Following actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide on June 14, social media has been abuzz with comments on Bollywood’s rampant nepotism that denies chances to “outsiders.” Many prominent voices, including actor Kangana Ranaut, have spoken about how badly the Bollywood bigwigs treat those who have no film backgrounds or godfathers in the industry.
However, “outsiders” making it big in Bollywood is not unheard of either – after all, Shah Rukh Khan or Madhuri Dixit had no family connections in the industry. In the past 10-15 years, a bunch of women with no film background have become successful heroines of Bollywood. Without the help of an “insider” too, they have gone on to script their own success stories as excellent actors.
From Beauty Pageants To The Big Screen
The ’90s saw beauty pageants paving a direct path for winners, to Bollywood. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Sushmita Sen, Priyanka Chopra, Dia Mirza, and Lara Dutta, are all beauty queens who won international recognition before being welcomed to lead roles in Bollywood. Among them, Aishwarya and Priyanka have been extraordinarily successful, having won accolades for their acting skills and becoming the face of India in international cinema.
Priyanka – who has established herself in Hollywood now - has earlier stated that she has also been a victim of nepotism. “Every star has their individual journey. In mine, I have faced a lot. I have been kicked out of films because someone else was recommended to the producer,” she had said in an interview.
To her credit, Priyanka has taken efforts to bring new talent in cinema through her production house, Purple Pebble Pictures. The company produces small budget films and promote new talent including writers, actors, directors, and technicians.
From Fashion Runways to Serious Cinema
Although Indian women continue to win global beauty pageants, their success in Bollywood have been of varying levels. However, the late 2000s witnessed powerhouse actresses emerging from modelling field – Deepika Padukone and Anushka Sharma among them.
Deepika, who was launched in Shah Rukh Khan’s Om Shanti Om (2007), had years of modelling experience before entering the world of cinema. Daughter of badminton pro Prakash Padukone, she chose modelling over badminton, and dared to speak openly about ‘taboo’ topics like mental health, establishing her identity. The first leading woman to be paid more than her male co-star (in Padmaavat), she has also impressed the audience and critics alike with films like Ram Leela, Tamasha, Bajirao Mastani, and Piku, among others.
Like Deepika, Anushka Sharma also came from modelling background, and debuted opposite to Shah Rukh Khan in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008). Over the years, she has made her mark as an actress through films like Band Baaja Baaraat, NH10, Sultan, Ae Dil hai Mushkil, and Sui Dhaga. Her production company, Clean State Films, aims to produce content relevant for women, and has produced movies like NH10 and Pari and web-series Paatal Lok and Bulbul.
The curse of nepotism is that talented actors may never get to be on camera, while the lesser-talented ones from family members in cinema may get that option purely do their personal connections. However, a few actresses have managed to break through this barrier too.
For instance, Kangana Ranaut, who debuted in Anurag Basu’s Gangster (2006), came from a small town in Himachal Pradesh, with no “connections” in Bollywood. She has played the most complex roles with utmost conviction and earnestness and has won National Award for Best Actress twice already. Last year marked she debuted as a director, and also announced the launch of her production house – Manikarnika Films.
Another example is Taapsee Pannu, who has acted in films across Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, and Hindi. Through her work in Bollywood - Pink, Badla, Manmarziyaan, Saand ki Aankh and Thappad among them - she has won audience and critics alike. However, even after acting in critically acclaimed South Indian films, including the 2011 Tamil movie Aadukalam which earned six National Awards, Taapsee has faced her share of struggles in Bollywood.
In an interview to a leading publication, Taapsee had shared, “I am an outsider. I was never offered the kind of roles where I could play the glamorous diva, because there are already so many of them doing it and doing it well. So I had to bring to the table much more than just looking good.”
Like Taapsee, another “outsider” who made it in Bollywood is actress Radhika Apte, who also acts in Bengali, Marathi, Telugu, Malayalam, and Tamil movies. Considered one among the most powerful performers in the country, Radhika works on theatre and web-content as well.
From Small Screen To The Big Screen
Some of the best actors in Hindi cinema have come from television background – from Shah Rukh Khan to the late Irrfan Khan and Sushant Singh Rajput himself. When it comes to actresses, Vidya Balan tops the list.
Starting her acting career with music albums and sitcoms like Hum Paanch, Vidya Balan made her big screen debut with Pradeep Sarkar’s Parineeta. Following Paa, Ishqiya, Kahaani and The Dirty Picture, Vidya established herself as a bankable actor par excellence. Including the National Award For Best Actress and six Filmfare Awards, Vidya has won it all.
Not many have been able to emulate Vidya’s success; but the recent spurt of online film and web-series via OTT platforms has also led to a new breed of talented actresses coming into the spotlight. The likes of Rasika Dugal, Sobhita Dhulipala, Kirti Kulhari, and Maanvi Gagroo have had more opportunity to showcase their acting skills on the small screen, compared to their smaller roles on the big screen.
Indian cinema lovers hope that these actors will lead the brigade of talented women from non-film backgrounds who aspire for success in Bollywood, with or without godfathers.
(With inputs from Geetika Sachdev)