Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Kangana would neither fit in B’wood nor BJP: And that makes her our own Joan of Arc

Chote-Chote Shehro se, Khaali-bore dupaharon se, Hum to Jhola utha ke chale”

Gulzar’s lyrics is an apt metaphor how Bunty and Babli from our interiors, without privileges or power, are today pan-India idols but not necessarily how our protagonists from Shaad Ali’s movie took recourse to in the movie.

Be it movies (Manoj Bajpayee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui) or sports (Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Mary Kom) or politics (who better than our own prime minister Narendra Modi), talents are prising open gates which were hitherto closed to them. Gandhis alone were not the preserves of politics. Movies belonged to Kapoors and Khans and sports to Delhi and Mumbai. Start counting unknown faces in ongoing IPL, and the millions being staked on them, and you would know what I mean.   

But then once in a while comes someone who not only straddles the field of his/her choice but also stands at the divide between genders, patriarchy, entrenched mafia and system. This someone stakes everything he/she has acquired with blood and sweat; own people, own career, own life—everything. A Joan of Arc, if you may. 

Kangana Ranaut, from Mandi in the sleepy state of Himachal, left her home at 16, most likely revolted by how girls around her were being palmed off by their parents while still in teens. She certainly has a mind of her own, as we  now know, and such characters don’t rest till they have an identity of their own.

Still, Bollywood tested her. Every step she took in the industry was one towards humiliation, rejection and exploitation. While some made fun of her poor English accent, the others mocked her appearance. Yet she hung on. And then came the thriller Gangster in 2006. It was a breakthrough and now she is 30-movies old in a decade and a half; multiple national awards under her sash, and variety in roles which actors could only dream of. Yet all along, she wasn’t part of the crema la crema of Bollywood, accepted and owned by small pebbles in the pond who still made ripples which the biggies, much to their distaste, had to take note of.

From trying her hands in what is considered as one of the toughest cards of acting- comedy in movies like Double Dhamaal, Tanu Weds Manu, and Rascals to playing the historic role of Rani Lakshmibai, Kangana has explored most hues of acting. If Krrish 3 saw her as a mutant, Rajjo saw her as a sex-worker.

It was in 2014 when her movie Queen helped her to establish herself as one of the top stars. Before Queen, she attracted a fair amount of acclaim but this blockbuster opened the floodgates of success and fame.

She then took up direction and after Manikarnika, top honours in acting, and Padma Shri, no less, by the Indian state, Kangana, just past 30, had done the unthinkable: she, a frail-looking girl, had not only survived in the pond of sharks but was also making enough sound to rattle them.

The extent of animosty we weren’t aware of

We only now know how deep was the animosity between her and the mafia running the film industry. At some stage, Kangana decided she would’ve to take the bull by the horn. In the hide-and-seek they were indulged in, Kangana had realized she was only playing the game by the rules which the biggies had set for them. It was time they played by her matrix. By the rules of the game she set. Of course, it put her career on a slow burner of destruction, but at some stage Kangana appears to have said to herself: Enough is enough. Her fierce independence, and her own sense of righteousness, would now brook no nonsense.

It’s as good a time as any to recall her calling out that Greed god of beau of hers–Hrithik Roshan–in public.  Then came “Koffee with Karan”. Alongside her was Saif Ali Khan on the couch as she called the host of the show, Karan Johar, the flag-bearer of nepotism. For once, Karan Johar was struggling for a riposte and was ashen-faced.

It was Sushant Singh Rajput’s unfortunate death which brought matters to a head. It could well have been the fate of Kangana herself while she was striking out her career in the Big Bad Bollywood. It struck a chord in her: She recalled her own past; how careers are destroyed and promoted; how drugs are such an insidious part of the industry and inevitably she rubbed off the wrong people.

Sonakshi Sinha, Alia Bhat and Urmila Matondkar were one thing; collateral damages of Jaya Bachchan etc again a sideshow; yet these were still individuals. Her hands were now in the snakepit of Shiv Sena and she wasn’t pulling out even as the slithery creatures were injecting their venom in her veins.

Independent media or academia or film historians would perhaps some day do justice to Kangana Ranaut’s fight with Shiv Sena. It’s known that you don’t survive in Mumbai or Maharashtra if you rub Thackeray’s the wrong way. It was true in the times of Bal Thackeray. It’s true in the time of his son Uddhav. This is a party which identifies itself with Maratha Manoos and Maratha pride; and doesn’t mind breaking bones or put North Indians on the run who come to the big city to seek a living for themselves.

Shiv Sena, in its rise, made sure that Bollywood was at its beck and call. Be it Tere Mere Sapne in 1971 to Padmavat of our times, Shiv Sena let it be known to Bollywood who is the boss in the town. From the days when the patriarch Bal Thackeray shared his evenings with Dev Anand to Dilip Kumar; to the times when Sunil Dutt came knocking at his door for the safety of his son; to its strong-arm tactics to the movies it didn’t like, Shiv Sena’s writ ran large in Bollywood.

Till Kangana broke free. Hers was a vicious attack on Shiv Sena. She didn’t mind them calling what many believe to be true but never said it in public: That’s it s a Goonda Raj. Its henchmen Sanjay Raut calling her names was one thing; but to defy their diktat that she comes to Mumbai at her own risk; and that too come with all fanfare and media in attendance, and to leave with her head held high was another. 

Kangana came to Mumbai; walked like a Queen from the airport on, and surveyed the damage to her office in Bandra by Shiv Sena’s municipal land pirates without a hint of nervousness. For good effect, she said she would let her property remain in ruins as a reminder of the immense divide which a commoner in this country is confronted with whenever he or she takes on the system.

Many of us now know that ideologically she is aligned with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But all of us would be wrong if we thought she was doing it for a career in politics. Political parties would fall over to give her a ticket these days. And if she was really this suave politically, she wouldn’t have spoken against the reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs.

It is these bindass utterances of hers which has forced even BJP to be cautious in their support to her. Such independence forces are difficult to make fall in line. They do what they believe is right and to hell with the “agenda” which organized groups or political parties can’t do without. It’s a classic duel between individual and a system and as we all know, but for Napoleon Bonaparte or perhaps Adolf Hitler, individuals stand little chance against a system. We would see its evidence soon enough. The odds are against BJP seeking her services in the upcoming assembly elections in Bihar given her opinion against reservations in a caste-ridden state.

We could only think how life would shape up for Kangana Ranaut from now on. Countless millions are her admirers. But such forces fade away once the cause fades away. Once Sushant Rajput’s death is in the attic of memory, and Sena finds other reasons to make headlines with, Kangana could be left without a cause. Her Bollywood career has gone up in smoke for sure. But there would always be a Netflix or an Amazon Prime to showcase her talent. There would be new film-makers too who wouldn’t let such a talent go to waste. If nothing, her presence today is a sure-hit Box Office formula. Her future today is as much of interest to her as it is to us today. Flames which burn bright also extinguish quickly. One hopes Kangana is an exception. 

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