What Karan Johar’s ‘Woman Card’ Comment About Kangana Ranaut Really Means

In the continuing face-off between actor Kangana Ranaut and Bollywood director Karan Johar, Ranaut has earned the favour of many a young outspoken woman, with her take-no-prisoners attitude during the February 19 episode of “Koffee With Karan”.

The 30-year-old actor came to slay, calling out host Karan Johar’s years of snobbery, his elitism, and penchant for playing favourites when it comes to casting for roles.

Johar retaliated by accusing her of “playing the woman-card”, and suggested that if she found it so difficult to work in the film industry, she ought to leave. But the “Rangoon” star wasn’t one to take this lying down. Speaking to Roshmila Bhattacharya of Mumbai Mirror, Ranaut shut down Johar and his jibes.

These exchanges over the last few weeks shine a light on several things that are amiss in the film industry, and this time, we’re actually talking about stuff that goes on behind the camera.

In Bollywood, Men Tell Women Where To Go

Johar’s unsolicited advice to Ranaut is painfully familiar. “If you don’t like it here, just leave!” You see it in workplaces, where men in positions of power get to set the conditions under which women employees work. You see it when a case of sexual harassment or violence emerges in a workplace, and the woman survivor is compelled to leave, or transferred. You see it when a woman’s professional success depends on how unobtrusive and adaptable she is in a male-dominated arena. It’s the whole system of conditioned attitudes and behaviours that allow Bollywood bigwigs like Karan Johar to call the shots. Everyone else is either expected to fall in line, or fall to the wayside.

In Bollywood, Women’s Struggles Are Erased

Johar’s remarks about “the woman card” completely disregard the massive structural inequalities of gender. It kinda comes with being a rich, powerful cisgender man – you tend to invalidate any experiences that aren’t yours.

When Johar accuses Ranaut of playing the woman card or the victim card, he’s also implying that her success has nothing to do with her talent or hard work, but because she has preyed on the few concessions society makes for the “weaker sex”. This is nothing more than a diversion tactic.

Today, she is one of the highest-paid actresses in the game, but the whims of directors like Johar significantly reduced the kind of work actresses could get. Like corporate workplaces, women in films are also up against a lack of opportunities, of roles and an alarming pay gap, both on and off screen.

In Bollywood, The Patriarchy Is Benevolent

In the same league as ‘The Nice Guy’ who thinks you owe him sex, and guys who want a cookie for not assaulting you, there is the benevolent patriarch without whom us women would never have rights anyway. Or so they say.

Johar falls into the last of these categories, by claiming that he gave Ranaut a platform for her views. He was clearly trying to come off as the good guy by “allowing” his female guest to have one of her “hormonal outbursts” (thanks, Maneka Gandhi!) on his show, and “graciously” not editing it out. Ladies, this is what freedom looks like!

But Ranaut is way too woke for that. She responded: “To say he helped me voice my opinions is to discredit me as an artiste and a public personality.” And we couldn’t have explained it better if we tried.

Nevertheless, She Persisted

This is hardly the first time Ranaut has embodied the spirit of “speaking truth to power”. She is a fierce defender of women’s right to equal opportunity, to respect, and to being a self-actualised and independent human being.

Let’s not forget that she was, for the longest time, accused of literally practising witchcraft, which has historically been patriarchy’s way of shutting women up. Not Kangana Ranaut, though. In badass feminist fashion, Ranaut brushed all this off by talking about how she thinks witches are cool.

While a lot of media outlets are trying to spin this as a personal fallout, Ranaut has stressed that “I am not fighting Karan Johar, I am fighting male chauvinism.” Her voice and opinions are among the few that could well launch Bollywood into a more progressive phase.

When the actor warmed all our hearts playing the titular character of the 2014 blockbuster “Queen”, who could have imagined she would be such a firebrand? But hey, no complaints there.