It has been a couple of weeks since the Kangana Ranaut interview with Anupama Chopra on the television show The Front Row aired, but social media is still hearting it with a steady beat. Ranaut has so far been the lost underdog. The one whom no one particularly cared to champion. She carried no clear badge of being the underclass like, say, Rakhi Sawant, so no one was cheering her on in a virtual class war. She didn’t deliberately and nonchalantly set out to shock like Mallika Sherawat version 1.0, so no one thought her trashy but sassy.
As noted in this column, a couple of years ago she was the actor other actors felt free to diss on everybody’s favourite chat show, Koffee with the Filmi Babalog, where Sonam Kapoor suggested she needed to learn English and Sanjay Dutt felt she should wear salwar kameez.
While her poise and confidence in the interview were both impressive and inspiring, Ranaut’s interviews, especially in print, have always displayed great articulation. In earlier print interviews, she has spoken with candour and raw but insightful emotional searching about her personal journey, including being unlucky in love (for instance, “When I meet a man, I act so much like him that I evoke more competition than desire in him.”)
Ranaut’s lack of coyness may be the most special thing about her her ability to let go of the traditional catalogue of femininity. It has been a long time since a female star embraced her unconventionality without any sub-clauses, without any hollow slogans of empowerment, without reassuring you that she is also cute and giving and adjusting even though she works and makes good money.
But perhaps another reason why the interview was a relief was that it was in fact, an interview not a promotion. Movie stars are among the most prominent public figures in India. Yet, almost every time they speak in public, their utterances are meant for the purpose of marketing a film. They make numerous appearances in the media in order to promote a movie with some of their star presence, but say very little that does not, therefore, seem pre-packaged and motivated. Even when they share aspects of their personal lives, it often dovetails a little too neatly with their current film’s publicity strategy.
Hence, while we may have unlimited quantity of star presence in public, on the whole it feels as mass produced and dissatisfying as a Maharaja Mac. A guilty pleasure, just a bit short on the pleasure. Ranaut’s interview provided the sense of a person within the image after a very long time. Instead of smooth phrases there was a gush of realisation in her speech and we felt, while watching that we were learning something about life from someone who had dared to live it a bit differently.
It was not just her views on marriage as unnecessary and women’s lives as circumscribed that made their mark. It was the ability to recognise a life other than being a Bollywood star that was unique and new. Even a struggler so low down on the totem pole that they could be underground, seems unaware that there is a whole world out there of people who are interested in other things, who have other definitions of success, who have an imagination of achievement different from that of the movie industry. This acceptance of other ways of being is the most unexpected, not just from a movie star, but generally in Indian public discussion. Let’s hope this is only the first of many such public conversations.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com. The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.