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Why is Kangana Ranaut becoming the thinking person’s Rakhee Sawant?

Ranaut’s criticism of Karan Johar and his alleged nepotism is handicapped

brunch Updated: Sep 18, 2017 15:14 IST
Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi
Kangana Ranaut,Kangana VS KJo,Nepotism
Kangana accuses the industry of nepotism when she herself is managed by her sister, Rangoli (Photo Illustration: Parth Garg )

Kangana Ranaut is absolutely right to take on the role of nepotism in Bollywood. But a friend – mother of a 16-year-old boy who recently came out to his class of 10th graders – alerted me that Ranaut’s criticism of Karan Johar and his alleged nepotism was handicapped. She failed the larger psychological and emotional spectrum necessary to appreciate that in Bollywood, or in any social construct in India, a gay man is also an outsider.

My friend mentioned her teenage son had considered suicide – he’d been unable to come to terms with his own sexual self in spite his family’s acceptance. For Johar to succeed in Bollywood – indeed, anywhere in India – is the victory of determination, toil, cunning and enterprise (the success of his films, conversely, must be chalked up to our national bad judgement). Johar coming through tills of self-hatred is no less glorious than Ranaut paying her bills as an outsider.

(From left) Karan Johar coming through tills of self-hatred is no less glorious than Ranaut paying her bills as an outsider; Ranaut recently said that her sister, Rangoli’s recent social media outbursts are hormone related as she is pregnant; The American writer and intellectual Susan Sontag is remembered as one of the first women to turn down alimony; In an interview with Rajat Sharma Ranaut claims she asked Hrithik Roshan if he had wanted to marry her

R versus KJo!

But you cannot claim membership of The Association of Outsiders if you are unable to recognise others who have fought the same battle. Systems of oppression – like patriarchy and heteronormativity – oppress different groups, in different ways. But oppress they do. People with a silver spoon sticking out of them can also be an interlopers ally. You don’t have to like your comrades, of course, and that feeling might be entirely mutual.

You cannot claim membership of The Association of Outsiders if you are unable to recognise others who have fought the same battle

You simply have to co-exist, and if you don’t, then you are guilty not of nepotism but callousness and intolerance, graver accusations to have to stave off. Johar, instead of childishly attacking Ranaut at an awards function, might simply have asked her to explain her publishing: What had she done to counter nepotism? As a woman of considerable power, what avenues had she created for unsupported women like herself to succeed in our films? Instead, Ranaut lectures Johar in print – in the Mumbai Mirror – on how he could raise his infant daughter to play, among other things, ‘the woman card’. Ranaut is cautioned here that only in India, and only if we are particularly dishonorable, do we drag infant children into a public quarrel involving their parents. And while she accuses the industry of nepotism, she herself is managed by her sister, Rangoli. This imperils the integrity of her accusations apropos nepotism. One empathises that Rangoli is survivor of an acid attack, but surely this is not why she was hired for the job. Rangoli is also Ranaut’s sister; moreover, she is probably just darn good at what she does. Therefore, it insults her professional acuity to say – as Ranaut did – that her sister’s recent social media outbursts are hormone related, as Rangoli is pregnant. Ranaut should know better than to haul in a woman’s hormones, and her pregnancy, to justify professional conduct. Heterosexual men have been singing the sneering little PMS tune forever, and it’s disgusting.

In an interview with Rajat Sharma she claims she asked Hrithik Roshan if he had wanted to marry her or not (‘shaadi karoge?’). Why would any independent woman surrender this decision to a man? Marriage is a series of contained mistakes and joy two people inaugurate jointly, as equals, and in granting any one individual this permission over one’s life, and its agency, indicates not the success of feminism – that one is free to choose – but implicates its failure – one simply waits around for a man to marry her. Women are not defined by their marriages to men but in spite of them.

Someone went all zombie on you. Stop draking, girl! The easier – the elegant – recourse is to call block designated ex, commit a social media cleanse, and travel swiftly onward. #movingon

The American writer and intellectual Susan Sontag was married, but she is remembered as one of the first women to turn down alimony, an indicator of her privilege as well as the larger symbolism of a gendered ascendancy over the institution of marriage. In the same interview, Ranaut says she was lucky to have dated ‘a dumb guy’. Her comments betray how sexism is an equal opportunities employer. Perhaps she ought to have considered her lover’s IQ before embarking on a full-blown affair with him? Certainly, she could have flunked the hunk right after she realised he was blazingly stupid: adequate grounds for romantic dismissal. Moreover, if she suffered psychological and emotional trauma at the hands of a lover – as confirmed in her interview with Sharma – then report him to the cops. She said she reached out to the Women’s Commission, which has flatly, stridently, refuted her claim. She must check her facts, and yes, now also her privilege: for she gets to baselessly discredit the Women’s Commission on national television while they have to settle for a few meek countering tweets. Too little, too late.

When grace is under fire

Perhaps this entire ruckus is only the original teenage dilemma: Someone you love no longer loves you back. This is tragic, gutting, for any of us. Yet, rejection is a requisite burden of being adult.

But to run to a lover’s father and whine about their son is to surrender the passport of adulthood. Someone went all zombie on you. Stop draking, girl! The easier – the elegant – recourse is to call block designated ex, commit a social media cleanse, and travel swiftly onward. #movingon.

Her acting vigour, redolent of Susan Sarandon, can aim for more than playing systems disruptor. Like Sarandon, Ranaut could draw on her independence, brilliance and politics to create a public role that is serious, empowering and engaging

That Ranaut is one of the finest actors of her generation is incontestable – her peers are not a patch on her. She has a spry, intuitive muscularity of presence, she imbues her characters – as she did in Queen and Tanu Weds Manu – with full-bodied force, spontaneity, grace and an original shimmer of self-conviction. It is impossible to not be dazzled by the glow of her lacerating talent, just as it is now intolerable to have put up with her public spats that are also a form of self-mythologising. Some accuse her as manipulative: she does this for publicity. Who is anyone to say Ranaut is not entitled to the press she revs up for herself? Remaining relevant in a clickbait economy is a talent, and she is an astonishment of public relations. But trending on social media for a weekend disables a vehicle geared for the long haul: brownie points traded away for the winner’s cake. Her public shows of bonhomie with important journalists implies that the old boys club has competition: surely, she doesn’t want to partake in the same incestuous system she berates. Her acting vigour, redolent of Susan Sarandon, can aim for more than playing systems disruptor. Like Sarandon, Ranaut could draw on her independence, brilliance and politics to create a public role that is serious, empowering and engaging. She might, for instance, tell her producers that if women workers on set don’t get paid exactly as their male peers then, well, she won’t show. This is feminism – and power politics – in action.

Right now, Ranaut’s interviews are turning her into the thinking person’s Rakhi Sawant.

Our media avers her politics as rank holder – this is not Ranaut’s doing. But the Like & Share media ecology obscures more serious work done by our feminists. This includes the sage voices of Kavita Krishnan (whose activism resulted in valuable changes in sexual assault laws in India), Urvashi Butalia (whose publishing has given innumerable women writers fair platform) and Rita Banerjee (whose online campaign 50 Million Missing generated an extraordinary awareness for female gendercide). Fetishising glamour as a power ideal, and exchanging glibness for intellectual rigour, should not become our blind spot in recognising and honoring our true heroes.

The writer is the author of the international bestseller, The Last Song of Dusk, and has written for The New York Times, TIME and is a regular contributor to Brunch. He is based in Goa, where he is honorary director of an arts foundation.

From HT Brunch, September 17, 2017

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First Published: Sep 16, 2017 22:22 IST