At the start of 2019, soon after the release of Manikarnika, critic Shefali Jha wrote: “Every year, right before the release of her film, Kangana Ranaut comes to the centre stage, grabs majority of the headlines for her unabashed, unfiltered and a few unnecessary statements and disappears after the film releases. And this year was no different.”
In the same article, Jha calls out Kangana, saying after the success of Manikarnika she must not do the following five things: expect validation from society; miss the bigger picture of how Bollywood functions and the controversies created around film promotions; act as a jilted lover by dragging Hrithik Roshan into endless and unseemly controversies; take pot shots at contemporaries and last but not the least she should stop always wanting to be right—“The ‘I Am Right’ Funda”.
Within six months, in July 2019, it seems to be the start of a whole new vicious cycle, advice unheeded. Kangana Ranaut launched the promotions for Judgementall Hai Kya by wading into an unseemly fracas with a senior journalist at the song launch of the film.
This led to the Entertainment Journalists’ Guild of India calling for an apology from the actor and producer failing which they threatened to boycott Ranaut. Ekta Kapoor, the producer of the film issued an apology and consequently the Ranaut sisters have unleashed a war on social media calling journalists “termites” and anti-national traitors.
Kangana Ranaut burst onto the film scene with her very first film Gangster: A Love Story in 2006. Although the film was a semi-hit, Kangana was feted and applauded and marked out as a talent to watch out for. She won the Filmfare Award for Best Female Debut in 2007. The next few films were either flops or did average business including Fashion where she was the standout talent (she won the IIFA, Filmfare and the National Award for Best Supporting Actress). Her next hit came with Once Upon a Time in Mumbai in 2010. Again a string of flops followed until she hit the payload with Tanu Weds Manu in 2011 (she won the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actress). It was the 2013 Krrish 3 that gave Kangana the first blockbuster of her career.
Kangana’s first solo hit was the 2014 film Queen for which she won the Filmfare and National Award for Best Actor. Since then her films followed the old pattern of semi hits and flops and a few disasters like Revolver Rani in 2014 and I Love NY in 2015.
The two films that cemented Kangana’s legacy as a Bollywood star who can single-handedly shoulder a blockbuster are the 2015 Tanu Weds Manu Returns (for which she won the National Award for Best Actress) and Manikarnika – The Queen of Jhansi in 2019.
With such a rich filmography and multiple awards, including Critics Choice awards, it is surprising that Kangana Ranaut does not rely solely on her work to speak for itself. She has instead created a Chakravyuh out of her film promotions and interviews. Unfortunately, it is a self-created trap that will only hurt her in the long term.
Having previously called out Bollywood for its classist/closed systems, nepotism and hostility to her own background and accent, Kangana spent a good part of a decade trying to polish herself. She went to America, enrolled in a film writing course and picked up a new English vocabulary and accent. Yet she had burnt a bridge too many and found there was no change in the acceptance she had received from Bollywood. This prompted her to shift her crusade from the Outsider-Nepotism dichotomy to a more stridently feminist persona. She talked of equality of pay and opportunity and promised to do more female-oriented films.
Soon enough she was called out for her comments and insensitivity to rape and what Indian women should wear as she propagated the sari as an essential Indian garment. As Lakshana N Palat wrote in India Today in 2018 “We were awed and impressed. Sadly, the veneer of fondness is wearing off now…”
Therefore, it seems Kangana has moved onto a far more gripping and lucrative bandwagon. In a recent video, Kangana Ranaut goes on a tirade against “anti-national” journalists and uses the same trope and language that is in vogue among a section of political opinion in power. She has become a champion nationalist.
In an interview to Mint in 2017, Kangana had said that as an actor: “You are at the receiving end of a call or an offer, always waiting for the right opportunity, right PR, politically correct answers and right parties to attend, make the right friends. It’s very difficult. It’s easier to build an ecosystem (laughs).”
In building that ecosystem, Kangana Ranaut should remember that those she is bullying today with her brusque and verbally abusive behaviour are also the stakeholders in her success—the filmmaking community, the media and the audience. If she does not control her negativity and criticism, her accolades and box office wins will become harder to achieve.
In the Mahabharat, even though Abhimanyu successfully entered the Chakravyuh he could not exit it. Without the support of his allies and other Pandav warriors, the maze closed in on him. He died alone.
Kangana Ranaut is an exceptionally talented and gifted actress and that’s what she ought to focus on: her talent. That talent will attract the right ecosystem and enable her to realise her dreams.
Bertolt Brecht had said: “Alas, we who wanted kindness could not be kind ourselves.” Words of advice to the wise perhaps.