The millennials, who love to hashtag nepotism each time a scion of a film family gets a challenging role at the cost of a grass-root actor, often forget that a generation earlier people used to wait for their favourite star’s son or daughter to be launched. In the 1980s, for the fawning public that was putting up with dynasties in politics and business, cinema was no different. They might eventually reject the star kids at the turnstiles, but they were more than happy to give them a chance. And like traditional business houses, actors used to see their sons as the cultural capital they needed to invest in for the market of show business.
Growing up in a small town, one remembers old uncles discussing the futility of Dilip Kumar’s marriage with Saira Banu for it failed to provide the country another Tragedy King. Reams were written when his nephew Ayub Khan made his debut with Mashooq (1992).
The public was equally impatient to watch Dharmendra’s son flex his muscles when Sunny Deol was launched with Betaab in 1983, followed by Sunny. In the same breath, they blamed Suniel Anand for failing his father Dev Anand when the latter launched him with Anand Aur Anand (1984). The title was not drawn from the storyline. It was a clear message for the public that they were paying for a dramatic launch.
Manoj Kumar’s son Kunal Goswami met the same fate. Neither Sridevi nor Kishore Kumar’s ‘Neele Neele Ambar Par’ could help him find a footing in the industry with Kalaakar (1983).
Hardly anybody wondered why Raj Kapoor always wrote the hero’s part for somebody from the family. He gave Rishi Kapoor a break, but the actor proved his merit. In fact, Rishi posted an angry tweet when Rahul Gandhi talked of dynasties, saying that his family had for four generations been giving work to actors who survived on their merit and hard work.
Recently, after the demise of the showman’s youngest son Rajiv Kapoor (58), many realised how illustrious genes can also come in the way of success. Despite immaculate diction and decent acting skills, Rajiv’s uncanny resemblance to uncle Shammi Kapoor and brother Rishi limited his progress. When Prem Granth, his take on caste and rape, failed at the box office, he could not muster the courage to stand up again as a director either, for the RK image was bigger than his personal growth.
In a television interview with senior journalist Bharti Pradhan that has found traction after his death, he hinted that he lost out because he looked like his uncle Shammi Kapoor. “I indeed looked like him and even my gestures resembled his.” He spoke of how he was “brainwashed” by writer-directors into taking the genetic similarity seriously. “I should have realised early that I have to make an identity of my own. By the time I realised it was too late.” In the same interview, Rajiv pointed out that his father Raj Kapoor ensured that in Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1985) he did not look like a Shammi Kapoor lookalike, but of coure that was Raj Kapoor at work.
The same year, Rajiv put on a moustache in Ravindra Peepat’s Lava but sounded too much like his brother Rishi Kapoor. And if Ram Teri Ganga Maili turned out to be a Mandakini show, Lava was remembered for Dimple Kapadia’s explosive performance.
It reminded me of Sanjay Kapoor’s candid statements in the series Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives, on how he faced the pressure of being Anil Kapoor’s brother. The two are strikingly similar in looks and Sanjay’s Prem proved to be a launching pad only for Tabu.
Shah Rukh Khan once said when he was young that it was said that he looked like Kumar Gaurav. “I used to feel so happy with the comparison. When I landed in Mumbai, the first person I wanted to meet was Kumar Gaurav.”
Those who have grown up in the 1980s cannot forget the Kumar Gaurav craze. It was bigger than Sanjay Dutt’s, who was also launched around the same time with Rocky. In fact, it was these two sons, Rajendra Kumar’s and Sunil Dutt’s, who started the star son rush in 1981, riding on the music of R.D. Burman. Love Story was also a kind of launchpad for Amit Kumar, son of Kishore Kumar. But both Amit and Kumar Gaurav failed to come out of the giant shadows of their fathers.
Kumar Gaurav worked in titles like Star and All Rounder but could not become one. A decade later, Rajendra Kumar tried to salvage his career with Phool by casting Madhuri Dixit, the reigning queen, opposite him. But the film proved to be one of the biggest flops of Madhuri’s career.
Like Rajiv Kapoor, Kumar Gaurav was not a bad actor either, as the discerning discovered afterwards in films such as Mahesh Bhatt’s Janam and Naam (1986). But while the latter put Sanjay Dutt’s career on track after a series of flops, Kumar Gaurav had to bow out. Unlike his father, he was a lot subtler, and perhaps that proved his undoing in an era where acting needed to be seen. It was not until Kaante (2003) that he could prove to the millennials that he is more than just his father’s son.