Naseeruddin Shah’s “Half-Educated Starlet” Remark About Kangana Ranaut is Deeply Problematic


Naseeruddin Shah’s “Half-Educated Starlet” Remark About Kangana Ranaut is Deeply Problematic

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Ever since her appearance on Karan Johar’s Koffee With Karan talk show in 2017, where she was widely praised for calling out Johar’s nepotistic tendencies to his face, Kangana Ranaut has made campaigning against nepotism a central part of her brand. This sits comfortably with her other tendency to side with aggressive nationalism.

But over the years, her pointed statements have gotten increasingly blunt as she launched scathing, unwarranted attacks against her peers in the film industry, eventually antagonising even “outsiders” like Taapsee Pannu and Swara Bhaskar, who were hardly beneficiaries of nepotism. And when another successful outsider, Sushant Singh Rajput, committed suicide, Kangana Ranaut wasted no time in appropriating his demise for her campaign against nepotism, even though there was no direct relation between the two.

Rajput’s death has become the central attraction in an ongoing media circus, which weaves together allegations of nepotism, murder conspiracies, and speculation on his toxic relationships, and Ranaut has been a regular fixture. So when senior actor Naseeruddin Shah was asked to offer his opinion on Rajput’s death, he chose to comment instead on the aftermath of the tragic story.

“No one is interested in the opinions of some half-educated starlet who decides to take it upon herself to you know, get justice for Sushant. If there is justice that needs to be done, I think we need to have faith in the process of the law and if it is none of our business I think we should not concern ourselves with it,” Shah said.

Though Shah did not name Ranaut directly, the shoe fit, and she decided to wear it, as the saying goes. Ranaut hit back at Shah through her team’s Twitter handle. “Thank you Naseer ji, you weighed all my awards and achievements which none of my contemporaries have on the scale of nepotism, I am used to this but would you say this to me if I were Prakash Padukone/Anil Kapoor’s daughter?” she tweeted in response.

Shah’s comments were beyond the pale. For a senior actor of such class and erudition, Shah should have displayed more restraint in referring to Kangana, no matter what his objections to her politics and public behaviour. By dismissing Kangana’s career entirely, and calling her “half-educated” – an obvious slight aimed at her accent and presentation – he plays directly into Kangana’s hands. It smacks of thinly veiled misogyny, and that’s hardly expected of such a distinguished, outspoken actor. Besides, it just gives Kangana the social media oxygen she craves.

Ranaut has been firing on all cylinders lately, and after defending herself against Shah’s statement, also chose to go after her old rival Karan Johar. Much like she did with the anti-nepotism campaign after Rajput’s death, Ranaut has attached herself to the wave of negativity surrounding Johar’s studio’s latest release, Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl. She called the film anti-national, made wild allegations about Johar supporting Pakistan when Indian carried out a cross-border surgical strike, and demanded that the Indian government recall the Padma Shri awarded to Johar.

In the case of Rajput’s suicide, the Supreme Court, Central Bureau of Investigation, Enforcement Directorate, and police forces of two states are now involved. But it appears regardless of the result of their investigation, Kangana Ranaut vs Bollywood is a conflict that is not going to be resolved.