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Saif Ali Khan’s Views On Nepotism Are Even Darker Than They Appear

A Nawab’s insane delusions.

01/08/2017 8:37 AM IST | Updated 01/08/2017 8:45 AM IST
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If there is a future in which Bollywood's blatant and rampant nepotism has vanished, a certain open letter by Saif Ali Khan might be seen as a key moment in the debate, primarily because it was crazy.

While Karan Johar had also put forward some bizarre explanations in defence of nepotism, Saif Ali Khan's open letter makes those seem very lucid. In fact, it is very hard not to think that Khan was venting his frustration with the little people for daring to mock a Nawab.

Not only does Khan's open letter hint at some very problematic and feudal beliefs, it is also full of factual errors so grave that they're almost delusions, as well as ridiculous contradictions.

The "genetics" argument may seem only mildly offensive if an ordinary person said it, but the fact that a Nawab... is saying it, makes it a lot darker.

First and foremost is the contradiction in writing an open letter and stating that the matter was closed once he apologised to Kangana. Signing off a long-winded explanation with the quote "never complain and never explain" also had us scratching our heads. But let's not focus on such trifles when there's a feast to be had.

The first nepotism-related thing Khan said in his letter had to do with his usage of the word "eugenics" in a clarification about the IIFA incident. Khan tells us that eugenics means "well-born," which it doesn't. Eugenics, according to the dictionary, means "the science of improving a population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics." The word is merely derived from the Greek word "eugenes," which means well-born. Khan then clarifies that "genes" are not the blue trousers we wear, which finally explains how he thought that Humshakals was worth doing.

In a nutshell, using an analogy involving race horses, the Nawab tells us that genes matter, as producers cast sons and daughters of actors with the belief that they too, will be actors. Then, in a clarification about an apology for insulting a woman not as privileged him, he insults a woman not as privileged as him, i.e., the journalist at Elle who wrote an article about his original "eugenics" comment. The insult is directed at her vocabulary for thinking that eugenics has nothing to do with nepotism. It comes in the very paragraph after he got the meaning of eugenics wrong. Again.

This is where problems bigger than contradictions begin. What exactly does Saif Ali Khan want to say? That children of actors are also likely to be good actors, because it is in their genes? Then how exactly does that justify Salman Khan, the son of a writer, and Aamir Khan, the son of a director-producer being launched as actors? The "genetics" argument may seem only mildly offensive if an ordinary person said it, but the fact that a Nawab, a man with "royal blood" in his veins is saying it, makes it a lot darker.

By Khan's logic, the child of a tanner would have tanning in her DNA, and should automatically be a tanner? If this sounds like a very dark idea, it's because it probably reminds you of the caste system...

Let's just use the exact same line of reasoning he used in different contexts. As Kangana Ranaut already said in a very eloquent and dignified response, if it were all about the genes, she would've been a farmer. By Khan's logic, the child of a shoemaker is also inherently blessed with shoemaking skills, and should be a shoemaker? The child of a tanner would have tanning in her DNA, and should automatically be a tanner?

If this sounds like a very dark idea, it's because it probably reminds you of the caste system, which divided society into different sections based on everyone's profession. While this may seem harmless to those in the most lucrative professions, like Saif Ali Khan, it may not be an appealing prospect for those who aren't—just like the caste system is just peachy for upper castes and not so much for the rest. Khan's idea also seems eerily reminiscent of the "divine right to rule," which was believed to be with kings (like his ancestors) for centuries.

But this isn't the only dark thing about this. If we accept Khan's hypothesis, we could also justify prejudice against children of criminals. Is being a criminal—a murderer, rapist, or thief—in someone's genes? If it is right to invest in children of talented individuals simply based on their genes, it should also be fine to invest in protecting society from people who carry the genes of criminals?

If it is right to invest in children of talented individuals simply based on their genes, it should also be fine to invest in protecting society from people who carry the genes of criminals?

A very dark thought, isn't it? I would be surprised if Saif Ali Khan actually believed this, so it simply comes down to this: his argument, his reasoning, is completely flawed. This, along with some startling misconceptions, and more contradictions, lead us to the next part of his letter.

Khan blames the media for nepotism, by saying that it is they who create hype around star kids from a very early age. While in the age of social media, this may seem like a very valid point, it is not. Facebook and Twitter have only been around for a decade or so. Before the Internet age, the coverage film stars got was a fraction of what it is today, and was limited to television and print. Khan himself, along with dozens of other star kids, like Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Sanjay Dutt, Sunny Deol, Bobby Deol, Twinkle Khanna, Akshaye Khanna, Abhishek Bachchan, Fardeen Khan, Zayed Khan, Esha Deol, Tusshar Kapoor, Hrithik Roshan and virtually all members of Prithviraj Kapoor's family were launched in that era. Also, no offence to Suniel Shetty, Shakti Kapoor, or Aditya Pancholi, but they're hardly Bollywood royalty, and I wonder what media hype surrounded their children that forced celebrity status on them.

What happens to Khan's hypothesis now? Irrefutable empirical evidence is staring at him in the face, once again, proving him utterly, hopelessly wrong.

Khan calls Bollywood part "aristocracy," which he defines as "rule of the best." A Google search would reveal that it means "rule of nobility," i.e. a feudal system, the most apt way to describe Bollywood...

Saif Ali Khan then proceeds to say that nepotism is probably least prevalent in the film industry, implying that among ALL other industries, the film business is most free of nepotism! This is a laughable assumption, and I'm guessing Khan is not a betting man, simply because even if there is a single industry that is less nepotistic, he is proven wrong. Medicine, law, technology, education, journalism, science, and pretty much ANY field which requires educational qualifications to succeed is less nepotistic than the film industry.

Khan already seems like a buffoon at this point, so we're going to let his red herring argument of mentioning nepotism in politics and business to deviate attention from nepotism in Bollywood go.

Instead, we're going to focus on his delusions, which are of many varieties, including grandeur. Khan calls Bollywood part "aristocracy," which he defines as "rule of the best." A Google search would reveal that it means "rule of nobility," i.e. a feudal system, the most apt way to describe Bollywood (I wonder whose hemline Khan's head is stuck in, given how weak his vocabulary is). But the fact that Khan thinks that it means "rule of the best" makes us wonder if he's missing the old days in which his title of Nawab wouldn't just be an honorary one.

[H]e calls the industry a "democracy"... Who is eligible to vote in this democracy is a mystery Khan never solves but, if I'm eligible, I want to know the procedure for voting Tiger Shroff out.

He then says that Bollywood is a meritocracy as well, as it is ruled by the most talented. While suppressing laughter as I think of Salman Khan, I wonder why the most "talented" are different from the "best" in Saif's unique brain, and how this talent gives us films like Bullett Raja, Agent Vinod, Tevar, Besharam, Roy, Kick, Bodyguard, Happy New Year, Raees etc year after year. But I am immediately distracted by how he calls the industry, which is a business run for profit, a "democracy" as well. Who is eligible to vote in this democracy is a mystery Khan never solves for us little people but, if I'm eligible, I want to know the procedure for voting Tiger Shroff out.

Khan also throws in a gem like "the film industry is the most fair line of work." I'm unsure whether he wants to convince the readers of this lie or just himself, since he's talking about an industry notorious for sexism, a humongous wage gap, rampant plagiarism, having no transparency in measuring box office numbers, and having been financed by the underworld for several decades.

My only suggestion to Saif Ali Khan is that he should hire a better PR team. One that has PR in their genes.

Now, we arrive at the part where Khan becomes Jon Snow by knowing absolutely nothing. He claims that for every star kid, there are many stars from non-film families, implying a ratio in favour of the latter. As examples, he names four outsiders who became stars while saying that the list is endless, but does not name a single star kid for contrast, probably because this list is indeed endless. Then, he says that Bollywood is the only industry in which a spot boy can become a star, without giving us any examples of spot boys who became stars, or examples of other industries where no spot boys have ever become stars.

Khan then proceeds to defend Arjun Kapoor, son of Boney Kapoor, nephew of Anil Kapoor, and cousin of Sonam Kapoor, by calling him an "unlikely" hero, and saying that every film Kapoor has been in has "worked." I assume that he means at the box office, in which case I'd like to ask him what got Abhishek Bachchan a 16th film after the first 15 didn't "work." Actually, I'd also like to ask Khan what he, himself is doing in the industry, given that the films that "worked" in the first decade of his career could be counted on my right hand, and those that "worked" without Akshay Kumar on Jaime Lannister's right hand. I also wonder whether he'd call Being Cyrus and Omkara films that didn't "work."

My only suggestion to Saif Ali Khan is that he should hire a better PR team. One that has PR in their genes.

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