Kangana Ranaut’s hurried opinions can no longer be condoned; media mustn't create heroes irresponsibly
The media is also to be blamed for instilling in Kangana Ranaut the desire to react and find sympathy, validation and admiration for whatever she spoke.
Sociologist C Wright Mills had written his seminal work in the 1950s, it was called The Power Elite. It had an entire chapter analysing celebrities as a social category. He had written that "the professional celebrities of the mass media are without power of any stable sort and are in fact ephemeral figures among those we celebrate", suggesting that instead of being celebrated because they occupy positions of prestige, they occupy positions of privilege because they are celebrated. If anybody has kept a discerning watch over the trajectory of Kangana Ranaut’s conduct on social media over the last couple of years, it’s difficult to miss the clear and oh so convenient drift towards the great Indian nationalism debate in favour of the ruling party. To blindly align oneself with a leader is alright and often expected from people in showbiz. But to think one enjoys some kind of an immunity especially when they coin ambiguous terms like ‘anti-national’, ‘urban-naxal’ and pseudo secular for those who disagree with their art or their, mostly new-found, ideology is anathema to democracy.
It was all fine till Kangana took a stand and spoke up about nepotism in the film industry and how it wrecked her growing up years (she started as a 19-year-old in the movie Gangster). It was admirable how boldly she opened up, with horrid details, about the men who were unfair to her, right from Aditya Pancholi to Hrithik Roshan. She emerged a hero. Four years ago, she appeared on film critic Anupama Chopra’s show The Front Row where she drew high praise for speaking candidly about the financial challenges actors face. This young girl who was at the receiving end of the snobbery of the industry’s dynasts, being called out for her accent or her dressing style, stood up to all of it boldly.
The media is also to be blamed for instilling in her the desire to react and find sympathy, validation and admiration for whatever she spoke. Kangana was hurriedly branded the face of dissent, the proverbial ‘foot in the door’ exposing the nepotism and discrimination the industry’s inner workings are rusted with. In the write-ups about the rise of this anonymous mountain girl with curly hair that she didn’t often straighten, similar stories of non-film background actors were brushed aside by the same media she is humiliating today. Shah Rukh Khan’s non-filmy roots were covered up by his Delhi education; whenever a parallel with Priyanka Chopra was drawn, the latter’s Miss India fame was described as the reason for her success. From Anushka Sharma to Vidya Balan, other stories of success just eclipsed behind Kangana’s primarily because the latter drew attention to her own story again and again.
All was fine even when she pledged support to the ruling dispensation. It is even acceptable that she has a strong political opinion, who doesn’t? When she went to cast her vote, she said,"‘India is truly independent today, free from the rule of an Italian government" casually insulting the fact that previous governments were also democratically elected by the citizens of India, whose nationalism she’s now claiming to save. She then expressed her displeasure about Ranbir Kapoor’s purported lack of interest in politics and asked how people could accept such nonchalant celebrities as icons. Last year, at an event in Mumbai, Kangana lambasted "liberals" as "people who won't include you in their group unless you hate the same people as they do." She also revealed, somewhat controversially, that a scene of her character saving a calf in new film Manikarnika was changed because the film's crew "didn't want to look like cow saviours".
Some days ago, at a press conference, she lashed out at a Press Trust of India journalist Justin Rao for having trashed her film Manikarnika, which is based on the life of Rani Laxmibai.
When the Editors’ Guild banned her, a day later, she dressed herself in a crisp white salwar kameez and broadcast a Doordarshan-esque public service message in chaste Hindi, referring to her audience as "bhai" and "behen" coining her own Hindi words like "deshdrohita" along the way. She separated good journalists from the ones who are allegedly out to divide the country. In her opinion, those who were critical of her movie Manikarnika were "anti-nationals, pseudo-liberals, fake secular, termites and traitors". And rather childishly, in the beginning of the video, she also praised those who have supported her journey. She’s been quite clever in selecting the people she wants to target and the political currency of those she wants to back. Most of these people she has disdain for seem to have spoken against the government at some point or the other, for instance, lyricist and writer Javed Akhtar and his actor wife Shabana Azmi. In an interview in 2018, she narrated an incident where this ‘writer-actor couple’ didn’t come to her rescue during a personal crisis without stating their names but the audience is nobody’s fool. During Manikarnika’s release, Kangana had said that "people like Shabana Azmi calling for the halt on cultural exchange – are the ones who promote 'Bharat Tere Tukde Tukde Honge' gangs. Why did they organise an event in Karachi in the first place when Pakistani artists have been banned after Uri attacks?" Justin Rao had asked her at another press-conference if the movie will be released in Pakistan in the wake of the Pulwama attack.
Here is a public figure who displays complete disdain towards anybody who is even slightly critical of the way she conducts herself, let alone her work. And somehow, positioning herself on the ‘right’ side of the nationalism debate makes her feel her actions are justified. There are hundreds of reporters slogging away in the remotest of areas to bring out the news. On the website of Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), it is listed that the reasons for death have been confirmed for 50 journalists who lost their lives while reporting just in the last 10 years. The press has a right to report and express opinions and it is strange that people who haven’t gone to college are allowed to be critical of it. She also said journalists come to press conferences to "eat". She should know that a battery of publicists drags entertainment journalists to these events. It’s a give and take and celebrities get far more from these events than the mostly underpaid reporters who slog over writing click-bait like "who wore what" and "who said what" to earn their bread and butter. Moreover, entertainment journalists also deal with painful star tantrums.
Narratives of the day demand healthy debate and not a simplistic and abrasive use of terms like ‘nationalism’. What is nationalism, anyway? National leaders like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, Mohandas Gandhi, Rajendra Prasad and Badshah Khan brought together generations of Indians across regions and demographics, lending the country direction. Nationalist movement spreads when people from different religions and communities begin to develop a sense of collective belongingness. It was an attempt to characterise the identity of a nation. This image of Bharat Mata was created by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay in 1870 when he wrote ‘Vande Mataram’ and it was during the Swadeshi Movement, a tri-coloured flag was designed in Bengal. It had eight lotuses representing eight provinces as well as a crescent moon which together represented both the Hindus and the Muslims.
How does being critical of Kangana Ranaut’s movie amount to disrespecting all of that and more? Can the frivolous use of a powerful word like nationalism be condoned? Kangana Ranaut’s arrogance has split out of the periphery of entertainment circles and is beginning to cause hurt and chaos to people in other fields. She might soon attack the bureaucracy, the judiciary and pretty much every institution other than the army, the only shining beacon of nationalism left.
Partly, it is also the fault of the media that celebrates opinions and make these celebrities dependent on that celebration. This is ultimately the consequence of the news media’s curse of creating heroes and villains out of every single person who’s a public figure of some repute.
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