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Nepo baby

Updated on: 24 December,2023 04:29 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Rahul da Cunha |

Movie stars here tend to build their bodies first before they build their bodies of work.

Nepo baby

Illustration/Uday Mohite

Rahul Da CunhaA movie star says, ‘how do 
I change a script to suit me’, a movie actor says, ‘how do I change myself to suit the script’
— Michael Caine
This fortnight, I’ve been thinking about acting, and where the craft comes from, and are you born with the skill, can it be learnt, can just anyone act, can a potentially good actor become great, what does ‘he’s a natural’ really mean… who has that X factor… the quality that Pankaj Tripathi and Vicky Kaushal have, to transform the screen.

Movie stars here tend to build their bodies first before they build their bodies of work.

I have my views on nepotism—“influence” may give you a pedestal to debut with, but the plummet is much harder, compared to an unknown.

This month has also been about movie star kids vs movie actor kids, as both The Railway Men and The Archies released.

Specifically Shah Rukh’s kid/Bachchan’s grandkid vs Irrfan’s boy, not a box office battle, but what’s in store for these first-timers with their baby steps in Bollywood?

I did watch them closely, ”Ah that’s SRKs smile”, “Man he’s a spitting image of Irrfan”, I caught myself often saying, watching Suhana Khan and Babil Khan.

To be a nepo baby is a hard one in India: the spotlight, the searchlight, the swords, “let’s pull the kids down, after all how dare they have a silver spoon for the silver screen”—nepotism follows a simple principle, you can bring the horse, even make him/her drink the water once, even twice, max, then he’s on his own, to make the Derby or remain in the stable.

Suhana has had an easy-ish start, cushioned by five others, she danced like she was in a desi Grease, looked like a million bucks, but in the acting scenes didn’t quite cut it—if I was on a “Suhana Khan Career Adivsory Commitee” I’d say, “kiddo skip acting in films, fashion is your thing”, much like Sonam Kapoor, gravitas in performance is a hard one to develop. But to step out of a massive shadow is the hardest thing yet, because that shadow remains in your head—the relentless comparisons. Somehow Ranbir, evaded the Rishi Kapoor comparison, different type of actor perhaps, and yet poor Abhishek, even when he’s good, he’s not good enough, “nahi yaar not like his dad”. And so you wonder, “Dude, Bachchan Jr. couldn’t you have chosen another profession?”

Alia Bhatt, comes from a film family, but not from star actor parents, so she was given the space to grow, and then given brilliant roles—Highway, Gangubai, Gully Boy, Udta Punjab and Raazi—the days  of mere “love interest” for the ladies are over—the Kritis, the Tapsees, and the Deepikas quite capable of doing the heavy lifting on their own, with a secondary hero.

And then there’s Babil Khan, excelling in The Railway Men, holding his own with Kay Kay Menon—and you scrutinise, and you scan, and he’s every bit Irrfan and then some.

Irrfan’s career was unique, perhaps the most successful Indian actor of all, with a burgeoning international career as well, the unique gift of high energy with minimum effort, but he always stayed under the radar, as his son will too, so the spotlight is less harsh—it’s early days for his son, but you suspect, the comparisons will fade away in time.

The point is, how do you match an iconic father let alone surpass him—in your head above all else. Where Suhana goes, she will be watched with judgement—where Babil Khan goes, he will be willed on, prayed for, it’s a star father vs actor father thing. It’s not Suhana’s fault that her dad is the biggest superstar India has ever seen, but she can sidestep at this early stage, determine her own destiny.

Maybe a godfather can launch you, but only God can help you—and yes with a healthy dose of genes and a thick thick skin.

Rahul daCunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at

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