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Filmy Family Business

The Indian Express
By Professor  

When Francis Ford Coppola cast his daughter Sofia Coppola in Godfather III, little did he know that charges of nepotism and her poor performance in the movie will finish her acting career. Bollywood, as recent events show, enjoys and celebrates nepotism.

Scholarship offers two motives for nepotism: Expectations for reciprocal rewards from the other person, and general concern for the well-being of the group’s (family, caste, etc.) members. In markets with weak legal institutions and information asymmetry, social ties act as useful substitutes. Yet, economic studies have shown that nepotism reduces social welfare even though individual members benefit. Nepotism has been shown to reduce firm profitability and make resource allocation inefficient.

Since there is no systematic data on nepotism in Bollywood, we conducted a brief study to estimate nepotism in Bollywood over time. We selected a sample of top 50-60 actors active during 2000-2016 and compared their entry dynamics with those active during 1960-1980. We define nepotism as either a parent or a close relative active in the film industry at the time of an actor’s debut, and define the rate of nepotism as the share of actors in the total sample. With almost the same number of both male and female actors in our sample, we also learn about gender dynamics in Bollywood, and the ways in which it has changed over time. The effort yielded interesting results, with three points standing out.

First, of the prominent actors who debuted during 1960-1980, 17 per cent used their family connections to enter the industry. This figure for those who debuted after 2000 increased to almost 40 per cent. Clearly, Bollywood cannot claim itself to be meritocratic. For female actors, the rate lies close to that for males — 35 per cent. Interestingly however, for females, this rate has dropped drastically. Fifty-six per cent of female actors prominent during the 1960s-1980s used their family network to enter Bollywood. So for males, the nepotism rate has more than doubled, for females, it has gone down by almost two-thirds. This may be due to the increase in female actresses joining Bollywood after a career in modelling. Today, they form 43 per cent of the sample (male actors joining Bollywood through modeling is 25 per cent of the sample). During the 1960s and 1970s, this figure was very low, 4 per cent and 8 per cent for male and female respectively. The rise of the fashion industry offers female models access to Bollywood — something not possible earlier. In addition, the general disinclination on part of elite Indian families about their daughters joining the entertainment industry has waned.

Second, we also looked at actors coming from small towns and cities. While 38 per cent of male actors in 1960-1980 came from major cities, this figure has gone up to 60 per cent in 2000-2016. For female actors, there is a slight increase from 68 per cent to 75 per cent. This indicates that Bollywood’s accessibility for those born in small towns has decreased over time. The profession does not offer social and geographical mobility.

Third, Bollywood discriminates against women. The average career span (measured by the period between the first and the last movie) of male actors was more than 50 years while for females, merely 32 years. We also estimated that the average fee per movie charged by female actors today (Rs 2.9 crore) is less than half of what male actors earn on average (Rs 6.4 crore). The only desirable attitude change here, is that the average age of entry for females has gone up from 18 to 24 (24 to 27 for males).

These are rudimentary figures and look only at actors, but our preliminary research offers signs that nepotism may be increasing in Bollywood. Hollywood suffers from nepotism as well, but the industry is sensitive to it. When Nicolas Kim Coppola, nephew of Francis Ford Coppola, started acting in Hollywood, he changed his name. We know him as Nicolas Cage.

Chadha is a graduate of OP Jindal Global University, where Goyal is an associate professor