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We all draw comfort from categorising public figures into familiar types, by adding two or three words or phrases as descriptors to people we think we know. Sometimes, though very rarely in the sterile world of Hindi cinema, people break out of their types. All this is a convoluted way of saying, Kangana Ranaut, take a bow. Yes, you, whom we had boxed in as the small town girl who speaks broken English, who has occasional bad hair days, and a history of very bad relationships. Out of nowhere, Kangana Ranaut has become everyone’s hero, the girl who played with fire, and dared to break conventions. Let’s put these honorifics into perspective: Kangana appeared in a television interview last week with film critic Anupama Chopra where she said things that we never expect to hear from anyone who works in the film industry let alone actresses who, given a choice, would rather gain an ounce of weight than risk appearing politically incorrect.
In baring her heart and speaking the truth, she forced us to face our own prejudices. The interview has gone viral on social media with close to 45,000 views on YouTube, not just because it shows a side to her that is strikingly intelligent, warm and full of grace, but also because we do not expect a girl like Kangana, who lacks the usual Bollywood pedigree, to say the things she said. This is something she is aware of – her status as an ‘outsider’ in Bollywood, and faces head on. When asked about being a style icon, she said, “There is a strong sense of overcompensating, the fact that I come from a small town, and I’ve been made to feel like somebody who doesn’t belong here helped me grow into a person who’s very stylish versus other girls who are Miss Worlds, or supermodels, or some celebrity daughter, who do not feel as much pressure. It helped me be somebody who deserves to be here and not just somebody who happened to be here.”
Kangana displays an appetite for constructive criticism and a reassuring lack of ego and delusion. When asked about acting in movies like Rascals or Double Dhamaal, she said, “We have to earn our bread and butter out of this business, sometimes you just have those limited options and as somebody who’s self-dependent, I don’t have any other job, so you have to keep working.” While watching the interview, one keeps on feeling something is amiss, and after some time it hits you – the ‘PR touch’ is what’s missing. There is nothing stage-managed about what she says and that is perhaps what has made this interview unusually well-received.
Kangana didn’t shy away from taking a dig at the supersized egos of men who work in movies, “Actors can be insensitive and self-obsessed, and with directors there is a tension around them, I’ve seen many people doing bigger and greater things with more ease and effortlessness, but these directors and producers make you feel like they’re carrying the world on their shoulders.” She revealed a feminist side too, “Marriage is made out to be so important for girls, the focus has to shift at some point from marriage to the real challenges of life which are the same for women and men, so we have to prepare our girls just the way we prepare our boys.” And some self-effacing humour as well, “The good thing about Bollywood is that you can never quit it because you have that little fame; and you won’t get any other job, you can’t be a half successful actress who works as an intern, so you have to stick around and keep trying.”
In this age of cookie-cutter heroines with stock responses, Kangana Ranaut is refreshingly real and honest. She wants to direct a movie some day and has taken baby steps towards her goal by directing a short film. If she ever makes a movie, I will watch it. Maybe you should too.