The Entertainment Journalists’ Guild of India (EJGI) has boycotted Kangana Ranaut after her vindictive outburst at an event held for the promotion of her film Judgementall Hai Kya. The scribe at the receiving end of Ranaut’s wrath was Justin Rao, whose crime was that he had raised a relevant question about her film Manikarnika (At the time of release, Justin had asked why the movie was being released in Pakistan when post Pulwama, a hyper-patriotic Ranaut had vociferously criticised others for organising an event there). “Justin tum to hamare dushman ban gaye! Badi gandi gandi bate likhte ho. Itni gandi soch hai aapki,” screeched Ranaut from the dais, while producer Ekta Kapoor and actor Rajkummar Rao watched speechless, either dumbstruck or too scared to intervene at her lashing out. Poor Justin’s voice was drowned out when he feebly protested that her tactics of intimidation were deeply unfair — Ranaut being a big star hurling accusations at him from a stage, he, the poorly paid, timid hack with “barely 600 followers on Twitter”. The EJGI said in a statement that they would ignore Ranaut but an apology is clearly a far cry. Since this incident, Ranaut has accused journalists of frequenting press conferences for free food and referred to them as “termites”.
Instead of moral policing, if India had a culture of policing manners and etiquette, Ranaut would deserve a life sentence—without bail. Or, in a finishing school, the YouTube video of her verbal altercation with Justin Rao could become a prototype for how no adult should ever behave, no matter what the provocation. The actor, flagrantly using the power that comes with celebrity status to diminish a film reviewer in public, brings to mind US President Donald Trump’s deeply discomfiting explanation for why what he didn’t qualify as sexually assaulting women, “Because when you’re a star they let you do it”. Like Trump, Ranaut believes, she has a divine right to run rough shod over anyone who has the temerity to disagree with her. Her behaviour is in line with all the psychological research done on power. The more important someone becomes, the easier they find it to be jerks to others, swayed away by the mistaken belief that the sun shines out of their derrieres.
Ranaut’s appalling crudeness with this journalist is symptomatic of many interactions in the post Twitter era, the overriding consensus being that there’s something admirable about insulting people to their faces. However, in India, the land of wild inconsistencies between citizens, one of the unspoken standards for measuring integrity has always been the treatment of people less powerful than ourselves. While there is, indeed, something commendable about going on Karan Johar’s show and ticking him off for fostering a culture of nepotism (Johar’s power is five million times that of Ranaut), at the same time, Ranaut’s contemptuous bashing of journalists is unacceptable. Is it because they don’t wield the same influence as a Johar, she simply can’t understand how they don’t owe her unquestioning adulation? Ms Ranaut would do well to remember that while speaking one’s mind has come to be seen as praiseworthy, that’s only if what you say doesn’t expose you as someone with no control.
People who desire power to gratify ambition — that can be attained only by getting others to see things their way — generally go about it in a slightly more sophisticated way, by trying, somewhat, to disguise their own selfish goals and interests. Ranaut is staggeringly talented but her immature attempts to bulldoze her way into the big league are backfiring. This is evident to everyone except her. Ranaut successfully rode the first wave of feminism with a few quotable quotes and without getting into her personal life, created enough debates around fair play in an industry known for it’s murkiness. However, filmmaking is a complex and expensive business, involving art of course, but also business and PR skills. Nobody likes crazies; whether it’s in movies or journalism, or even corporate work. Every industry places a greater value on consistency and professionalism rather than occasional flashes of brilliance. Ranaut is not doing justice to herself with these meltdowns and if she has any sense of self preservation she will apologise to the EJGI and in the future, save her histrionics for the big screen.