Kangana Ranaut, who has a knack for speaking her mind spontaneously and without fear, has set a benchmark in speaking up for female actors. In an industry where leading ladies were relegated to grinning mannequins posing beside brash, arrogant and hyper-masculine heroes till recently, Kangana did throw the book of Dos and Don’ts in a BMC dustbin, when she took on Hrithik Roshan. Praise be to her for that.
However, her reactions to current revelations about Vikas Bahl, who directed her in ‘Queen’ and subsequent outburst against Sonam Kapoor and now, Hrithik Roshan, dilutes the image of an honest, courageous person. Kangana had promoted ‘Queen’ a runaway hit, and rode the crest of its success for quite some time, stretching the argument behind its popularity for more than a year. She gave interviews, went on talk shows and met with the press regularly. In this period, references to Vikas Bahl, though not laudatory, were not negative either. Speaking to members of the crew on ‘Queen’ and ‘Bombay Velvet’ establishes this clearly- Bahl had a lewd, uncomfortable manner of interacting with women at the workplace. Yet at that point, no one spoke up. People just kept their distance from the director-producer. Now, with Bahl in the soup, quite literally, Kangana recounts her own experience - of him hugging her for a bit too long and holding her too close, of mocking her for going to bed early. Given that Kangana has always led the brigade that takes on the establishment without fear, the least one can state is that she should have spoken up about Bahl earlier.
Beyond that, her point of view that stringing Bahl out to roast now, when Phantom Films officially disbands is valid. It’s a key argument that no one had raised while clamouring for Bahl’s head. Essentially the founders at Phantom Films had closed ranks around Bahl, despite Anurag Kashyap’s very open dissent. They didn’t follow Vishakha guidelines and form a sexual harassment committee. They also didn’t react on time and do enough. So the burden of blame lies on all four - in prioritizing their passion for films, they put what essentially seemed like a minor issue, on the backburner. That Kangana pointed this out in her first reaction to Bahl’s allegations reflects the real spirit of a smart, straightforward woman in a patriarchal, culturally stifling industry.
Reason and logic seemed to have taken a back seat yet again for her when she criticized Sonam Kapoor. One needed to read Kapoor’s remarks in totality to realize that she was firmly supporting her feisty, straight speaking colleague. Kapoor, also outspoken and straightforward is a departure from the bland banalities that spout from the mouths of most film industry folk. Kapoor led the way amongst star kids to own flaws, call out the wrong and speak up on issues of public concern. Speaking at a womens’ forum about Kangana in Bangalore, Kapoor did state that you couldn’t take everything she says seriously. But that she appreciates her spunk and ability to speak her mind. Kangana reacted in an interview angrily, stating something like how dare Sonam Kapoor, a product of nepotism criticize her MeToo moment? She went on to deride Kapoor’s acting abilities, her public speaking skills and her overall persona. Speaking up and responding to remarks is a personality trait of Kangana that provides sufficient fodder for the digital news wheel. But in this case, she cannibalized the positive remarks and supportive point of view of a colleague. The MeToo movement in Hollywood essentially worked because women of worth stood by each other; they supported each other’s claims. Rather than get provoked and respond to a media request that is seeking to fish out a story, Kangana would have done well to assess Sonam Kapoor’s statement and make a measured remark. She also got personal, while criticizing Kapoor. That is just poor form. Women must stand by each other, even if it’s posturing for this extraordinary moment to make a lasting impact and for women to actually emancipate in showbiz.
Add to this, her latest remark encompassing Hrithik Roshan as a man who keeps trophy wives and young girls as mistresses. I suppose we all get it that Kangana is hurting. But it would bear well for this leading lady, also a youth icon today, to refer to a past relationship in relevant context. Hrithik Roshan and her relationship did not happen under coercion; it happened with consent. While the treatment that he meted out to her does become intimidation and cruelty, Kangana also participated in this affair with the knowledge that he is a married man and a father. She can’t claim the moral high ground on this one. This is not #MeToo. Conflating her grievances with Hrithik Roshan dilutes the movement, it does a disservice to it’s cause. Additionally, it also makes one wonder if her angst with Vikas Bahl connects to this - Bahl has directed Roshan in his rescue film of sorts, Super 30.
Kangana Ranaut, luminous, spontaneous and a change maker, should continue to speak her mind and point out at the glaring biases of the Indian film industry. While her intentions are fair, she must learn to measure her words and reactions. Only when she speaks up about that which is fair and relevant, that which affects public interest, will her status as a youth icon and a trailblazer truly sustain.
(The opinion piece is by Archita Kashyap, a senior entertainment journalist, who was formerly the entertainment editor of Times Now and PinkVilla)