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The inner workings of India’s nepotism debate

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The suicide of Sushant Singh Rajput was an addition to a litany of tragic events that we have witnessed this year. As expected the incident got a well deserved national attention. Videos on YouTube, prime time programs, articles and opinions in newspapers and much more. The issue of depression took centre stage again as it does everytime we have a depression related tragedy, only to die off eventually from our collective thought as the world moves on to a different issue. This though is not the first time such a tragedy has befallen the film industry. A lot has been written and discussed about the industry’s copious amounts of problems that hide behind the veneer of glamour and fame. But the problem that stood out yet again was what we all are familiar with – Nepotism. 

This is not the first time a debate on nepotism, it has gained so much spotlight. I began wondering why among all the problems that riddle the industry, nepotism stands out the most. Why is that the suicide of an actor caused such an uproar among the masses? Are there any deeper social undercurrents to this?


According to the Canadian psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson, whenever humans or any natural things involve themselves in any endeavour, be it social, cultural, political or economic, organize themselves naturally in hierarchies. Which means that a small group of people generate the most output and thus has access to most of the resources. As a result of which there remains a large group of dispossessed people who are not able to get access to the same resources and opportunities. In spite of this, the system works fine and practically a very few participants of the system are utterly dissatisfied with the system because notwithstanding the inequality, the underlying hierarchy is based on competence and merit. Which means that people by virtue of working hard can reach the top and gain access to the resources and opportunities that the smaller group of people have. 

Although, therein lies the fault-line in the hierarchical system. The system is stable only till the hierarchy is based on competence and merit. But there comes a time when the people who have access to a disproportionate amount of resources create a system that works not on competence but on patronage making it like a metaphorical citadel where no-one can enter regardless of one’s competence. Eventually this cabal starts acting like the gatekeepers for anyone who aspires to enter the elite group. They demand you to conform to the rules that they have set for their benefit. If refused, they make it extremely hard for someone to survive. There are times when an outsider is able to lob him/herself over the walls of the citadel but they remain exceptions that prove the norm. This is when the system starts to break down because the unerlying hierarchy becomes corrrupt. That is what causes people to outrage and demands for reformation of the systems start to take shape.


By the above description one can get a clue as to what has probably gone wrong in the film industry in India today. People tolerate an unequal system as long as they feel that they have a more or less equal chance to access to the opportunities and resources they desire. But there is an outrage when the people start feeling that the system is unfairly biased towards a group of a certain few privileged elite. The reason why people are outraged is because nepotism has come to manifest a system that is corrupt to the core.

Sushant Singh Rajput was not just any inconsequential actor. He was a successful, budding, immensely talented actor who was let down and bullied by a system that is set up by a certain few elites who have established a quasi-monopsonitic citadel that opens its doors to only those who say the right things and conform to their rules. This is why the issue of nepotism strikes a wrong cord with people. It smacks of a corrupt system that acts as a gatekeeper which serves the interest of the elite few. 


Reformation not revolution – At the expense of sounding like a political conservative, I believe that reforming the system is the best way forward. I do not believe in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I do not agree with the pointless and hyper emotional appeals for boycott of content of some producers and starkids. It is a short term solution that fizzles out as fast as it gains steam. We need to think about a more serious appraoch as an audience. I do see rays of light through the dark clouds. Today there are more chances for new talents to prove their mettle than there ever were. The most predominant one is the OTT and online phenomenon that has sprung up in the age of the internet. We are seeing some world class content coming out of it in the past few years. It has even made the elited and the entitled to come out of their ivory towers and recognize the paradigm shift where they have to compete on completely different set of terms than they are used to.

We have to make sure that as audience we make the right calls. We have the power to recognize and nurture the right kind of talent. It should be our privilege to have this responsibility. A responsibility which if taken seriously can help many other Sushant Singh Rajputs from going over the cliff.

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