Written by Gulzar. Directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra. Mounted on a lavish computer-generated scale. The October 7 release Mirzya leaves nothing to happenstance. Along with the poet-lyricist-filmmaker’s writing, Mehra’s dreamy filming and the lilting tunes of Shankar Ehsan Loy comes a five-feet eight inch-piece of astute product placement: Harshvardhan Kapoor.
The debutant actor has a filmography in place already. Even before the audience is allowed make up its mind over him, there have been flattering reports about this “reluctant star’s dedication” to his craft (“I can disappear for days,” he said in an interview), his choice of projects, including Vikramaditya Motwane’s Bhavesh Joshi and Sriram Raghavan’s untitled new film. One report even calls Kapoor “wise beyond his years”.
Just before the next wave of millennial kids – Aryan Khan, Navya Naveli, Jhanvi Kapoor, Sara Ali Khan – hit the screens, Kapoor’s well-timed debut is not just about a 25-year-old third-generation film family member waiting to discover his calling. It is also about the machinery that is in place to prop up the progeny of movie celebrities. It is the kind of template that has been perfected over time – the examples include Kumar Gaurav, Sanjay Dutt, Hrithik Roshan, Abhishek Bachchan right through to Imran Khan, Varun Dhawan, Arjun Kapoor and Tiger Shroff.
With most of his peers opting to stick to mainstream formulaic fare, Kapoor, who has been put through the spit-shine-fluff-up routine, has gone for the one slot available to him. “With most star kids, the formula is like this – you keep doing mass entertainers for visibility and the noise, and then work towards doing a film with an Anurag Kashyap or Vikramaditya Motwane, to show people how you can also act,” said a trade analyst on condition of anonymity. Kapoor’s narrative is different. According to reports, Sonam and Rhea Kapoor’s darling little brother has been careful about been seen and heard in the alternative context. And, that he preferred to make a film before he could top line one. The hipster swag, facial fuzz, world cinema cheat sheet, distancing from his father’s cheesy entertainers (he picks Parinda, My Wife’s Murder and Slumdog Millionaire as among his favourites) help create an indie identity. Most launch vehicles work on that one asset, talking point or skill a star kid could show off. Martial arts moves, chiselled body, dance skills, swag, a pout or just incredible looks.
Kapoor has canny mentors. He talks about his acting coach in South Africa, and says, “Mirzya is not a masala entertainer”, while his managers claim that he is the biggest launch of the year.
The first thing to consider while working with a star kid is “brand awareness”, says Anirban Das Blah, who is promoting Harshvardhan Kapoor. The second is “positioning”. Blah’s talent management company CAA-Kwan has been closely associated with Ranbir Kapoor, who is poised for a comeback with Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. But the other big piece for the company is Harshvardhan Kapoor.
There is a gap of almost 10 years between the debuts of the two Kapoors. During this time, several other actors have given stardom a shot – Imran Khan, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Harman Baweja, Girish Taurani, Sushant Singh Rajput, Varun Dhawan, Siddharth Malhotra, Arjun Kapoor, Aditya Roy Kapur, Ranveer Singh, Tiger Shroff and Armaan Jain. Ten from this list of 12 are from influential film families. Three of them are already commanding ridiculous pay checks, fat endorsements and big-ticket projects. Some of them are marquee names on whom producers are willing to bet big. Some have fallen off the radar.
Over the last decade, more than 40 women have made their debuts. Other than Sonam Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha, Shruti and Akshara Haasan, Shraddha Kapoor, Alia Bhatt and perhaps Parineeti Chopra, none of them are industry kids in the strict sense. According to those who manage her, Deepika Padukone, with her successful modelling career and badminton star father Prakash Padukone, was as much an industry insider as any Kapoor woman. Others, such as Radhika Apte and Taapsee Pannu, have gained a toehold in the Hindi film industry after work in regional cinema. Despite the ample talent on display, the only way any of them can actually cut the clutter is when films such as Kahaani, Dedh Ishqiya, Queen, Pink and Parched are made.
Given that almost every film features a new female face, there is more work for the women, just as there is more competition and desperation. “The girls are naturally more insecure,” said Rohini Iyer, whose company Raindrop Media handles some of the biggest and freshest talent in the industry. Iyer’s team is busy promoting Disha Patani, who features as MS Dhoni’s first girlfriend in the biopic MS Dhoni – The Untold Story. Patani may not have too much screen time in the film, but Iyer’s team is working hard to ensure she makes the most of her fame.
Harshvardhan Kapoor’s positioning tells the industry that star kids are as capable of doing a Dharma Films entertainer as they are willing to go the Phantom Films way. It makes them all the more attractive to brand managers and marketing agencies.
“It is easier to work with a kid from the industry, because they are well-versed with the dos and the don’ts,” Blah said. With significant ground already covered, public relations managers and business managers find it easier to better what they have.
“But just because you are a star kid does not mean you have it easy,” cautioned Prabhat Chaudhary, the co-founder of Spice, which is handling Tiger Shroff and Harshvardhan Kapoor. He gave the example of Govinda’s daughter Narmada, who has been waiting for an eternity to get launched.
But that is one Narmada to the many Kapoors and Khans who get not one, but several shots at stardom. After all, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is supposed to be Ranbir Kapoor’s comeback film while friends still find a place in their scripts for Abhishek Bachchan.