since then, Arbaaz’s cinematic existence has depended solely on his brother.
Salman’s other brother, Sohail Khan, too has been the beneficiary of the superstar’s largesse. Sohail’s debut movie as a director was ‘Auzaar’ (1997) and despite the presence of a big star like Salman, it was a critical and commercial debacle. But hell-bent on establishing his brother’s career, ‘Bhai’ readily agreed to star in his next movie ‘Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya’ (1998). Since Arbaaz’s career wasn’t going anywhere, he too was inducted into the project. Due to Salman’s charisma and chartbusting songs, the movie became a runaway hit.
Since then, all the movies directed by Sohail have been bummers, be it ‘Hello Brother’ (1999) or ‘Jai Ho’ (2014). Salman was in the midst of a golden run on both the occasions and it was his brother’s movies which halted his surge. Before ‘Jai Ho’, Salman had delivered 5 blockbusters on the trot, an unprecedented feat, while ‘Hello Brother’ was preceded by superhits such as ‘Biwi No.1’ and ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’.
Salman’s generosity towards Sohail doesn’t stop here. He has has cast him in side-roles in many ambitious projects of his and, in the bargain, diluted and wrecked them. ‘Veer’ and ‘Tubelight’ would have benefitted immensely if a more competent and popular actor than Sohail had been roped in to complement Salman.
The lesser said about ‘Salaam-e-Ishq’ and ‘God Tussi Great Ho’ the better.
Due to Salman’s clout and humungous popularity, producers and directors have to relent to Salman’s stubborn demands of casting his brothers in prominent roles in his movies. This is nothing but wanton misuse of stardom.
Salman’s brother-in-law Atul Agnihotri too has cashed in. When Atul failed spectacularly as an actor, Salman told him to don the hat of a director and agreed to star in his movie. But with ‘Dil Ne Jise Apna Kaha’ (2004) and ‘Hello’ (2008), Atul failed to deliver even as a director and both the movies crashed.
Not one to be deterred, Salman asked him to become a producer. Atul then produced the 2011 blockbuster ‘Bodyguard’ (2011) and minted money. At present, Salman is shooting for ‘Bharat’, which is again produced by Atul.
In 2002, Salman had even got Atul a tiny role in ‘Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam’.
So be it Arbaaz, Sohail or Atul, Salman has given them innumerable chances as actors, directors and producers. And the only field, in which they all have got some measure of success, is production because they have to do very little creatively or artistically.
One can call Karan Johar the ‘flag-bearer of nepotism’ but at least the actors he launched or endorsed turned out to be pretty successful. The names that come to mind are Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan and Ranbir Kapoor.
But Salman has always promoted his family members even if they are clearly not cut out for acting or direction. Does that not make him the ‘sultan of nepotism’?
Salman is the most popular superstar of India with billions of fans fawning on him. He is renowned and feted even in the remotest parts of the country. If he starts looking beyond his family and scouts genuine talent, he would be doing a big favour to the film industry which is in dire need of fresh ideas and meritorious people.
There wouldn’t be a better way of harnessing his popularity and giving something back to the industry that has put him on a pedestal. In the process, the industry might wash away the stain of nepotism that has dented its image.