Kangana, Adhyayan, Barkha and Rahul. A story of three interviews.

Has the Kangana Ranaut, Hrithik Roshan, Adhyayan Suman saga also exposed the news media and its double standards?

WrittenBy:Rajyasree Sen
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I spent last Friday night with the Holy Trinity – Shekhar Suman, Adhyayan Suman and Rahul Kanwal. Thankfully not in the flesh. On Friday night at 10pm, Rahul Kanwal conducted an exclusive 23-minute interview with Senior Suman and the fruit of his loins, Baby Suman, aka Adhyayan, aka Kangana Ranaut’s least favourite mistake (although Aditya Pancholi would give Junior Suman tough competition for that position).

Why was anyone speaking to the Suman men? Because one of the collateral damages of the Kangana-Hrithik “She Emailed Me, She Emailed Me Not” saga has been the resurrection of Adhyayan Suman, who decided this was as good a time as any to give a tell-all interview about his long-ended relationship with Ranaut.

Ranaut and Adhyayan dated one another back when no one cared about either one of them. Adhyayan alleged Ranaut was abusive. How else to describe a woman who sees the BMW that Senior Suman got Baby Suman, and goes out and buys herself the same car with money she’s earned from signing a film? (What a wretched self-sufficient woman, really.)

More seriously, he accuses Ranaut of hitting him. The abuse also included making him shave his hair – “I didn’t question it. My hair never looked uglier but she felt I needed a new style. She was walking ahead and I was walking behind her like her bodyguard. It was humiliating.” – and black magic. Which is primitive and weird, unlike the intently rational practice of tarot and consulting pandits, which are Adhyayan’s preferred brands of superstition. Adhyayan also said Ranaut locked him in a room with black curtains and idols in it and that Adhyayan’s priest believes she mixed her “impure blood” in the food she served him.

The headlines that have surrounded this scandal have been appallingly misogynistic, and they got worse after Adhyayan’s vile interview was published. While no one has called Hrithik Roshan out, slurs have been liberally placed on Ranaut. If there was anything that should have swung the spotlight away from Adhyayan’s hatchet job and the speculations about Ranaut’s love life, it should have been the fact that she is only the second actress after Shabana Azmi to win three National Awards.

So it made sense when Ranaut was on prime time television. How better to make a point that she’s more than a sum of dubious ex-boyfriends? Both India Today TV and NDTV had “exclusive” interviews with Ranaut. NDTV’s was conducted by Barkha Dutt while on India Today TV, Rahul Kanwal was the chosen one. If you had to guess blindly, which of these two journalists would you pick to highlight Ranaut’s career over her personal life? If you picked Kanwal, you may pat yourself on the back for being able to think out of the sisterhood box.

Dutt interviewed Ranaut on the eve of the National Awards ceremony, but the conversation between the two women was not about the actress’ achievements or how she charts her own course in Bollywood.

It was about Adhyayan Suman and his comments.

Ranaut said during the interview, her “journey is not from Bandra to Juhu, it is from Manali to Rashtrapati Bhawan”. Sadly, this was noted just in passing, with both her and Dutt seemingly more interested in speaking of another “silly ex”. The National Awards and Ranaut’s acting success were only mentioned in the introduction and then we moved on to her talkative ex. Which is a great disservice to an actor as talented and as succesful as Ranaut.

As Ranaut has shown in past interviews, she can be an interviewer’s dream and to Dutt, she gave bushels of quotable quotes.

“Women should reply back with sarcasm or their success.”

“There are people-pleasers and self-pleasers, I’m a self-pleaser.”

“I am very proud of my fragile body, soft hands and sharp mind.”

“There’s nothing gross about my period blood.”

Actually, no one said anything about menstrual blood, so I don’t know where that came from. But for the record, it is gross to garnish anyone’s food with your blood – pure or impure.

Dutt didn’t clarify that rather than Adhyayan, it was his pandit who claimed Ranaut was mixing “impure blood” in cooking, but somehow, this fuelled a discussion about how period blood is nothing to be ashamed of (fair enough) and how sanitary napkins should not be named Whisper (ummm…?). This was all very well but both Dutt and Ranaut seem to have missed the point that Adhyayan (whose claims all interviews were revolving around) hadn’t condemned menstruation.

Regardless of Adhyayan’s opinion of feminine bodily functions, can you imagine any journalist interviewing a male actor at the top of his professional game and questioning him on his ex? Has anyone asked Aamir Khan about the claim made by journalist Jessica Hines that her child was fathered by him? Or asked Amitabh Bachchan about Rekha or Parveen Babi? The answer is: no. The only interviewer who has snuck in questions about personal lives occasionally is Karan Johar. This is not because the press is less eager to ask questions about personal lives. However, most celebrities make it clear while accepting interview requests that there are certain subjects that are off-limits and others that they’d like to focus upon. It isn’t by chance that Ranaut’s interview was all about the claims Adhyayan had made in the interview. Quite to the contrary.

The money shot in the NDTV interview came as a result of the interview’s determined focus on Adhyayan’s interview. Ranaut said, “Witch — I also love Shakespeare and like any other artist I’m smitten by fairies or demons or gods or mysticism or romanticism. How would any of us hope to write a Harry Potter or a Shakespeare if we already instill so much fear?” At the end, she said, “I love witches. I love demons.” Presumably under her spell, Dutt ended the interview with, “We can raise a toast to witches.”

Take that last Ranaut quote. Can you imagine a Giriraj Singh or any other Rightwing leader saying they believed in witches or black magic? They would be burnt at the stake and on social media by all of us.  It’s strange how we have different strokes for different folks.

Thankfully, Dutt did mention Ranaut refusing to advertise a fairness cream and how she commented on the lack of pay parity. But that was in the last three minutes of the interview.

In contrast, Kanwal’s conversation with Ranaut was fairer to Ranaut the actress and less obsessed with her love life. They spoke about her journey from Manali to Bollywood, fighting with her parents to join acting, and making her parents come around to a less patriarchal attitude to her. She spoke of her national awards, her equation with the Khans, insisting on being paid the same as her male co-stars and being accepted in Bollywood.

Kanwal asked Ranaut whether the feminist tag sits heavily on her shoulders. To which the actress answered frankly, that it did. “I am so consumed by my only little life as an actress, I hardly have time to delve into social issues,” Ranaut told Kanwal at one point, which is impressively honest.

It was in the 14th minute of the interview, almost at the halfway mark, that Kanwal asked her the first question about her relationships and the dodgy men she’s picked. Ranaut gamely answered that if she revealed Kanwal’s list of girlfriends (!), he wouldn’t be able to escape. (I think Kanwal was just pleased that she thought he’s had a list of girlfriends.) He responded by complimenting her on her lack of artifice when speaking of her past relationships.

And then they went back to speaking about Ranaut’s career. Seven minutes later, Adhyayan entered the conversation by implication. Kanwal said, “You’ve been called a witch. Who drinks blood!” Which actually is inaccurate since Adhyayan never said that, but Kanwal looked positively gleeful at the thought.

While making very pertinent points about how the word “witch” has been used to victimise women over centuries, Ranaut also said, “Witchcraft is an ancient art, everyone should know about it. What’s wrong with witchcraft? Don’t we like Harry Potter?” (Someone needs to tell her Harry Potter is fictional.)

Kanwal did not raise either questions about superstition or toasts to witchcraft. The focus of his interview was Ranaut’s career and it was definitely one of his finer ones, made all the more fine when he did a follow-up interview with Shekhar and Adhyayan Suman.

Was there really any need to interview the Sumans? Before you say no, consider this. Adhyayan gave a distasteful interview to DNA, yes, but is that reason enough to misquote him as both Dutt and Kanwal did? Arguably, Adhyayan deserves a chance to set the record straight. Unfortunately for him, his father is Shekhar Suman.

Kanwal’s interview raised a number of questions, most of which Shekhar answered. Adhyayan sat next to him, like a dummy with its ventriloquist. Hell, even that little girl from Bajrangi Bhaijaan and the actor who played Mowgli gave interviews alone. But not Baby Suman.

Daddy Suman was so determined to be his son’s spokesman that at various points Kanwal had to repeatedly trot out lines like, “With respect sir, if you let him speak. He’s a grown man himself.My favourite: “Let him talk Mr Suman, he’s a grown man”.

To which both Daddy and Baby responded with an incredulous look.

There was no shortage of quotable quotes in this interview. Here are a few Shekhar-isms:

“It’s not that she destroyed him. He destroyed himself getting into a wrong relationship.” (Who needs an enemy with a father like this?)

“He didn’t choose the time. The time chose him.”

“I decided that I would not allow him to speak.”

When Baby Suman got a word in edgewise, it became obvious why Shekhar wants to do the talking for him.

 “I haven’t given myself words.”

“No one is told to go to a graveyard to make their career work.” (Unless you’re in a Ramsay Brothers film. Regardless, considering Adhyayan’s career, it’s probably fair to say that he should try pretty much anything to jumpstart it at this point.)

“I was pushed into a room with a black curtain. She locked me in.”

“I’m not anyone’s toy boy.” (This is when you feel like telling him not to look a gift-horse in the mouth.)

“And that is why so many marriages are breaking today. Because people don’t want to make them work. I was a man.”

“There’s an impression that I used to take care of her dog. I never did that.” (I was going to give him a brownie point for the first part of that statement, but then he followed it up with sentence number two.)

That the Sumans live in their own planet was evident enough, but there was one point that jarred in the interview. At one point, Kanwal asked Adhyayan quite aggressively why he hadn’t walked out of his allegedly abusive one-year long relationship with Ranaut. This is a question that would never be asked of a woman and as the Suman duo rightly pointed out, no one was questioning why Ranaut stayed in a five-year-long abusive relationship with the much-married Aditya Pancholi. So why were the rules different for Baby Suman? We keep shouting about gender equality, but reverse sexism isn’t going to get any of us there.

Thankfully, the humour was brought straight back into the interview with the choice of advertiser: just as Junior Suman started talking about restarting his career, Careers 360 — “India’s Best Career Counsellor” — couldn’t have found a better moment to advertise their wares. I seriously hope Baby Suman takes them up on their offer.

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Unfortunately, the interview with the Sumans undid a lot of Kanwal’s good work with Ranaut. From acknowledging her professional triumph, the channel returned its gaze to her personal life, using the Sumans as a filter. The Sumans, who in this episode make Aditya Pancholi seem dignified.

Never mind the fact that an actress’ past relationship has no business being treated like national news in the first place. What’s worse is that the ex-boyfriend’s opinion appears to be more important than a National Award (or three), to both the media and the actress. What kind of sorcery is this?

The author can be reached on twitter @rajyasree


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