In an interview with Barkha Dutt earlier this year, Kangana Ranaut referred to herself as a “badass” who doesn’t mind being called a “bitch” because to her that particular slur is actually an acronym for “Babe In Total Control of Herself”.
If your immediate impulse is to classify Kangana as a woman who is just seeking attention, then pause and think again. What is so wrong with Ranaut’s statement? She is, after all, only taking a term that has historically always been used to denigrate women and making it her own, much like women across the world have been reclaiming words like “slut”. And why should we be in any doubt that Kangana is, and for a long time, has been a Babe In Total Control of Herself?
Everything that we know about her life so far should make us look on her as a hero. We know her as the girl who was noticed in her debut (Gangster) who went on to be typecast as the unstable/alcoholic/drug addict character or as a glamorous prop. Her undeniable talent ensured that she stood out in even such poorly-written roles, winning her first National Award (Fashion).
We know that the lead role in 2011’s Tanu Weds Manu, finally allowed her to balance her penchant for melodrama with superb comic timing, and that the success of the film and the attention she received allowed her to finally headline a film (Queen). In the film she turned out one of the most finely-calibrated performances we have seen in Hindi cinema in recent years and won her her second National Award.
And now she has gone on to win her third National Award for reprising the role of Tanu in the sequel to the 2011 film Tanu Weds Manu Returns, while also stepping into the role of the utterly lovable, no-nonsense Datto.
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These are the highlights. There are also plenty of “lowlights” and Ranaut has made sure we know of them. She’s talked about growing up in a conservative family in a small town, and being made to feel that she is inferior simply because she is a girl. She’s spoken about the years of struggle when she first moved to Mumbai with no connections in the film industry, going for days without food, sleeping on pavements and being physically abused. She’s talked about how she was ridiculed for her accent and for her outre sense of fashion and made to feel like a complete outsider in clique-happy Bollywood.
By now, Ranaut has made it clear that she has neither the time nor the patience for Bollywood’s hypocrisy and its sexism. Indeed, she wonders often and aloud why the male of actors of her generation (none of who, frankly, have a tithe of her talent), should be paid so much more than her.
In what might be the boldest transgression of Bollywood’s incredibly sexist unwritten rules, she is not silent about a love-affair-gone-sour when instructed to do so by an ex. No, not even when this ex – a man born into a prominent Bollywood family – suggests rather offensively that Ranaut has imagined their relationship because she is prone to hallucinations, thanks to her bipolar disorder.
Ranaut’s story disrupts the narrative the film industry likes to promote of Bollywood as a place where anyone can succeed irrespective of who they know. We have all guessed for years that such is not the case and Ranaut has confirmed it for us. But the alternative narrative that Ranaut has created is not negative; it’s redemptive, because she has shown us how talent and hard work can triumph. Ranaut’s journey hasn’t been an easy one, as she keeps reminding us, and she’s made it through because of her grit and her self-confidence. She’s come out a winner by being the badass that she is.