The last few months have been very tough, both for moviemakers and film lovers. Apart from the coronavirus pandemic robbing films of theatrical release and forcing filmmakers to halt shooting midway, the film industry is also dealing with a fresh session of outrage on social media over nepotism, following the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput. The sheer shock and suddenness of this incidence has unleashed blind public fury on Bollywood, the kind it hasn't ever dealt with. Amidst this fury, we will see the digital release of a film that is led by a star kid and produced by a man caught smack in the middle of this hurricane of outrage over favouritism in Bollywood.
It is ironic that Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, which is the story of an "outsider" woman breaking the glass ceiling in a field that doesn't think she is suited for it, is lead by a Late Sridevi's daughter Janhvi Kapoor and is produced by Karan Johar's Dharma Productions. These two names are more than enough for a large section of the audience to reject the film, or at at least that is what the social media narrative seems to be.
As Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl gears up for its Netflix release on August 12, the chatter to boycott the film has seen a rapid rise. So should one truly boycott the film? Will we be labelled fake SSR fans if we watch this film, or chose not to shun it publicly? Does boycotting this film even solve the problem of nepotism in Bollywood? And is the boycott fair to self-made actors such as Pankaj Tripathi, Angad Bedi, Manav Vij, Vineet Kumar Singh and the legacy of the woman on whose struggles the film is based?
The debate that surrounds this film is not an easy one to crack. Many "outsider" actors have taken to social media in the past month, to reveal how nepotism and favouritism play a big role in casting choices for a film. One does doubt the casting choice for the film's lead role. Star kids do have an initial advantage which makes it easier for them to find a film launch and that initial boost of two-three good films that could help secure a decent career for them if they succeed in proving their mettle. The launch, initial PR, advertisements and social media fandom, this is where the advantage of being the start kid stops, but that doesn't mean this advantage is not decisive on many levels. We know how difficult it is for actors to even find decent roles, let alone a glossy debut and a tailor-made role in a smart film which is bound to invoke curiosity in viewers.
But then rejecting an entire film, and not its lead star or producer are two different things. A film holds within itself the hard work of hundreds of people; spot boys, makeup and stunt teams, cinematographers, music directors, lyricists, dialogue writers etc. So wouldn't rejecting Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl, without even watching it, be unfair to these people?
Another reason why it seems unfair to shun the film is that this is one of those rare women-centric films, that talk about empowerment and representation of women. Gunjan Saxena, the IAF pilot who is the inspiration behind this film, brought glory to her country, inspiring little girls to dream big, shattering all the stereotypes that kept women out of Indian Airforce and combat. This is a story that needs to reach the masses, in a country where it has taken women years of struggle to gain a permanent commission in the Army, and where parents are still discouraged from letting their daughters join the fauj.
The debate around nepotism cannot come at the cost of rejection of relevant films, which are well made (non-negotiable criteria). So instead of passing a blind verdict on the film, we should watch it and then dissect it. If Janhvi's performance falters anywhere, then the audience has every right to point that out. If the film doesn't do justice to the real Gunjan Saxena and her legacy, then the audience must call out the makers on that front as well. But the only way to pass judgement on that is to watch it and give it a fair chance that we as an audience didn't give to Rajput's Sonchiriya, a remarkable movie that could have changed a lot for the actor on the professional front, had it worked at the box office.
The way Bollywood works does demand scrutiny, but nepotism is the last thing that must change our gaze towards Hindi cinema. We have to remember that it is the audience that holds the power to make a celebrity out of a star kid. It is the audience that decides which film is a superhit and which one gets a good rating. Let us use this power wisely and ensure that good artists don't end up bearing the brunt of our anger over conduct of a handful Bollywood elite.
The views expressed are the author's own.