Thursday, Sep 10, 2015
In her journey from Manali to Mumbai, Kangana Ranaut has proven time and again that she marches to the beat of her own drum. And, she doesn't feel the need to explain herself.
"On my first day of Gangster, director Anurag Basu told me something that changed my life. He told me to never make excuses for myself or to defend myself. I do what I feel is right for me." This is the mantra that guides Kangana in her quest for excellence.
It's been a little less than a decade since Kangana was catapulted into the limelight in Gangster as the psychotic, two-timing gangster's moll. And, during this time, Kangana has been anything but a "regular Hindi film heroine" in both her film choices and how she lives her life. She has balanced commercial fare like Shakalaka Boom Boom and Raaz: The Mystery Continues with films Life In A Metro and Fashion that allowed her to showcase her talent.
She played a hybrid mutant-vamp in Krrish 3 just as effortlessly as she slipped into the role of a Rajouri Garden girl on a journey of self-discovery in Queen. Whether it was Gangster, Woh Lamhe or Fashion, Kangana was willing to play characters that traditional Bollywood thought "to be out there".
Earlier this year, she surprised and even "shocked" many by wearing a Bibhu Mohaptra gown to receive her National Award at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. While the fashion police tut-tuted her satirical choice, Kangana couldn't care less because she wanted to "look glamorous like a movie star".
Last year, she left Bollywood stunned when she took time off to study screenplay writing at the New York Film Academy. "While I was studying in New York, I would cook for myself and travel on the subway. It was amazing to live the anonymous life."
Her second release for 2015 Katti Batti is ready for release. Kangana's last film Tanu Weds Manu Returns, a sequel to the 2011 sleeper hit, raked in Rs151 crores at the box office. For her next, Vishal Bharadwaj's World War II saga Rangoon, Kangana is being reportedly paid Rs11 crores, making her the highest-paid actress in the industry.
In an industry where money is never discussed publicly, Kangana is making no bones about it. "Yes, I am the highest-paid actress today. Tanu Weds Manu Returns is one of the biggest blockbusters of all time. I don't take a share in the film's profit or produce my films so my salary is a very small part of what a production is going to make. Gender disparity in salaries has to end and though we are still a long way away from that, this is a start."
First time co-star Imran Khan calls her "unusually diligent". "On the first day of the Katti Batti workshops, Kangana came in with a pile of notebooks and lots of pencils. She was taking notes on the margins of the screenplay and making diagrams. I didn't know her that well but if I had to bet, I'd say she was one of those kids in school who asked for extra homework," he recalls with a laugh.
When she works as hard as she does, Kangana doesn't understand why she is being questioned about how much she charges per film.
"Why is my work or my time not valued as much as a man's? It's not like I as a woman have more than 24 hours in a day or more than 365 days in a year. Why is my life not valued as much? I challenge any man to work as hard as I do. The film crews I work with are witnesses to how hard I work. It hurts when you don't get what you deserve. I am not getting any younger. When I finish a film, I am always a year older than when I started."
She might laugh as she says this but she does make a pertinent point about gender equality and equal pay, joining the ranks of actresses like Oscar-winners Patricia Arquette and Charlize Theron who have questioned the gap in Hollywood.
From being a struggling model who was rejected many times at film auditions, to struggling to break free of the mould of playing troubled characters to being an advocate for equal pay, it hasn't been an easy journey for Kangana.
"I came here via Elite Modeling Agency to do a catalogue shoot. I went for a couple of film auditions with my fellow models and I ended up getting a film. Before the film came my way, I was supposed to do a music video. When I got the film, I refused the video. I could have so easily ended up an item girl because I didn't know what I wanted to do," she says.
Counting her blessings
She might not have had direction but the one attribute Kangana had, and continues to have, by the truckload is confidence. "I have always seen myself as a successful person and the rest of the world see that as well. I have got awards from the president of the country twice. Today when I think back, I find it tough to believe this whole transformation into who I am, considering where I came from. I can't imagine that there was a time when I didn't have money to eat."
A recent shoot with Amitabh Bachchan has Kangana counting her blessings. The thespian sent the actress letters and bouquets with compliments for her performance in both Queen and Tanu Weds Manu Returns. "When you are face-to-face with Mr Bachchan, there is no time to think about anything. But when you see yourself on screen, it is something else! It really hits you that you are working with THE Amitabh Bachchan. You've seen him on screen all your life… you idolised him and then you see yourself on screen with him. Its absolutely surreal. You think, 'Oh my God! I have come so far and I didn't even realise it'. That feeling is very overwhelming," she says about the experience.
Kangana picks Queen and Tanu Weds Manu Returns (where she played double roles Tanu and Datto) as the two landmark films of her career. "While Gangster brought me success, it also brought a lot of neurotic characters my way. I would have to pick Queen and Tanu Weds Manu Returns. I think Datto is the reason I have some really amazing characters coming my way right now."
Next up for the actress is Vishal Bhardwaj's much-talked-about period drama Rangoon. The film teams her up with Saif Ali Khan and Shahid Kapoor, both of whom she hasn't worked with before.
Says Saif: "Kangana is an interesting actress who has made some amazing choices. I am really looking forward to working with her." Kangana is just as excited about the film that goes on the floors at the end of October. "I have spent most of this year just promoting films so I can't wait to shoot… to get back on a set. Vishal and I have been talking about Rangoon for a while now. The success of Tanu Weds Manu Returns has made the film happen for me."
Kangana is on a high, and it shows. "I am getting all that I deserve. All that I have worked so hard for."
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