Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut has made headlines after her recent interview with Arnab Goswami on Republic TV that fueled the already sparked controversy. This, regarding her commentary on the toxicity of the Indian film industry and her claim that certain people from Bollywood must be held accountable for Sushant Singh Rajput's death. Publicly, there was support for her claim as people on social media spoke against the accused Karan Johar and Alia Bhatt. Many of them paraded hashtags asking to boycott their films and demanded justice for Sushant's death.
However, there is an opposing side that holds the view that Kangana is exploiting Rajput's death for her personal vendetta. Many media publications such as the Quint, Newslaundry and Scroll have criticised her for bending facts, making unproved allegations and double-standards for the causes that she chooses to champion as opposed to her feminist and equalist image. Her recent interview surfaced new allegations and raised questions on her credibility. It also implored if Kangana's method of handling and creating meaning out of Sushant's death is morally acceptable.
Once upon a time, Kangana was the fearless outsider that spoke her mind and advocated for justice. But now her fans aren't sure what she stands for.
The arguments and allegations she made in the Republic interview
Kangana name-dropped the big sharks of Bollywood, Karan Johar, Aditya Chopra, Javed Akhtar, Mahesh Bhatt, etc without a second thought. She accused them of her continually harassing her, belittling her and threatening her financial prospects and social life. The main allegation she made was that film industry nexus or the movie mafia had 'systematically sabotaged' late Sushant Singh Rajput's acting career. She brought up specific instances of Karan Johar and Yash Raj Films damaging Sushant's career.
Allegations such as Karan Johar made the movie, ‘Drive’ to sabotage Sushant's career and that YRF films denied Sushant the permission to work with Sanjay Leela Bhansali's films came up. She claimed that he was in a restrictive contract with them. She explicitly stated that the police must interrogate the above-mentioned Bollywood celebrities as part of the investigation on Sushant's death.
Apart from presenting Sushant's case, she also opened up about her woes in the Bollywood industry. In her 'explosive interview,' she alleges that Aditya Chopra threatened her when she refused to work on Sultan alongside Salman Khan, as she has a personal preference to not work with the 'Khans'. She repeatedly mentioned that the harassment brought her to her knees and contemplated suicide multiple times due to the targetted harassment.
In another appalling revelation, she alleges that Mahesh Bhatt had thrown a 'chappal' at her when she questioned his film's content. Her integrity for the allegations rests on her promise to return her Padma Shri award if her claims turn out to be false.
Kangana fights a battle based on assumptions about 'outsiders', Taapsee Pannu and Swara Bhasker
Kangana mentioned Taapsee Pannu and Swara Bhasker as 'needy outsiders' in her interview. As reported in Hindustan Times, she said, "For me, I have only to lose here because I know tomorrow they ['movie mafia'] will get some 20 needy outsiders like Taapsee Pannu and Swara Bhasker, who will get up and say, 'Oh, only Kangana has a problem with nepotism, but we love Karan Johar.'”
She continued, “If you love Karan Johar, why are you both B-grade actresses? You are better looking than Alia Bhatt and Ananya Panday. You both are better actresses. Why don't you get work? Your whole existence is proof of nepotism. Why are you telling me how happy you are with the industry? So, I know this happens and the whole system will make me look like a mad person."
This long rant filled with assumptions made quite the stir and urged a response from the 'needy outsiders' Taapsee and Swara. Taapsee Pannu responds to every statement in an interview with the Hindustan Times. She stoically challenges Kangana's assumptions and calls out Kangana and her sister for discrediting her and her hard work, calling her and determining her career's worth through a grade.
Kangana's statements clearly seem like she is projecting her issues and challenges on the two actresses. She is taking a stand for their struggles that they themselves haven't confirmed or spoken about. So what exactly is she taking a stand on?
Kangana's history of problematic behaviour
Kangana has been hailed as a feminist icon but was her feminism selective? She blamed 'feminist pressure' for the reason her relationship debacle with Hrithik Roshan becoming public. The feminist pressure refers to her statement that she felt pressured to come up with a sob story from the context of being a woman, regarding Hritik Roshan’s lawsuit against her. This is problematic since people undermind feminism by saying that women always play the victim. When women talk about their issues, they are accused of ‘playing the victim through a sob story and the issue is deemed trivial. She had also made a bizarre statement where she said that every Indian woman must know how to drape a sari. An innocuous statement but it came after a disparaging statement by designer Sabyasachi that said, "I think, if you tell me that you do not know how to wear a saree, I would say shame on you." Why are we hating on Indian women for not knowing how to drape a saree perfectly?
Why did Kangana laugh at Jim Sarbh's rape joke at Cannes but selectively condemn Salman Khan's insensitive tweet comparing Sultan's exhausting shoot to being raped? She refused to sign the petition to support Deepika Padukone when the latter received death threats from political groups. This was in regard to Deepika's movie, Padmaavat. Were her political views so polar that they kept her from petitioning against death threats?
Kangana’s sister deflecting the controversy about her movie ‘Judgementall Hai Kya’ in 2019
Last year, a controversy had emerged about the posters of her then-new release, 'Mental Hai Kya' which the makers later changed to 'Judgementall Hai Kya'. The film's previous name and poster drew flak for an insensitive portrayal of mental illness. Somehow, Kangana's sister Rangoli Chandel used this as an opportunity to bring up accusations against Karan Johar and Hrithik that Kangana had made in the past.
As reported in The Quint, her statement read, "With Kangana's permission I am sharing her story, two years ago, her silly ex along with nepotism gang attacked her just to publicly embarrass and discredit her, they called her mental and bipolar."
She continued saying that endless jokes were made with the intention of insulting and harassing her. But rather than getting defensive, Kangana pledged to fight the stigma attached to mental illness. 'Mental Hai Kya' is a story of the fight against this very prejudice Kangana faced 2 years ago.
Quite a stretch from what the controversy was actually about. A deflection from the issue by her sister, just to play the sympathy card. It really makes us ask whether Kangana was under the ‘feminist pressure’ again to tell her ‘sob story’? But there was a time when Kangana had people’s unquestionable support.
Why we have always loved cheering for Kangana, the underdog
Kangana Ranaut was the woman that sat on Karan Johar's couch, looked him in the eye and called him the 'flagbearer of nepotism'. She proved to her audience that she was outspoken for the causes she believed in. She wasn't interested in playing safe, an unusual quality, normally missing in Indian celebrities. This garnered her immense respect and adoration from fans.
She was also appreciated for her bravery for outing herself as the 'other woman' in Hrithik Roshan's marriage. She exposed his deceitful conduct and wasn't afraid of the father and son’s star clout or influence in the industry.
Her candid comments on the wage disparity or pay gap between male and female celebrities again sparked an important conversation. Despite being fair-skinned, she never glorified her fairness. She even turned down a deal worth 2 crores to endorse a fairness cream. In her statement to Hindustan Times, she said, " I have no regrets in about turning this offer down. As a public figure, I have responsibilities." She has also never shied away from publicly raising her voice against abusive men that she dated such as Aditya Pancholi, Hrithik Roshan and Adhyayan Suman.
She has stood for issues that no conventional Bollywood actress would dare to speak about. She must be doing something right. In almost no time, she's managed to reach the pinnacle of success despite walking an obstacle-ridden path. Compared to her contemporaries she has climbed the ladder to the top on her own terms. She has won National Awards, accolades that are proof of her exemplary performance.
As a Bollywood star that emerged from struggle, she feels compelled to support those who are or were oppressed in the industry. But people are divided on whether Sushant Singh Rajput's story and his death can be narrated by someone else.
The dilemma faced by fans
In the beginning, it felt refreshing to witness a star speaking against power structures in Bollywood. The truth is that Kangana does make some valid points. She makes the efforts to call out toxic and abusive men in the industry. Unlike other stars, she highlighted the double standards of Bollywood celebrities that made crores off fairness creams deals on one hand and on the other, voiced their support for the Black Lives Matter movement on social media. Additionally, she also sparked an important conversation about privilege and nepotism in the industry.
We rooted for her because we wanted justice. According to Vox's analysis of several studies, the fact that people want the world to be just holds quite a lot of weight. It explains why we supported the underdog, Kangana as she didn't have anybody backing her up. It is also why the comment about Sushant not having a godfather affects us so much.
She informed us of the injustices occurring in the industry and through her we enjoyed questioning the power structures. If Karan Johar can hint her to leave the Bollywood industry on an international stage, the allegations against him possibly have some sincerity in them. She stood for her own issues and that’s acceptable.
But was it okay for her to label Taapsee Pannu as a B-grade actress, completely undermining her performances in the industry? Can she be allowed to fight a battle and control the narrative on the late Sushant Singh’s career and death? Kangana is only human, she isn’t the epitome of justice. So, we can’t put her up on a pedestal and consider her statements as gospel.