How do you solve a problem like Kangana Ranaut? The narrative is bothersome, to say the least, which is why I suggest a quick recap of the prickliest parts. Her timing – as she parades facts about alleged ex-lovers Hrithik Roshan and Aditya Pancholi just before the release of her new film – feels distastefully opportunistic. By her own account, she has had affairs with married men and has gone to complain about those men to their wives and fathers. Her helpless, put-upon story does not quite add up, and several details appear askew.
She is considered a ‘difficult’ actress on set, as well as a demanding negotiator with an unrealistic sense of self-worth. She has angered numerous collaborators, and rumors about her sound both malicious and believable. Ketan Mehta’s Rani Lakshmibai project, putting together a film on the same subject – with another director, in another studio – after agreeing to the film for Mehta. She has gotten into an ugly spat by writing credits on her latest film, Simran. All of 31, she has audaciously declared that she will direct or co-direct all her upcoming films.
She has even made nepotism a bad word simply by repeating it a lot, ironically while employing her sister as her manager. Yet Kangana speaks her truth, and by doing so and never backing down, she has become such an anti-patriarchy poster child that it is almost impossible to criticize her today.
Nearly, and yet we manage. Which is the point entirely, in my opinion. The question is not how accurate Kangana is about her allegations, both romantic and writerly, or how reproachfully she should be admonished for various flaws and insinuations.
The real question is why on earth are so many of us are keen to point fingers? We can choose not to agree with her, but instead we defame and accuse. She has raised the industry’s hackles. Is this because her tell-all person is inconvenient to a community that prefers its skeletons closeted? Or is she widely labeled out of control primarily because she’s a woman?
I ask since several broadsides I see levelled at Kangana Ranaut sound dashed familiar. They make me think, to be precise, of Aamir Khan.
In May 2006, just before Fanaa was released, Khan – the film’s leading man – went on record with the BJP’s handling of the Narmada Dam issue in Gujarat. He spoke passionately about the cause and joined in with activists, but after the film had been released, it was nowhere to be seen and the subject publicly. Khan has since gained some infamy for making news and headlines prior to a film release, and while we cast aspersions on Ranaut for going on about Hrithik Roshan before Simran hits theaters, Khan is admired as a cunning operator for this very reason.
One of the industry’s most persistent rumors has been with Khan ‘directing’ most of the movies he stars in, and such of his on-set interference are legendary. It is whispered that Khan chooses filmmakers who are willing to submit to his vision, and because their films without Khan do not as well as the ones he makes with them – and he specifically makes one film apiece with most directors – Khan is widely considered as the guy who “really” made the film happen. For her on-set accuracy, Ranaut is branded a troublemaker even as this behavior earned Khan his ‘perfectionist’ tag.
Back in 2007, Taare Zameen Par producer Aamir Khan had an awful row with the original film director Amol Gupte, culminating in Gupte forced to back off the project and the credit direction going to Khan himself. Ranaut had a messy struggle about writing credits with Simran screenwriter Apurva Asrani, and this trail of emails shows, it is not likely to end amicably. Ranaut continues to be grilled on the subject, as opposed to Khan who got away with the shrug – and plenty of applause.
After the success of Queen and Tanu Weds Manu Returns, Ranaut rightly refuses to settle for low renumeration and holds out for a bigger piece of the pie. In an interview, she claimed to be paid 80% of what Ranbir Kapoor / Ranveer Singh makes, which is a giant statement considering this industry is so lopsided that Shahid Kapoor makes significantly more money per film than Deepika Padukone
. Meanwhile, Aamir Khan has reportedly struck an unprecedented deal with Yash Raj Films for the upcoming Thugs Of Hindostan where he will get a whopping 60% of the film’s profits. None of these numbers may actually be true, but most producers I have spoken to applaud Khan’s acumen, while they wait for one to bring Ranaut “down to earth.”
Are we being fair? Are we calling it down the middle? As evidenced by the opening paragraphs of this piece, I am not an applauding member of Team Kangana. I also do not think Aamir Khan resembles Kangana Ranaut, or that she will someday direct all-girls Lagaan remake. I just believe it’s worth examining