Hours after Saif Ali Khan posted an 'open letter' to apologise for, and clarify, his jibe at Kangana Ranaut, the actress responded with one of her own, taking the infamous 'nepotism debate' a step further.
Hopefully this is the last we will hear of it.
But first, here's a bit of context for those who may have missed the latest developments in this months-long debate.
Last week, at the IIFA awards in New York, Khan, along with his industry colleagues Karan Johar and Varun Dhawan, had cracked a tasteless joke about Ranaut's strong views on nepotism, which runs through the Hindi movie industry in India.
Referring to the actress's comments on Johar's TV show, in which she had spoken of the privilege enjoyed by star kids by virtue of their birth, the three men, all of whom come from shining Bollywood pedigree, made jibes at her. Their bro-talk, peppered with mocking puns and sniggering remarks, ended with their cheerful proclamation that "Nepotism rocks".
Not only was their conduct outrageous, which was condemned across social and mainstream media, it also proved Ranaut right beyond a shadow of doubt. The nepotism that reigns over Bollywood is such that it also blinds its beneficiaries profoundly. So much so that they fail to recognise its all-pervasive presence in their own lives.
To give credit where it's due, the men did eventually admit their mistake, especially the tastelessness of their 'joke'. Even Johar, who had earlier written a blog trashing Ranaut's concerns and made angry remarks about her at a public event in London, said it was misplaced. Dhawan followed suit.
But Khan went a step ahead and penned a full-on letter -- and that's where his apology started coming apart in the seams.
While admitting he's apologised to Ranaut for his remark personally, Khan began his letter by saying that it should end the matter once and for all. He then went down the rather disingenuous path of first admitting the prevalence of nepotism and then blaming the media for perpetuating it. What's more, he threw in "eugenics" and "gene pool" into the debate, as though inheriting a star parent's looks must naturally lead to a seamless career in acting.
To cut a long story, it read like a quarter-part apology and three-quarters self-defence. He had ONE valid point in there though, which we acknowledged too. But that was about it.
Enter Ranaut, once again, with a sharp response of her own, where she has taken apart Khan's letter, point by point.
The issue of nepotism, as she says early on, cannot end with Khan tendering an apology to her -- because it is much more serious than her thoughts on the matter. As Ranaut explains, the nepotism debate is about providing equal opportunity to the 1.3 billion Indians who do not enjoy the access and the privilege that Bollywood star kids do by virtue of their lineage.
Speaking out against it is about giving hope to those 'outsiders' to the industry who tend to give up faith in the face of relentless bullying and intimidation. It's about upholding a certain value system and observing it in the choices and actions one makes in daily life.
Coming to the point about genetics, Ranaut had a superb rejoinder, which deserves to be quoted at length:
In another part of your letter, you talked about the relationship between genetics and star kids, where you emphasised on nepotism being an investment on tried and tested genes. I have spent a significant part of my life studying genetics. But, I fail to understand how you can compare genetically hybrid racehorses to artistes!
Are you implying that artistic skills, hard-work, experience, concentration spans, enthusiasm, eagerness, discipline and love, can be inherited through family genes? If your point was true, I would be a farmer back home.
As for the media's role in propelling star kids into early, often underserved, stardom, Ranaut turned the tables on Khan again: "Nepotism is merely a weakness of the human nature," she wrote, "it takes great deal of will-power and strength to rise above our intrinsic nature -- sometimes we excel, sometimes we don't."
In the end, Ranaut goes on to admit that those who make peace with nepotism are within their rights to do so but for her "that's an extremely pessimistic attitude for a Third World country, where many people don't have access to food, shelter, clothing, and education."
Like a real star, who is a superior human being as well, she concludes with these words: "The world is not an ideal place, and it might never be. That is why we have the industry of arts. In a way, we are the flag-bearers of hope."
Read her full response.
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