Over the last several days, the entire debate about nepotism in Bollywood has resurfaced after a lame attempt at a joke at the IIFA Awards landed filmmaker Karan Johar and actors Saif Ali Khan and Varun Dhawan in a social media mess.
The outrage many rightly felt was specifically targeting the self-made actress Kangana Ranaut. As I read the statements that the three men published as their apologies, I wondered if I'd ever read these same words written by the son or daughter of an industrialist, a doctor or a builder.
You see nepotism in Bollywood is out there on display for everyone to see. But the real nepotism that has caused so much stagnation, corruption and oppression in our country is far less obvious but just as pervasive.
There is a belief that keeping money inside the family is the best way to protect assets and also keep the next generation in check.
It's the MBA grad who had his parents take out a loan to pay for his course, and when he finally gets a job at a family-run company he finds himself creating marketing plans, economic forecasts and presentation materials that end up being presented at formal meetings by his employer's college-going child.
It's the young doctor looking to join a reputed practice but is unable to afford to start his own clinic so he goes to work for a family practice. The husband and wife doctor team run the show and of course, as soon as their son has passed medical school (by whatever means necessary), he inherits the practice.
It's the young architect who dreams of designing buildings but doesn't have the language skills to land a posh position in a top boutique firm. So he ends up in a family where he designs the buildings and then the owner's son who otherwise gallivants from parties to vacations comes in and gives the building a name and is given rank in the firm.
Last year it was reported that 15 of the top 20 business groups in India are family-owned. They collectively manage over ₹26 lakh crores of assets. Now, not everyone who has succeeded was born with a silver spoon. We know the rags to riches story of Dhirubhai Ambani. But we also know the story of his two sons.
While Ms. Ranaut tried to find her way through the film industry and find a position for herself, so too are the young MBA grads, doctors and architects I mention above. But there is no social media outrage for them. In fact, there is no union or fraternity to even speak out about this. The employees will never speak of disenfranchisement—they know their limits.
See, most of these individuals are talented, qualified and skilled. While they work hard, they also are aware of the reality that no matter how much they excel, they will never be able to join the ranks of the families they work for.
I would love to say that nepotism ultimately makes sense. Because it keeps families together and brings out everyone's best qualities. But that's not the reality.
I always laugh when I hear an aunty here tell me that I'm "like their son". It's a lovely sentiment but an expression I don't quite accept because there is a difference. Invisible and visible lines are drawn between individuals not related to the family and the family itself. Do you think Amitabh Bachchan would have thrown out Hrithik Roshan's character the same way he tossed out Shah Rukh Khan in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (incidentally, a Karan Johar film)?
I've had my own personal struggles with my extended family as a result of my long-term health battle. I never questioned the pecking order and I knew where I stood and so before I let expectations destroy me, I withdrew from the equation.
Inherently, in our culture, there is a belief that family will not betray the sanctity of the clan or air their dirty laundry outside the house. There is an unspoken bond of blood that negates any rational thinking that trust can be bestowed upon anyone from the outside. There is also a belief that keeping money inside the family is the best way to protect assets and also keep the next generation in check. Ultimately, it seems this might be the biggest reason why nepotism is alive and thriving in India.
Almost 10 out of 10 times when I visit an elderly patient here, I'm amazed by the fear they have amassed about their own children. Rich or poor, despite having left everything to their children, they fear that they won't be cared for properly, and if they become incapacitated, their value will drop to zero.
The sons and daughters of these businesses and industries usually choose to hire professional carers for their elderly parents. Sure the kids will sit there in the hospital room, bring in the lawyer to sign business contracts at the death bed, but they won't change a diaper or walk with their parent to the washroom.
For me, this is actually the time when we have to shine the most. I would love to say that nepotism is something to be proud of because ultimately it makes sense. Because it keeps families together and brings out everyone's best qualities. But that's not the reality.
We cannot reach the heights we dream of because of these vocational monarchies that exist across the country, from small shops to big corporations.
But what has happened is that financial success and greed take precedence over effort, love and dedication when nepotism prevails.
We are currently living in a country where much is made of the fact that our Prime Minister once worked as a tea seller. For better or worse, he is a self-made man. Without a family per se, he's now managed to assemble, for him, the best team possible. Without a place for nepotism, actual accomplishment and loyalty to his beliefs are prevailing. Whether or not one is aligned with what the PM and his team stand for, it can't be refuted that his legacy is more along the lines of Ms. Ranaut rather than, say, Rahul Gandhi.
In a country with over a billion people, when we hear that 15 of the 20 biggest companies are family-owned or where two of the three big Khans have "industry" parents, it shouldn't surprise us but it should alarm us. We cannot reach the heights we dream of because of these vocational monarchies that exist across the country, from small shops to big corporations.
Nepotism cripples all of us, in every profession, at every socio-economic level – and nobody can refute that.