Dinesh Raheja Column: Not being judgemental about Kangana Ranaut

The Kangana Ranaut starrer Judgemen-tall Hai Kya has opened well at the box office, collecting more than Rs 22 crore in the first weekend. This is remarkable because the actress has once again attempted a role that’s radically different from what has been seen on screen before.

Contemporary fiction has unreliable narrators aplenty (think Gone Girl, The Girl On The Train, etc); and it’s intriguing to see one with a unique personality on our own screens.

Kangana plays a complex, friendless girl, Bobby Grewal, suffering from dissociative mental disorder, and she does so with intensity and panache that seems to come to her naturally.

Tanu Weds Manu
Tanu Weds Manu

In the film, she explains her blunt remarks, caustic comments and frantic antics with “Artiste hoon main, artiste” and I found myself wondering if this conviction of hers also extends to her off screen persona. Or maybe I am just reading too much into it.

For over a decade now, I have been, like many others, both fascinated and puzzled by the enigmatic Kangana Ranaut, her career trajectory and her declarative statements.

Her choice of roles from her very first film, Gangster (2006) has bordered on the unconventional and, more specifically, edgy. In Anurag Basu’s Gangster, she played an alcoholic battling a trust deficit while choosing  between a don (Shiney Ahuja) and a lawman (Emraan Hashmi).

Woh Lamhe
Woh Lamhe

I was simply knocked over by the newcomer’s performance as she skilfully blended hope and despair before finally succumbing to the circumstances she couldn’t rise above. 

In Woh Lamhe (2007) she played a schizophrenic actress who is prone to suicide and wowed the critics, including me, with her searing intensity. And soon she won her first National Award with Fashion (2008) for playing a supermodel teetering on the edge.

For a while it looked as though we had lost her to dross like Double Dhamaal and Rascals, but she returned with more brave choices like Revolver Rani (2014) in which she subverted gender expectations and played a sexual predator, and the Tanu Weds Manu series in which she blithely commits her husband to a mental hospital only to later, paradoxically, yearn for his love. 

Gangster
Gangster

Since she is a fellow Aries and I have read Linda Goodman, the master writer on sun signs with great interest, I write this with an extra affinity.

Like a typical Aries girl who doesn’t wait for a man to offer her a chair before she seats herself, Kangana is capable of living life independent of a man and also fighting her own battles.

When the director of Manikarnika — Queen Of Jhansi, Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi, allegedly had dates issues, she decided to don the mantle of the director herself and complete the film and release it too amidst a lot of fanfare.

While there have been many a successful male star-director, Kangana is set to launch her next directorial venture soon and become the first actress-director working in her prime. 

Far too often an actress’ worth in Hindi films is measured by the number of films she has on hand with the leading men of the day. With two back to back successes (Queen, Tanu Weds Manu Returns) for which she won two National Awards, Kangana proved she can deliver on her own steam.

But the solo hits have not been numerous for Kangana of late. And her insistence on author-backed roles precludes most chances of collaborations with box office megastars like Shah Rukh, Salman, Aamir, Akshay and Hrithik (the last for more than one well-publicised reason).

While being your own person and burning through the thicket of professional taboos is great, I can't quite figure out why Kangana wants to fight on so many fronts at the same time... Wouldn’t it be better for her if she chooses and limits her battles? Sometimes her outspokenness seems bafflingly random.

Ranbir Kapoor may not work with her because she criticised him for not having a political opinion. And she feels miffed and expresses her annoyance freely if she has supported a contemporary like Alia Bhatt on social media and it is not adequately reciprocated. Can alienating herself from the film industry folks serve Kangana’s larger purpose?

My reading of Kangana is that she is the happiest when she is challenged — whether it is by a part that she can dig her teeth into or when she is taking on and tackling a difficult situation.

Will she emerge successful in subverting the unwritten rules of the film industry or will she be crushed by the forces of convention? I am not going to be judgemental about Ms Ranaut because I can’t read the future. For now, I am watching her story unfold with bated breath.

Dinesh Raheja is an Indian author, columnist, TV scriptwriter, and film historian. In 2017, he initiated The Dinesh Raheja Workshop in which he teaches Bollywood aspirants everything related to the media.

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