By Dipanjali Singh
Kangana Ranaut’s Twitter handle screams sensationalism. She is overt, loud and unapologetic, mincing no words while flourishing her often false claims with full fanfare. With the ongoing farmers’ protests against the Farm Bills 2020, she has taken to Twitter and derided the farmers and their woefully ‘anti-national’ activities – calling them members of the never-defined and forever-invoked tukde tukde gang. This, of course, does not come out of character. In the past, she has spoken out against reservation, ridiculed mental illness, justified hate speech, and most recently, by a strange leap of imagination claimed that Shaheen Bagh’s Bilkis Dadi and a protestor in a now viral picture from the current farmers’ protests was the same person and that “she is available in 100 rupees.”
Kangana Ranaut’s personality has been a deliberate, steady curation over the years. She was an underdog struggling to carve a space for herself within the thoroughfares of a hierarchised film industry. She made some daring career choices and delivered some brilliant performances. Her movies promised to eke out a small but formidable space for a wider representation of peoples and themes. Cinema became a little less dizzyingly glitzy and glamorous, as characters embedded in reality came to the fore. But soon, her struggle was the only struggle that mattered as she flaunted the idea of meritocracy while actively dismissing structural inequities. In a dog-eat-dog society, she was the one in power now. Glad to have switched places from the oppressed to the oppressor, she and her team resorted to calling her fellow actors “sasti copy” and “B-grade actresses.” It was her “prerogative” now- to cut scenes last minute in movies she directed, as she advised these actors against crying out loud in public. After all, she too had undergone similar impediments in the past and the bullying power she now wielded was well-earned.
The briefest look around lays bare the myth of meritocracy which seems to be a deeply embedded mooring in our society. Any remedying of structural hurdles would first necessitate an acknowledgment of their very existence. When hard-work is posited as the only means to success, it obscures the prejudice and discrimination which continue to thwart determined efforts. The dismissal of structural injustice is often flanked by actively forging one’s individualistic image as a go-getter and refusing to acknowledge one’s enduring privilege. This has been sharply clear in Kangana Ranaut’s statements. It makes for the brewing of the perfect tale of romanticised struggle, allowing one to brush aside the need for any robust criticism of the skewed structural foundations. For what use is the critique of ethical bankruptcy and structural discrimination when one is profiting from them? What is instead carried out is a bitter vendetta, often reiterating the abuse one had previously experienced, or bizarrely advocating being discriminated against as an elevating rite of passage. Either way, no change in the biased and disenfranchising structures and powers is ever actualised.
The romanticised tale of the rags to riches story must also be interrogated for what it does with its gleaned power. A reorientation of what we applaud and encourage would rightfully call into question the means through which the great become grandiose, saving us the follies which being dazed by the powerful and their power effects. A society which unquestioningly heralds the ‘bosses’ and the ‘go-getters’ allows for privileging of the results over their means – often resulting in scripts of violence and discrimination being replayed again and again, perfunctorily changing only its performers. This is not to dismiss the challenges which anyone locks horns with, only to posit struggles within larger social and historical frameworks. And to expose success to scrutiny. To reconfigure these concerns would be to ensure that Kangana Ranaut and others who rose through the ranks refuse to romanticise their struggles in hindsight calling all to take pertinent lessons from them – from making one’s peace with arbitrary directors or selling pakoras to make ends meet. Instead, bolstered by their success, its toil, and their inextricable privileges, these stars could help reveal the foundational equities etched into society’s fabric and effectively work towards ensuring that the cycle of abuse and disenfranchisement ends with them.
The painstaking construction of larger than life personalities permits and enables the glossing over of unfairness and offences. All around us are instances when the powerful have meticulously (and expensively!) endorsed their image of a valiant underdog, while reaping lavish benefits from it. It is but imperative that grand rhetorics are also sounded out for substance, holding success accountable for its actions and ensuring that it does not renege into patterns it once fought.
Dipanjali Singh is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in English from University of Delhi.
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