From Bollywood’s Boldest Star to Big Mouth: What Do We Do About Kangana Ranaut?


From Bollywood’s Boldest Star to Big Mouth: What Do We Do About Kangana Ranaut?

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

In the last couple of months, big Bollywood hits have been few and good films even scarcer, which is why it’s especially exciting to see a Kangana Ranaut release. Today, the actor’s most recent film, Panga arrived in theatres to similar enthusiasm. Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s latest stars Ranaut as Jaya Nigam, a 32-year-old former kabaddi champion readying for a comeback after seven-year hiatus, and easily seems like one of the freshest stories to watch out for this year.

Unfortunately, Ranaut is also the reason that the film stands overshadowed by the theatrics on display during the film’s promotion event on Thursday. At the press conference, Ranaut, flanked by her co-star Richa Chadha, and the film’s director Tiwari, was asked about her views on the death penalty conferred to the 2012 Delhi gang-rape convicts. After first claiming that she would prefer if the “rapists were hanged publicly” to “set an example”, she had a few harsh words for senior human rights lawyer Indira Jaising as well. 

Taking affront to the anti-capital punishment activist’s suggestion that the victim’s mother pardon the gang-rape convicts, Ranaut demanded that Jaising be thrown in jail with the lot of them. As Richa Chaddha noticeably squirmed in her seat, her co-actor went on to add that it was “women like her (Jaising) who give birth to such monsters”.

For an actor who has carefully pitched herself as the champion of feminism, her comments against Jaising are deeply misogynistic. Not only does she seem to crudely imply that Jaising “deserves” to be raped by the convicts for the grave crime of holding an opposing view, but by saying that “women give birth to monsters”, she also appears to insist that mothers are responsible for the crimes of their children. In a Twitter thread, journalist and writer Vasundhara Singh Sirnate says, “This is the kind of language that is patriarchally conditioned… She can mimic the language of empowerment but that’s because it’s a saleable commodity. Her true self lies in these unscripted moments. Don’t be fooled by that righteous anger against rapists on display. Her real target here was another woman, not the rapists.”

Ranaut has a knack of courting controversy ahead of a film release.

Ranaut has a knack of courting controversy ahead of a film release. Last July, during a song launch for the film Judgementall Hai Kya?, Ranaut, flanked by her co-star Rajkummar Rao and producer Ekta Kapoor, called out a PTI reporter who had a question for her. She refused to answer him, accusing him of writing “gandi-gandi” things after the release of her directorial debut, Manikarnika: Queen of Jhansi. When the journalist asked the actress to clarify, Ranaut ripped into him for allegedly calling her “jingoistic” and discriminating against her for making a nationalist film.

The last few incidents are just another reminder that Ranaut has turned into just another toxic Bollywood star, the kind she once stood up against. In the past, Ranaut, ironically, has said that she doesn’t mind legitimate criticism but refuses to submit to bullying. And yet, she chose to falsely accuse a reporter at a public event for engineering a smear campaign against her and go all out slamming a lawyer without fully understanding the context of Jaising’s admittedly ill-timed remarks.

It’s especially frustrating to see Ranaut turn into an actor who goes on a mindless rant, given that she used to be known as Bollywood’s boldest outsider, who had the courage to speak up against what wrong. She famously took on Karan Johar on his own show, Koffee with Karan, naming him as Bollywood’s “flag bearer of nepotism” and it was clear where her sound and fury came from: She has always been a better actress than the parade of star kids who have snapped up plum roles with ease.

It’s especially frustrating to see Ranaut turn into an actor who goes on a mindless rant, given that she used to be known as Bollywood’s boldest outsider.

So how did Ranaut go from national darling to Bollywood big mouth? When she called out Hrithik Roshan for ill-treating her during a relationship, he denied that anything had ever happened between them. This led to a he-said-she-said furore, and everyone aware of the exploitation within the industry was on Team Kangana. At least, until Ranaut started bringing up her grievances with Roshan at every press event, promo appearance, and interview. But even this was excusable to those who saw her as an opinionated actress who lacked the benefits of Roshan’s polished PR machinery.

Still, who needs good PR when bad press will grab headlines? Aided by her sister-cum-manager Rangoli (an interesting choice for someone who claims to be anti-nepotism), Ranaut has managed to unnecessarily pick a fight with half the industry. Most recently Ragoli slammed Deepika Padukone’s JNU visit. “Only PR kiya JNU mein,” she wrote on Twitter.  Last year, upset that Ali Bhatt-starrer Gully Boy was receiving more positive attention than Manikarnika, Ranaut called her performance mediocre, saying she was “embarrassed” by the comparison — and this after blaming Bhatt and other industry members like Aamir Khan for not appreciating her film sufficiently. The sisters have often gotten personal, calling out Bhatt and her mother Soni Razdan for holding British citizenship and even insinuating that Bhatt and Ranbir Kapoor leaked photos of Ranaut riding a mechanical horse to make her look bad. These attacks are particularly hard to swallow, since Ranaut and her camp can make the most outrageous and vitriolic claims, only to be treated with kid gloves by the rest of the Bollywood fraternity.

The result is that today, Ranaut is no different from any other self-important star who can dish it out but can’t take it, or any spoiled, entitled insider who made her early years in the industry such a struggle. For someone who once commanded respect for speaking her mind, she now needs to mind her thoughts.

With inputs from Sagar S