By Rahul Ranjan:
Over the past few weeks, the television screen and virtual spaces have been flooded by a wave of unmindful character assassination. Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut’s flawless performances and stepping out of the usual image of women in the industry had set a new bar. The actress’ alleged relationship with Hrithik Roshan, however, has recently led to ravaging accusations against her character. Hysterical responses emanating from all corners about her life and Kangana as a person and as an actress betray a legacy of witch-hunting of independent women.
A set of emails, photos establishing her ‘lumpen’ and allegedly illicit relationship with Hrithik were made public. I am not a media critic, nor do I really take Bollywood very seriously, but this episode actually gave me the jitters. The emails led to an unholy war perpetrated by the media, not only through its singular medium of telecasting through news hour bulletins but media in general, the media that is constituted by us, the public, whose posts/comments and information on Facebook forms the general opinion.
The debate over whether Kangana and Hrithik were in a relationship eventually morphed into a character assassination episode for Kangana. The initial emails, and photos, which were shared on virtual spaces like Facebook by various pages instead of in a court, didn’t merely bolster the perception but established Hrithik as innocent. In fact, if one looks into the comments section of any such source that spoke of them, one could clearly see the use of foul language for Kangana.
On 22nd April 2016, a set of emails sent by Kangana to Hrithik which had information highlighting how Kangana felt for Hrithik was made public. This led to a series of further clarifications. Hrithik Roshan’s ex-wife came out publicly in support by tweeting a photo of Hrithik with herself to clear the confusion about another photo which had been circulating and ostensibly contained a blurred image of Kangana instead of Sussanne.
The legal notice against Kangana cites that she “suffers from Asperger’s syndrome”. This seems like an excuse for taking the matter to the media or maybe an attempt to avoid accepting his own mistakes. Firstly, to shed some light on Asperger’s as a category of conditions known to the medical world, one must know that it doesn’t declare someone as a ‘lunatic’ if that is at all a category. By the very definition of Asperger‘s, “Although not required for diagnosis, physical clumsiness and unusual use of language are common. Symptoms usually begin before two years old and can last for a person’s entire life”. For a while, if I were to go by the definition of Asperger’s, Kangana, who has won three National awards, and several Filmfares, might have at least shown some signs of ‘unacceptable social behaviour’ among people she had worked with. Moreover, Kangana is a woman who has never failed to surprise her audience on screen with her acting skills and commitment towards the characters that she played.
She made her entry into Bollywood by going against the commonly accepted image of women in our films, by playing roles of women who live by their own rules, be it playing the role of a Schizophrenic woman or being spotted getting drunk at a bar. Her commitment towards ‘living through the character’ she is assigned has always been amazing. This is not to suggest that she should be cleared of any charges against her without due process because she has set high standards in acting. The attempt is to flag post a few things that people might overlook while declaring her ‘freaky’ and ‘lunatic’ all over the virtual space. The abusive undertone with which Kangana is been discussed stands as testament to the misogyny which gets collectively consumed through media portals.
The case has had a slow run until now since we do not have many feminist groups, barring a few individual exceptions, that are pushing for the matter to be discussed in a court of law instead of the trial that’s been going on everywhere else. The way in which Kangana is being demonised by people including her ex-boyfriend raises a disturbing question which should concern us all.
The constant vilification of Kangana may be based on some ‘objective’ sources, but it must unfold in a court of law instead of virtual spaces. The whole episode re-enacts a long tradition of hate campaigns that suddenly come up when a woman is accused (not proven guilty). Such attempts to ostracise independent woman should certainly be not seen in isolation.
The practice of drawing up a genealogy of a person’s life, picking up events of ‘abnormal’ acts, and establishing a relation between both is bizarre. Adhyayan Suman’s sudden revelation of his memories gives a clear indication of why we really need judicial restraint on issues that deal with gender. Surprisingly, his act of owning up to have had a turbulent relation with a person who as he says believed in ‘black magic‘ and what not, is strangely so timely that it convinces me even more to believe that there might be a conspiracy against her.
Even if I am to believe that she might have been unfair in her relationship with Hrithik, this is certainly not the way her private life should be ‘consumed’ by the media. The attack on women’s integrity by the virtual-space-justice-seeking-revolutionaries must be encountered with an appropriate degree of punishment. Hysterical accounts of apologists and the cult of Bollywood sexism must be given their due response, if not by law, then, at least, by individual responses and engagements. We must realise that such unfortunate abuse could also happen to any of us.