We’ve still to meet even though she has shared some of her darkest thoughts with me on occasions. With her mass of rebellious curls, flashing dark eyes and switch-on-and-switch-off moods, Kangana Ranaut has long intrigued me.
We connected just before the release of her first film,
. And even over an impersonal telephone line, I was impressed with her easy confidence, which came through on screen too. It was no surprise when she was nominated for not just the Best Debutant Award but also brushed shoulders with her seniors in the Best Actress category.
What’s more, Kangana seriously believed that she stood a chance of bagging both the awards, and even threatened to stay away if she didn’t win either. Eventually, it was her mentor, director Anurag Basu, who convinced her that being the Most Promising New Face of the year wasn’t such a bad deal for a first-timer.
That evening, as I watched Kangana walk up to the stage to accept her first award, I knew that this was just the beginning. There would be many such moments in the spotlight for her. A few months from now, she will be accepting the National Award for Best Supporting Actress from the President of India.
Sex, lies and the Babi tapes
Flashback to Woh Lamhe… The Mohit Suri-directed film that everyone soon knew was inspired by Mahesh Bhatt’s tapes of Parveen Babi. Kangana admitted to hearing only a couple of them: “They were so heartbreaking that I couldn’t sit through all of them. Parveen was talking to her lover, laying bare her innermost feelings…”
Naturally, I wondered how much, like the talented and traumatised superstar of the ’70s she was. The Himachali heroine insisted there were no similarities. When first approached for the role, she had thought it was a classic case of miscasting.
She was coaxed into doing the film and confessed that 15-20 days into the shoot, she had a touch of the blues too. “I’ve been living alone since I was 15 but suddenly I was missing my parents. There were nights when I couldn’t sleep,” she recalled. “It was difficult shrugging off Sana Azmi after ‘pack-up’ and going back to the old, carefree Kangana.”
On screen, Kangana was heartbreakingly frail, like Praveen, but, as I discovered, there was steel beneath the vulnerability. The fast-rising star had no illusions about the profession she had chosen. Showtown, she knew, was a sad place… a lonely place… where everything, be it success, friendship or even love, was superficial and unreal.
Kangana was only 19 then but there was nothing remotely bubble-headed about the teenager. “Stardom happened to me quite my chance. There are so many actors out there who are more beautiful and talented than I am, may be even more experienced, yet they are still struggling while I, who still can’t claim to know the ABCs of acting, am getting the best of roles,” she pointed out to me matter-of-factly. “I don’t make a big deal of it because I know this kind of overnight success can be snatched away from me tomorrow.”
The words came back to me as I watched her struggle through one ‘suicidal’ role after another. Off screen too, she was trying to make a success of relationships that were doomed to fail. I waited for her to crack… she didn’t, even though she had virtually cut herself off from heart-to-heart interviews.
I’d tried once to reach her at home, only to get a fake firangi accent and then a desi one telling me that Kangana was “out”.
Eventually, her manager told me that the telephonic he’d promised for 4 pm was not going to happen even four hours later.
Our last ‘encounter’ was over the e-mail. Kangana answered a select few questions I’d sent across. Fashion had just released to rave reviews. As Shonali, lost in the cocaine haze of slipping stardom, it was another ‘torn-from-within’ Kangana that I saw. And this time the answers she had penned herself, reflected the pain of a 21-year-old who had grown up too soon.
“It’s been a difficult journey. Looking back, I don’t know how I survived the odds. I don’t seem to learn from my mistakes. I always seem to invite trouble. But now, I can see through people. I’ve dealt with so many psychos in my life that now I can judge people pretty well. And except for family and a few friends, I like staying alone, away from the crowds…”
Dare to bare
Three years ago, in September 2006, when I had asked her which was the best compliment she had got for Gangster, it was being compared to Meena Kumari, one of her favourite actresses. “Remember Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam? Chhoti Bahu was such a perfect role for her,” she raved. “It is difficult to bare what you feel inside in front of a 100 people and through so many retakes. Exposing our soul is the biggest sacrifice this profession demands.”
In the 40 months since she too has dared to bare her soul for the camera, several times. I can only hope that like Shonali and Sana, she never loses herself in this world of shattering illusion.