Kangana Ranaut and the Burden of Failure

Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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In an Unfree Industry

ONCE IT BECAME clear that Rangoon was a flop, actor Shekhar Suman tweeted about an ‘actress carrying the burden of her non existent stardom’ falling flat on her face. He termed it poetic justice. His son Adhyayan Suman, who had a relationship with Kangana Ranaut in which he alleged that he was relentlessly abused, also gloated over the flop. Some months back, filmmaker Rakesh Roshan, reinvigorating a controversy that was thought to have died down, said that Kangana had spread lies about his son Hrithik, the ‘lie’ alluded to being the revelation of her affair with Hrithik. The actress is not on good terms with a number of other prominent male stars. Most recently, Karan Johar, smarting from being called a flag-bearer of nepotism in Bollywood by Kangana on his chat show, said at an event that he’s done with her ‘playing the woman and victim card’. “You cannot be this victim every time and have a sad story to tell about how you’ve been terrorised by the bad world of the industry… leave it,” he added.

It is unusual for an actress in the Hindi film industry to make so many enemies. Honesty might be a good quality to have, but used with abandon it is self-injurious. It is even more unusual that Kangana should do so and continue to survive in her career. Luckily for her, Bollywood’s economics has been at a point when a movie tends to be a safe investment only if it has a male star. This helps the producer sell the movie to distributors and make a profit even before it is released. Other movies have to test their profitability at the ticket counter. Such a system makes the male star prime property but also inaccessible for gifted filmmakers who are starting out. Over the last decade or so, the tactic they used to get around it was to write female- themed plots and get an actress of some renown and talent. This would at least guarantee a release.

You saw actresses like Kangana and Vidya Balan riding this wave. It allowed Kangana the space to circumvent the established order with movies like Queen and Tanu Weds Manu. A decade or two earlier, if she had taken on the blue blood of Bollywood, she would have been ostracised and out of work. But now she herself was thought to have the only power from which all other powers flow: the ability to bring in an initial weekend audience. That has, however, turned out to be not true.

Male superstars can make people come and see even their horrendous movies once. Every movie of Kangana that has flopped over the last few years deserved it and her presence made no difference. That takes the sheen off her aura. If Rangoon was a blockbuster, Johar wouldn’t say what he did because successful people are not considered victims. Nor would Suman, who now uses what he sees as her lack of stardom as a weapon against her. Voices will get more strident the more she fails. Unless she doesn’t.