MUMBAI — On the night of July 31 this year, Shah Rukh Khan attended the Vogue Beauty Awards where he unveiled the August edition of the fashion glossy. On the cover was his daughter Suhana Khan who had turned 18 only months ago. The cover — a striking photograph of a confident Suhana staring straight back at the camera, was shot by Greek photographer Errikos Andreou — described here as 'Student, Theatre Lover, Future Star.'
To nobody's surprise, there was outrage online.
Unlike when Sridevi's daughter, Janhvi Kapoor, was on Vogue's cover prior to her debut in Dhadak, there seemed to be no clear reason for why the magazine had chosen Suhana for this issue. (For perspective, Beyoncé has reportedly been given 'unprecedented control' over the September issue of the US edition.)
This pissed a lot of people off.
However, the Suhana cover wasn't just a case of a fashion magazine running out of celebrities to cover, HuffPost India can reveal. In an industry where star kids get pretty much everything on a plate, the story of the Vogue cover reveals that Bollywood, and the glamour industry that feeds off it, really is All About Loving Your Parents.
Months of meticulous planning was involved and the cover, according to a sourceHuffPost India spoke to, coincided with her father, Shah Rukh Khan, attending the Vogue Beauty Awards, an industry-only ceremony which an insider termed "dreary and boring."
"The beauty awards are quite blah. They need a huge star's presence to infuse some life into it," the insider said. "Putting Suhana on the cover would also ensure that Shah Rukh Khan launches it (which he did). Ultimately, an award ceremony relies heavily on star presence so the decision to put her on the cover is strategic for both, Shah Rukh and Vogue."
When we directed this query to Vogue via email, they responded saying, "Our decisions on our covers, and for that matter all editorial content, is based on many factors. Sometimes these decisions could be creative or intuitive, often taking people by surprise."
In the past, Khan had hinted on more than one occasion, to people at Vogue, that it was his dream to see Suhana on Vogue's cover. His team worked very closely with the magazine for over a month, going meticulously over every detail to ensure the perfect mag debut for Suhana.
A Condé Nast employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, affirmed the same. "In all honesty, it was an absolutely mutual decision. Nobody put a gun to our head to do it, right. We wanted it as much as Mr. Khan. But people are making up such crazy stories."
When the photoshoot took place at Famous Studios in Mahalaxmi, Khan was monitoring the situation through a video call while mother Gauri was present with Suhana on the set. According to the insider, Suhana is an outdoorsy, sporty girl who enjoys athletics but the teams took a decision to position her as 'young, fun, sexy,' something that blends seamlessly into the Bollywood narrative of a star-in-the-making.
Said the employee, "It was as much our dream to get her on the cover as much as it was Shah Rukh's. It was an extremely mutual call to go ahead with this."
When asked what the motivation was, other than the fact that Suhana happens to be SRK's daughter, the employee said, "Not really, there's so much more," before trailing off.
However, in an official statement to HuffPost,Vogue explained their decision and the motivations behind the cover.
"Our readers are interested in stories about successful stars as much as they are interested in stories about new stars in the making. Star kids, with their semi-charmed lives, elicit immense curiosity among our audience. You can tell from the huge social media following these youngsters enjoy."
In India, the August issue of Vogue is often the 'the ageless issue' which has, at least on one occasion, featured Bollywood dynasties in the past. Last year, it was Amitabh Bachchan's daughter Shweta and grand-daughter Navya Naveli on the cover along with Jaya Bachchan.
This is how Vogue described their August 2016 cover which had Cindy Crawford and daughter, Kaia. "Every August, we at Vogue India come out with an Ageless Issue: a magazine dedicated to timeless beauties. This time around, we're focusing on the concept of family, spotlighting the legacy of an international supermodel who's been an icon to women all over the world."
The strap accompanying Cindy and Kaia's picture said, "the power of good genes." Perhaps Suhana on the cover with her parents, or at least with her mother, would've appeared more contextual. But the decision for her to be a standalone cover star had been already taken.
"It happened quite organically when both, Mr. Khan and we felt was the right time to do it. We are still quite proud of the cover," the employee said.
Another insider said, "It helped that Anaita Shroff Adjania, who's Vogue's Fashion Director, is a longtime pal of Mr. Khan and is very close to the family. So they knew their daughter was in safe hands as Shroff was involved in every aspect of the photo shoot."
The cover has renewed the debate around nepotism and privilege, which began when Kangana Ranaut famously called Karan Johar 'the flag-bearer of nepotism' on Koffee with Karan. While the industry remains divided on the issue, the fact that there exists a debate about nepotism facilitating Bollywood careers is baffling to say the least.
However, a senior editor who has worked at a fashion glossy, says magazines are under a lot of stress as top fashion brands, who are big advertisers, put a lot of pressure to get a 'star on the cover' or somebody that will make news.
"Often, a Bollywood star is not the first choice of an editor for the cover but that's how the business aspect of it works," said the editor. "The brands don't care much about a model. They want A-listers because they use the cover to promote their brand on other platforms."
Which is what the Vogue cover has managed to do.
Vogue further told HuffPost, "The amount of attention the cover is receiving is clearly an indication that people are interested in Suhana Khan and in Vogue. "
So what is next for Suhana? Is there going to be a movie announcement soon? As of now, she's going back to school in England and plans to join her brother, Aryan Khan, in Los Angeles later where she intends to pursue a course in acting.
Shah Rukh Khan, who rose to superstardom despite being a rank outsider, mentions in the Vogue interview that he will not launch his daughter. "Suhana is not working towards a promise of being cast, she's working towards being an actor, and she knows that."
He says that his friends treat Suhana as their own daughter and say they are willing to launch both, Suhana and Aryan. "But I keep insisting that I don't want them designed as stars, I want them to be launched when they are good-enough actors."
There's another great quote in the interview, where Khan says, "It is difficult to become what I've become, but there are billions of factors responsible for my success. Will it happen to everyone? There is no cynicism in this, but they have to get out of my shadow and do their stuff."
He underestimates how long a shadow his stardom casts.
"We have placed our bets on Suhana with our August cover. And only time will tell if it's us or the naysayers who have the last laugh," the magazine's statement concluded.
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