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The talent heirloom
Just when she was about to step into Bollywood, Alia Bhatt's father Mahesh Bhatt gave her the same piece of advice he offered his older daughter, Pooja, when she was making her debut: "The only way to fit in is not to fit in". Yet, the need to "fit in" is at the heart of the aspirations of dreamy-eyed star children.
Nearly every year, one hears of a big splash from the film family, someone's son being launched with great fanfare or someone's daughter being groomed to plot the decline of the ruling heroine of the day. If there is some space left, nephews and nieces are accommodated unhesitatingly.
For one, Karan Johar's upcoming Student of the Year, an atypical Dharma film which doesn't star, well, stars, could either end up receiving credit for throwing up exciting debutants or being derided for adding to the existing failures. Its two leading actors, of which Alia is one and filmmaker David Dhawan's son Varun another, have famous fathers. The question really is, if in this age of 'outsider' whizkids such as Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, what chance do star children have
of grabbing audience attention? Siddiqui, the modestlooking hero from Gangs of Wasseypur hails from the small town of Buldhana in Maharashtra, says that this is an age that celebrates talent and merit.
"A star son or daughter can only create initial flutter but cannot save a bad film. Established stars can turn a bad film into a profitable proposition but not their children. They may have image and aura but that will only take them so far. What counts more is whether you are willing to fight your battles. " The change of guard is making considerable demands on debutants. Today, directors look for more than just a pretty face. Plus, the discovery of natural talent such as Ranveer Singh, Anushka Sharma and Parineeti Chopra poses a tough challenge to star kids. "It's certainly a difficult time for young kids, " says director David Dhawan whose son Varun is making his debut with Student of the Year. "Earlier, there wasn't much pressure for children from the industry. If they failed, they could get a second chance. But now, thanks to the intense media scrutiny, every little slip is analysed. "
What Dhawan means is that star kids are not forgiven when they fail. Esha Deol could not make it despite an impressive lineage and family support. Sonam Kapoor, though forever in the headlines as a fashion show-stopper, is still struggling to prove herself as an actor. Others such as Fardeen Khan, Zayed Khan, Rinke Khanna, Soha Ali Khan, Uday Chopra and Tanisha have fallen by the wayside as well. Then, there are star kids like Tusshar who think survival itself is a form of success. After ten years of struggle, he has only recently been accepted as a confident actor.
Yet, in this rut, if there is any silver lining, it is Ranbir Kapoor. Director Anurag Kashyap argues that it is his talent - and not his famous Kapoor surname - that has brought him this far. "He could have been easily washed away after Saawariya. But he remained focussed, worked hard and didn't get bogged down by pressure. You can actually map his evolution from Saawariya to Rockstar. He is what he is because of the choices he has made, " says Kashyap.
Star kids often talk about how it is never easy for them. "It's like walking on fire, " says Tusshar. "My father, " he says of yesteryears dancing star Jeetendra, "was a good looking actor. Initially, I used to wonder, 'Why am I not being given a chance to prove that I can look good, too?' I had to work on my looks and fitness, which my father was given natural credit for. " Even today Abhishek Bachchan has to fight off the shadow of being Amitabh Bachchan's son. "
The comparison to the young ones is often unfair and limiting, feels Pooja Bhatt and corrects the misconception that her father "designed Daddy to launch" her. For Alia, she says the attack is double-pronged. "In her case, stakes are higher and so is the pressure. At some point, she will have to emerge out of the Bhatt brand and be on her own. But on the way, she must remember that great careers don't happen by chance but by ordeal and pursuit. She must have fun as she goes along and not to take herself too seriously. "
Dhawan adds that his son got Student of the Year on sheer merit. "I didn't put in a word or anything. You must credit the kid for making it on his own, " he says. Siddiqui admits that being a star kid helps getting a big launch and publicity. "It's easy for them that way because they are from the same background and people are willing to launch them. They have grown up with other actors and it's good to sometimes have a little community going on. There is a possibility that a director might cast somebody if he has known the person from childhood. But actors like me can only depend on luck. "
Kashyap agrees that if a film with star kids is well made, there is curiosity about it. Also, such films have the ability to surprise viewers. Love Story, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and Jaane Tu. . . Ya Jaane Na are cases in point.
"Young people bring fresh energy. The course of cinema anywhere in the world has been changed by the young, " says Kashyap. As Jackie Shroff, whose son Tiger will debut soon, says: "Surname is one thing. It cannot get you food nor can it assure success. Tiger will have to work harder than I did. When I came in, the industry was a different place. Today, it's the survival of the fittest. "
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