Kangana, The Puppet And The Puppeteer Of Her Show

Pop Culture

Kangana, The Puppet And The Puppeteer Of Her Show

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

T

he opening sequence of Simran shows Praful Patel (Kangana Ranaut), a Gujarati divorcee working as housekeeping staff in an Atlanta hotel, dusting a table before carefully placing a book on it the way it was before, changing bedsheets, and thoroughly scrubbing a toilet clean. But Praful is not content with having the reputation of someone who cleans rooms. Her dreams are bigger. “I work for the hotel industry,” she insists, more than once throughout the entirety of the film, seeking to make her occupation look more purposeful than it is. In doing so, Praful does more than set the plot line for the movie. She makes a calculated decision about the identity she wants to present to the world, just the way her off-screen self has been portraying over the last six months.

The post-nepotism Kangana Ranaut we have come to know is no longer satisfied with just being called a brilliant actor. “I’m a thought leader,” she wants to exclaim, and every time she steps out of her home and performs in front of the camera, whether it’s for a movie or an interview, Kangana is doing just that: performing the role of the leader she has primed herself for.

Advertisement

Simran is then, the result and culmination of Kangana’s recent rapacity of delivering a performance; one that she has been dedicatedly pursuing since her (in)famous Koffee with Karan appearance back in February. Six months later, as the star of her latest outing, Simran, Kangana is still choosing to perform – like she did in almost every promotional interview before the release of the film – prioritising it over getting deep inside the skin of a character, and acting with her natural finesse the way she did in Queen.

This deliberate “performing” is glaringly evident in an early scene, when Praful gets in bed with a dishy man she spots at a Las Vegas casino. After a few minutes of foreplay, she inquires whether he is “carrying protection”. His reply is negative, but he assures her there’s nothing to worry about, proceeding to launch himself on her. Her reaction is as instant as it is swift: She knees him in the nuts. Then, she gets out of bed and orders him to zip her dress back on. Once he’s followed her orders, she walks in style across the room to face him, and schools him in how there will be no sex if there is no protection. She says this with a shake of her head, as if uttering a social message whose sole purpose is to heighten the sanctity of her feminist image, of all things woman that she has come to stand for.

Kangana

In a scene from Simran, Kangana Ranaut’s Praful, champagne in hand, heads to the terrace of the hotel and raises a toast to herself with the vast expanse of Las Vegas for audience.

Image credit: T-Series

Simran is an ode to this very image. It plays out self-consciously across our movie screens, with an eye to celebrate her quirky, self-made, badass, unfortunate, victim-y image, even when it is at odds with the plot. There is actually a scene in the film when Praful, champagne in hand, heads to the terrace of the hotel and raises a toast to herself with the vast expanse of Las Vegas for audience. The camera zooms onto her victorious and smiling face, and stays there for a good while, as if awaiting thunderous applause for the actress’s brilliance.

In that scene lies not the victory of Praful, but the world as it is right now in Kangana’s head. She has not just made it, but also earned the luxury of being the star (and not the actor) headlining a film directed by a National Award-winning director to an extent that she can also demand to alter its product.

As a result, an inherently dark crime thriller about a 30-year-old housekeeper, who starts robbing banks after her life falls apart due to a gambling addiction, takes the shape of a neither-here, neither-there crime comedy strung together by random shots showcasing Kangana’s masterful ability to play various emotions. There are enough, and more unnecessary, desperate-to-please shots of Kangana laughing with unfettered glee (an instant reminder of her brilliant Rani from Queen) and scenes that allow her to exploit her comic timing. So even though Simran sees Kangana getting slapped by her father, brutally beaten up by loan sharks, and manhandled by a manager, her body language and performance still remain in the goofy-simpleton zone, unwilling to tread into slightly darker territory.

In fact, the one scene where Kangana acts, and not performs, like Praful, is also overpowered by the film’s adherence to its inexplicably breezy template. She has a meltdown at a gas station, and promptly steals money from the cashier before zooming away in the car. It’s the first time she has stolen, and while she’s driving, there’s a sly smile and a glint in her eyes, evidence of just how much she liked the sensation. This sequence could have led to a layered build-up to Praful ultimately robbing banks; instead, it transforms into a hurried heist scenario where she immediately goes about to rob another bank, giving another performance as the nutty “Lipstick Bandit”.

Every performance of Kangana’s has been designed to serve as a reminder of how, despite being a victim, she is still a star. And how, in spite of being a star, she’s still an outsider.

Moreover, Kangana Ranaut has given many performances since February, so much that now, it has almost become second nature to her. It started with Koffee With Karan, as the short role of the feminist slayer that burned Karan Johar down to ashes. Then there was Julia, in Rangoon, an extension of her “jaanbaaz” avatar at the time where she proudly stood in the limelight as the hero of the film. That was followed by her version of the woman who would go to any lengths to get what she wanted, when it was alleged that she hijacked Ketan Mehta’s Rani of Jhansi biopic, and launched a similar film with another director. (She launched Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi by taking five dips in the Ganga, and performing Ganga aarti.)

Kangana

Simran plays out self-consciously across our movie screens, with an eye to celebrate her quirky, self-made, badass, unfortunate, victim-y image, even when it is at odds with the plot

Image credit: T-Series

The gravity of her ambition was evident when she launched her own production house soon after, and announced that she would be directing or co-directing every film that she is a part of. Then emerged the controversy over the writing credits of Simran, where she painted the town red with her allegation of being wronged yet again. And, when time came for the promotional interviews of Simran, she left no stone unturned in hitting out at all her exes.

Every performance of Kangana’s has been designed to serve as a reminder of how, despite being a victim, she is still a star. And how, in spite of being a star, she’s still an outsider. It’s a periodic alarm that tells us we owe her our sympathy. This reaches a crescendo with Simran, which exists with the sole reason of forcing us to acknowledge what Kangana can be on her own terms. That she is behind her own journey, and that she, with her single-handed vision and carefully curated performances, can turn any film around. And as much as we like, and silently cheer her for these performances, it’s Kangana Ranaut, the actress that we miss.

Comments