How do you solve a problem like Kangana?
For many fans of good cinema, Bishop Lefroy Road in Kolkata, where award-winning director Satyajit Ray lived for many years, is a pilgrimage spot. The street was renamed in 2016 by chief minister Mamata Banerjee. At a public event, Banerjee declared that henceforth, the street would be known as Satyajit Ray Dharani. Those present thought they’d misheard her. Surely she’d said “sarani” (road) and not “dharani” (earth)? But no. “We have enough saranis,” Banerjee said grandly and thus, Satyajit Ray Dharani came into being.
Actress Kangana Ranaut displayed similar linguistic flair when she appeared in a video that her sister and manager Rangoli Chandel shared on social media. In it, Ranaut accuses a section of the media of “deshdrohita ke vichaar” or “thoughts of deshdrohita”. (An excellent title for a blog or a memoir, if anyone needs it.) Deshdrohita is, arguably, a little more brilliant than Satyajit Ray Dharani since dharani is a real word in Bengali. Not that deshdrohita’s lack of provenance makes Ranaut pause. She blithely goes on to lament that there is no provision in the Indian Constitution to stem the flood of the “pseudo-liberal” media’s criticisms of Ranaut. This is true. There are laws against defamation and treason – both of which have been used to intimidate and silence journalists and other citizens – but Ranaut’s honour doesn’t get a mention in our Constitution and neither does deshdrohita. Possibly because the word didn’t exist until Ranaut uttered it during her video recording.
A few seconds later, Ranaut mocks the bulk of journalists for being illiterate. (Cue Alanis Morrissette’s 1995 hit, “Ironic”.) That said, Ranaut is right about the fact that most journalists are not “dasvi fail” (Class 10 fail) – usually, we have to at least graduate to get the jobs we have.
While one may be tempted to wag a finger at Ranaut for normalising attacks on the media, she’s hardly the first to do so. The media is India’s favourite punching bag. On the flip side, it’s hard to not roll one’s eyes at entertainment journalists who cheerfully give coverage to those accused of crimes like sexual harassment and murder, but discover their collective spine when Ranaut has a meltdown.
More interesting than Ranaut’s efforts at scoring free publicity is how Ranaut is recasting herself as Mother India 2.0 in the recent video. Not for her the Western wear that Ranaut wore in the old interviews that established her credentials as a ‘thinking’ actress. Gone are the bandage dress, straightened hair and heavy make-up that we saw in the publicity events for her upcoming film. Instead, the video sees Ranaut in flowing, white chikan. The salwar kameez is modest with a high collar and long sleeves. Her make-up in a nude palette is carefully done to look minimal. Her hands are often folded and her tone is measured (even if her language isn’t). She’s vaguely reminiscent of the Doordarshan newsreader who came into our homes daily, back when all we had on TV were two channels. Only instead of the day’s top headlines, Ranaut is telling us how all those who dislike her and her movies are anti-nationals.
Because you know how it is – can you really be trusted to not sell state secrets to the enemy if you didn’t enjoy Manikarnika with its atrocious acting and I-dream-of-Baahubali sets?