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Why every thinking person needs a Kangana Ranaut

To those who believe the actress is more bluster than brain, here’s a rejoinder

brunch Updated: Sep 24, 2017 14:47 IST
Java Singh and Roli Jindal
Kangana Ranaut,Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi,Karan Johar
Kangana Ranaut has been known to speak her mind rather than follow the ‘herd’ mentality(Satish Bate)

Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi’s recent article caught my attention because it was penned so eloquently and, on careful reading, turned out to be a deconstructionist’s delight.

The writer chastises actress Kangana Ranaut, telling her that “you cannot claim membership of the Association of Outsiders if you are unable to recognise others who have fought the same battle.” This in defense of a man who has never explicitly owned up to being gay, not even in his autobiography. The writer may have privileged information, but exactly which battle is Kangana being asked to recognise here? In any case, how is calling out a man for nepotism in the public sphere equal to being insensitive about his personal choices?

No more victims

Later in the article, conscious of his own high moral ground, the writer admits Rangoli, Kangana’s sister, to that Association. He says “one empathises that Rangoli is a survivor of an acid attack.” His gallantry is out of place. His cavalier tone projects her as a victim and we, Sir, stopped crying over the tragedy of being victims a while ago because nobody was listening. No amount of whataboutery over Rangoli being Kangana’s manager takes away from the essential truth of Kangana’s contention. The mention of an acid attack, as if it was bad car accident, is socially irresponsible - 57 surgeries, chunks of thigh skin cut out for facial grafts, a dysfunctional breast, 90 per cent loss of vision in one eye - Shanghvi should not elide these details.

He writes of “same battles” against heteronormativity and patriarchy which oppress different groups differently. The writer mentions the case of a 16-year-old boy who was on the verge of suicide because he could not come to terms with his homosexuality. I do not just “empathise” with this young man, I applaud his courage and I declare him a leader amongst men. In an entirely different context, I recognise the possibility of a gay man being a nepotistic landlord, entitled enough to ask a whistle-blower to consider leaving the industry if she didn’t like its ways. My empathy in that context would lie mainly with the whistle-blower.

Kangana has created an eco-system that allows her to thrive without the mighty Khans. (From left) Aamir, Shah Rukh and Salman Khan.

Ranaut the mighty

I cannot keep the smirk off my face as I imagine Kangana responding to Shanghvi’s question: What has she done to counter nepotism? Maybe you didn’t notice, Mr Shanghvi. Her success is the greatest counter. She has created an eco-system that allows her to thrive without the mighty Khans, without the Johars and the Chopras. She has made a 100 year-old industry conscious of its own feudalism. Isn’t this contribution enough?

Kangan’s recent comments about Karan Johar being the flag-bearer of Nepotism drew much attention across media

The other bit I chewed on was where the writer, acknowledging Ranaut’s pluck, urges her to “aim for more than playing systems disruptor.” Ranaut is trying to disrupt a system that has remained entrenched for thousands of years despite continuous struggles which have been mounted against it. Patriarchy relents too slowly, too little to women’s efforts. It is no mean task to disrupt this system. Shanghvi finds her polemic engagements with her colleagues in the film industry intolerable; would he prefer to live with comfortable status-quo?

After recommending that Kangana’s reach should exceed her grasp, Shanghvi raises objections against her tactics. “Ranaut could draw on her independence, brilliance and politics to create a public role that is serious, empowering and engaging.” Ranaut is dead serious, she owns up to her errors of judgement so that others may learn from them. Shanghvi may not find her empowering, not least because he is not the one she is seeking to empower. Plenty of women draw pluck from her unbridled outrage. He acknowledges that she is full of “spontaneity, grace and an original shimmer of self-conviction.” Can she be all that, and still fail to ‘engage’?

A thinking person can see clearly, the difference between a 16 year-old boy struggling with his identity and a 40-something movie mogul determined to protect his privilege. A thinking person knows the difference between easy access to stardom sans talent, and managing your sister’s calendar while staying largely in the background. Thinking persons know about, and are not disgusted by, the havoc that pre and post-natal hormonal changes play on a woman’s psyche. No thinking person needs a Rakhi Sawant, but every thinking person needs a Kangana Ranaut.

From HT Brunch, September 24, 2017

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First Published: Sep 24, 2017 00:21 IST