I cannot remember when I first met Kangana Ranaut, it was probably at the nomination party for Screen Awards. She arrived for the event with a friend Munnu and looked extremely self-conscious. During dinner, I requested both of them to join our table and she blushed when I introduced her to everybody as an actor to reckon with. This was in the year 2006 and a fortnight later Kangana received her first major award as the Most Promising Debut (Female) for her riveting performance in Gangster.
A few months later it was time for Kangana’s second release. Vishesh Films’ Wo Lamhe directed by Mohit Suri featured Kangana in the role of the complex and fragile Parveen Babi and once again Kangana was spectacular. I remember chatting up with Mohit Suri after the screening and asking him his experience of working with Kangana Ranaut. What is the secret of her inhabiting her characters so effectively?
Mohit pondered for a while and said Kangana is a thinking actor who has a lot of questions before she goes on the sets but when the camera rolls she is an intuitive performer, ‘The secret of her success is that she enjoys her work and is actually a very chilled out girl’.
In the following years she played supporting roles to Konkana Sen Sharma in Life in a Metro (2007) and to Priyanka Chopra in Fashion (2008) but both were extra-ordinary performances. Slowly and gradually, Kangana Ranaut, the girl from Himachal without a godfather in show business was settling down in the city of dreams. She called her sister Rangoli from her hometown and now Rangoli looked after her business. The creative decisions were solely Kangana’s be it Rakesh Roshan’s Krrish or Milan Luthria’s Once upon a Time in Mumbai. Her directors loved her dedication to her craft and Kangana’s participation went beyond her role in the film.
She did not make friends easily but she initiated meaningful conversations with her colleagues on the sets. She discussed scripts with her writers, frames with her cinematographers and journalists who met for interviews invariably came back with delightful copies. There was something about Kangana Ranaut.
It was probably her native accent combined with progressive thoughts or the fact that she appeared extremely strong and fragile at the same time but she was different and Tanu Weds Manu in 2011 was a proof of that.
The magic did not last long, a row of flops like Game, Rascals, Tezz and Rajjo burst the bubble. There were compromises though, Ready, Double Dhamaal and Shoot out at Wadala were box-office hits but totally forgettable. This was a difficult time for Kangana because though she was getting new offers every day, these were not the kind of films she wanted to be remembered by. During this conflicting phase Kangana said ‘Yes’ to Krrish (2013) a role every heroine rejected and a story that did not look particularly exciting on paper but caught Kangana’s fancy, Queen (2014).
Life transformed for Kangana post Queen, she bagged every single award for her uninhibited performance in the film but stayed away from all the glittering award nights.
She was delighted however when senior actor Rekha stopped at midnight to hand over her trophy at home and sat up till wee hours of the morning discussing cinema with the actor she had grown up watching.
For a long time she was the empress who could do no wrong but show business changes opinions every Friday and Revolver Rani proved to be a big letdown. Kangana accepted responsibility and more than made up for it with her double role in Tanu weds Manu Returns. I had asked her which of the two characters was her favourite and she had an interesting story to narrate.
Kangana Ranaut As long as I was shooting Tanu everybody thought Tanu was superb, then it was time for costume change and me to play the Haryanvi girl. I realized that everyone on the sets had changed loyalties and fallen for the second character and I suddenly felt very protective about Tanu. I wanted my second character to work but not at the cost of Tanu who in my mind is the heroine of the film!
Over the years, I often bumped into Kangana at social gatherings and though not comfortable in public places Kangana always managed to find a quiet corner in the room where she would not be noticed. Once at a gathering at Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s home, Sanjay described her as an original and Kangana looked genuinely surprised.
On another occasion at Bachchan’s Diwali party, I saw the usually reclusive actor (Kangana), walk a long distance to come and kneel before the graceful Waheeda Rehman and show her respect to the senior actor she loves and admires.
In recent times, Kangana has gone through many highs and lows both professionally (I Love NY and Katti Batti) and personally, her over publicized spat with Hrithik Roshan, which turned into a slinging match in the media and just when one thought that the nightmare was finally over, came another controversy, more aggressive, more lethal than the previous one, this time with filmmaker Karan Johar.
On his talk show, Kangana accused Karan Johar of nepotism and Johar stumped to silence temporarily has decided to fight this to the finish. Karan has accused his guest star of playing the victim for too long and suggested that if she has so many problems with so many people Kangana should quit working in movies.
So far the Rangoon actor has not retaliated and I have a feeling she will not. The scars of the previous controversy have not faded and it is too early to get into another ugly spat with a colleague.
Whoever is advising the actor must remember that controversies have never helped anyone pursue their profession and the farther they stay away from it, the better it is for everyone.
(Bhawana Somaaya has been writing on cinema for 30 years and is the author of 12 books. Her Twitter handle is @bhawanasomaaya)