Kangana Ranaut will have none of this sexism nonsense, making her the real MVP of Bollywood

Published: September 16, 2017

If I had Rs10 for every time someone in fifth grade told me I was ‘bossy’, I would probably not need a job right now. There are certain labels that when attached to women, automatically become an unattractive quality. Men are aggressive while women are angry, men are tough while women are bossy, and men are protective while women are clingy.

Men are free to be many things while women have to fit into predefined boxes. You can be the girl next door, the femme fatale, the other woman, or just ‘one of the guys’. These are some of the ‘types’ of women and the media constantly tries its best to present us in as many one-dimensional ways as possible. Unfortunately, being inside a box makes it even harder to speak up – raising your voice can simply land you in a different box. Many women ultimately stay silent in the face of harassment or everyday sexism because silence lets you keep your career, whereas fighting gets you the ‘feminazi’ label.

In an industry such as Bollywood, where nepotism has prevailed for decades and sexism can be found in the roots of its organisation, most actresses stay silent about the issues they face. This way they get to work with famous names and have great careers until they reach their 30s and become too old to be considered a believable female lead for a man in his 50s. Most actresses take the easy route and endure.

Kangana Ranaut, however, is not like most actresses.

The intention is not to allege that women perpetuate sexism in an inherently sexist industry by enduring it. It is obvious that most actresses do not have the luxury of choice when it comes to the actors they work with or the age at which they stop getting roles. And while some may endure it, some actresses fight back in their own way. Priyanka Chopra fights back by embracing feminism and being vocal about focusing on her career. Deepika Padukone fights back by earning more than her male co-stars. But Kanagna fights back – literally.

Ranaut’s charm lies in, beyond anything else, being supremely talented. She is not a daughter to famous parents, neither has she been groomed through the Miss Universe pageant. She is quite plainly an outsider who, for the longest time, could not even speak a word of English. She struggled for years before making it big with Queen in 2014, and whilst most celebrities do not desire to offend anyone after achieving fame and success, Ranaut’s trajectory has perhaps been the opposite.

She has undoubtedly become even more vocal than she already was after her success, never shying away from telling her side of the story or calling people out for perceived wrongdoings against her. Queen was possibly a wake up call, not just for the industry but for Kangana as well, that a good script with a talented lead will become a great film despite being low budget, not including famous names and being centred on a woman. In this small set up, Ranaut shined so bright that audiences could not shy away from noticing her existence, this time without any big names or elaborate dance numbers to distract them.

In the past several years, Ranaut has found herself engaging in controversy after controversy, from revealing past affairs with married men to openly having spats with celebrities and directors alike. Earlier this year, while on the couch for Koffee with Karan, she did the unimaginable, what no one had done before – she called Karan Johar out on his own show. It is no secret that Johar indulges in nepotism and propagates favouritism in the industry; he himself has admitted to this practice and has even blamed the audiences for its continuance.

Hence, what shocked people was not the statement itself, but the fact that it was said in the first place. That an actress would be brave enough to stand up to a top-notch director on his own talk show and call him “the flag bearer of nepotism”.

Her bravado did not end here. In her latest effort to promote her new film Simran, Ranaut once again proved why she is constantly lauded for being brave in an industry where parentage is rewarded and bravery is mocked. Starring in a collaboration video with AIB, a comedy group known to cause controversy, Ranaut once again challenges the culture and breaks the norm in seven minutes and 15 seconds. Jokes were made at everyone’s expense – the industry’s habit of creating smart female characters only to never bring up how smart they are, the director’s practice of pandering to the male leads whilst the women are deemed replaceable, or my personal favourite, the reminder that having men romance actresses half their age on a regular basis is almost paedophilia.

It bears noting that Ranaut doesn’t gain much by going against the top guns in an industry or by calling people out. She has been accused of being a liar, of playing the victim and of playing the woman card. Her actions put her name in the bad books of many artists and directors who are friends of Johar, which certainly does not help her career. She is fighting alone, while the other side has banded together with most of the industry providing their support to the side that already has the power balance in its favour. And yet what she says has resonated with people. There are of course people who openly side against her, people such as Farah Khan who accuse her of playing whatever it means to play the “woman card”.

Nevertheless, Ranaut persists.

She has managed something at this point of her career what many women struggle with during their lifetime – she has broken out of her box. Angry, evil, entitled, she is embracing words which for centuries have been commonly and colloquially used to demonise and constrain women. Yes, she has been the other woman multiple times, but in both cases, she acknowledges that while it is not the right thing to do, the fault ultimately lies with the person already involved in a committed relationship. She repeatedly spoke out against a practice that has shaped Bollywood as an industry, and called out a top director knowing it would only hinder her chances of work in the future.

She participated in a video mocking these age-old practices and the industry itself, a video perhaps no other successful actress has ever done. Just like Taylor Swift in ‘Look what you made me do’, Ranaut is fighting not just for her gender and her career, but also her reputation. And given that her voice is resonating with Bollywood audiences across the globe, I reckon she just might emerge victorious.

Iqra Khan

Iqra Khan

The writer is a political science graduate from LUMS.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.