Aryan Khan, Ananya Panday, Sara Ali Khan: Is it tough being a star kid today? #BigStory!

by · The Times of India

On October 2, Aryan Khan and seven others were arrested from a Goa-bound cruise ship in a drugs bust conducted by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB). Soon, visuals of the star kid being held in custody at the police station started making the rounds on social media. A while later, the NCB office, where he was taken for interrogation, became a paparazzi hotspot as cameramen trained their lenses to zoom into the 23-year-old’s expressions as he was taken to and fro for medical tests and court proceedings. While the star kid remained expressionless and even tried to obscure his face with the hoodie, the flashbulbs went off till he faded back into the confines of the agency. Then details about what he was eating or not eating started leaking out into the media. Aryan is currently lodged in the Arthur Road jail after he was sent into judicial custody. And now, reports of his video calls and the money order he has received have been feeding the news cycle.

For the most part of his life, the star kid has chosen to stay out of the limelight cast on him as an extension of his father Shah Rukh Khan’s superstardom. While SRK keeps talking about him and the things he does to make him happy—producing Ra.One, investing in a league cricket team—the star kid himself has never really expressed himself in the public domain. Even on social media, one catches glimpses of him only on his parents’ or sister’s accounts. So, it is not difficult to understand why there’s so much curiosity around Aryan. But meanwhile, Ananya Panday, too, has been summoned to the NCB headquarters for questioning in the same case on two consecutive days, and everything—from her dress code to her state of mind—has been fodder for speculation. This, despite the fact that she is already an established actress who has spoken her mind several times. What’s also shocking is that much of this public curiosity comes with judgments in the form of social media trolling and nasty comments. Sara Ali Khan was recently trolled for sending birthday wishes to the country’s Home Minister Amit Shah. Not that she made any faux pas, but the social media mob didn’t care.

Fact is, star kids face criticism because they were born with the proverbial silver spoon and their lives appear to be straight out of a fairy tale. But is that fair or is it an inevitable occupational hazard? ETimes’ #BigStory explores what is it like to be a star kid in the age of social media…

The price of privilege

For the longest time, nepotism wasn’t a part of Bollywood vocabulary. Just like every other Indian family, it was assumed that the children will follow in their parents’ footsteps. No one batted an eyelid or screamed murder when a star kid expressed a desire to enter films. But ever since the much-dreaded ‘N’ word has been spoken of, the industry finds itself divided into two—insiders and outsiders. While the latter category wears it like a badge, flaunting that they made it on their own, the former is expected to be apologetic to have got everything on a platter.

They are trolled for talking about their ‘struggles’—a fact which Ananya herself knows all too well—or even ridiculed when they claim they, too, had to go through auditions to land a role. But do they have to go through a trial by fire to prove their worth just like their ‘outsider’ peers? Viveck Vaswani asserts, “Look at Salman Khan, Hrithik Roshan and so many others—most star kids have surpassed their parents but some, unfortunately, did not. For example, Abhishek Bachchan had very big boots to fill. By other standards, he would be a very big success but by Amitabh Bachchan’s standards, he may have fallen short. Shah Rukh Khan was an outsider but he became one of the biggest stars in the country. Of course, Aryan Khan will have to bear the brunt of his father’s success. Whether the star was an outsider or an insider, the controversy will affect the child equally”.

Suchitra Krishnamoorthi says it best when she reasons, “While most people see it as a privilege, and in many ways it is, it is also a huge pressure on young ones. To live up to successful parents, the constant comparisons and trolling, the resentment, the hate—they are two faces of the same coin.”

Flippant flipside

As soon as Suhana Khan went public with her Instagram account, she amassed as many as 2.2 million followers but the star kid also revealed some of the comments she received on her posts, calling her out for her dark skin. “I’m sorry if social media, Indian matchmaking or even your own families have convinced you, that if you’re not 5”7’ and fair you’re not beautiful. I hope it helps to know that I’m 5”3’ and brown and I am extremely happy about it and you should be too,” she wrote summing up a long post. Her friends—Shanaya Kapoor, Navya Naveli Nanda, Ananya Panday—also all enjoy similar popularity on the photo sharing app but are also subject to scathing comments more often than not.

Child psychologist Seema Hingorrany confesses that in her line of work, she interacts with several star kids and more often than not, she realises that they face negative consequences of their parents’ superstardom much more than they get to enjoy the privileges. Keeping all names anonymous as a part of doctor-patient confidentiality, she reveals how a star kid, whose famous parents had split up, found himself being bullied in school and being told that his father was having an affair with someone else, and how this alienated him from his friends, leading to loneliness while growing up. “A lot of them are shaped up by these negative experiences. So many of them come to me and show the comments they receive on their social media; it is so nasty!” she relays.

Viveck, meanwhile, says that most star kids at some point do have to bear the brunt of their parents’ successes and failures. “But that is also applicable to corporate kids, politicians’ kids, and industrialists’ kids, not only Bollywood kids. That’s the price the kids have to pay for their parents’ life and work. There will always be envy; the more successful the parent, the more envy the child will have to bear the brunt of. That’s human nature and has nothing to do with only Bollywood,” he shrugs.

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What about consent?

While Aryan and Ananya might be adults who are making their own decisions and facing the brunt, the media attention on toddlers and the paparazzi frenzy around them can be disturbing too. Right from AbRam Khan, Taimur Ali Khan, Inaaya Naumi Kemmu, and now Jeh Ali Khan—babies, too, are growing under the media glare without even consenting to it. What will happen when these kids grow up to find their whole childhood documented online? Gwyneth Paltrow learnt this the hard way when she posted a picture of her daughter Apple from their skiing vacation on her social media profile only to be schooled by the teenager. From her private account, she complained, “Mom we have discussed this. You may not post anything without my consent”, to which the actress could only reply, “You can’t even see your face!”

“They more often than not, don’t have any say in their popularity. They are being followed by the media all the time—what they wear, what they eat, where they go—is all being recorded. They can’t go wrong because if they do, the world will be watching. Even though they haven’t done anything, they are asked for pictures, which they hate. For kids who are yet to find their place in the world, this can be difficult. Parents then have to go out of their way to keep them grounded,” points out Seema.

A fault in their upbringing?

A lot of social media debates these days question the importance of upbringing, attributing the superstar culture to the downfall of their kids. Going by the on-going episode of Aryan, addiction is attributed to wrong upbringing. This perception even led to backlash for his superstar father’s brand endorsement for an educational brand. Seema says that parenting is not the only factor to consider. She says, “Whenever we get a case of addiction, we look for 10 factors. No one thing can lead to an addiction. Sometimes kids start abusing substances due to peer pressure, at other times they steal money to fuel their addiction. The reason is also easy availability; drugs are often peddled outside schools. The law cracking down on peddlers is necessary to deal with the drug menace.”

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Comes with the territory

Viveck is right when he explains, “A star kid gets the best home and the best food and the best clothes and the best foreign holidays and the best car and the best lifestyle, so, if there is a controversy they will also be bad publicity or worse. And honourably, that will have to be what we would define as the price that the star kid paid. The bottom line is that we should not allow any child to pay the price. Sin is not a stain, it is a wound and we have to allow it to heal, not to fester and grow”.

Pooja Bedi is the daughter of Kabir Bedi and mother to Alaya F, both of whom are a part of the industry. As someone who has been a star kid and now a celebrity parent, she is in the best place to assess the situation. And she does sum it up aptly when she says, “There is a huge reserve of mental, emotional, and physical strength required to be in the film industry. There will be criticism, failure, and every single spoken word and action will be spotlighted, dissected, and torn apart. People will take vicarious pleasure in seeing you make mistakes, they will be quick to damn you and even quicker to slam you ruthlessly and indecently on social media platforms. What’s important is for the media and masses to understand they are young and human and should be viewed independently based on their work and merit, and free of the pressure of lineage, which is definitely a blessing but also a heavy mantle to bear. Most importantly a knee-jerk anti-celebrity, anti-star kids, anti-rich people attitude in society needs to be changed. It only increases divisiveness and builds negativity and bitterness which is completely unnecessary and unhealthy”.