If my memory serves me right, by the time I had reached the fifth grade, I had already changed almost a dozen schools. Sometimes, it was due to my father’s changing nature of work, sometimes because we switched our rented homes too often, and more often than not, because most schools didn’t want to keep a child who hid in the backyard to avoid facing a roomful of unknown faces every day.
Therefore, when I started going to the institution where I ended up spending most of my school-going years, I had already turned hostile to the idea of communicating with the other kids who merrily formed close-knit groups and operated as a club. I became the perennial last-bencher, the archetypal outsider.
So when, on my third or fourth day, the class bully — twice my size literally (I remember noticing how my shoe size was a minuscule six as opposed to his mammoth 12-sized “Naughty Boy” shoes when we were entering the computer class once, where taking off one’s shoes was mandatory) — decided to unzip my backpack and snatch a couple of my textbooks to use as makeshift cricket bats during lunch break, no one came to my rescue. For the first few seconds, once he had walked away with my belongings in his possession, I had probably felt like crying. But when I mustered some courage and confronted him minutes later, he tore my books into pieces in front of me, perhaps only to prove a point.
In unforgiving but controlled rage, I had waited until the next day to open his backpack when he was away. I picked out one of his textbooks, and tore it to pieces, and waited for his return. The next thing I remember is being picked up and swung around the school courtyard (oscillating between visions of an audience enjoying a lamb being sent to slaughter and absolute blackness), repeatedly slammed against a wall, with his voice demanding an apology. All that I managed to convey was something on the lines of, “If you tear my book, I’ll tear yours. Even if you hit me every day.”
That probably was the Kangana Ranaut in me talking. Because, very seldom in my life have I felt as heroic as that day. This is why we can’t ignore her voice today. I’m no big fan of her performances, despite the Indian media raving about her roles in “Queen” and the “Tanu Weds Manu” franchise. My favorite Kangana Ranaut act remains her first film, where she played the lover/mole of a gangster, an immersive and raw performance which managed to be both vulnerable and fierce at once. But today, I couldn’t be any more at one with her when she says that she wasn’t playing the “woman card” when she verbalized words like “nepotism” and “Bollywood mafia”, things that the bigwigs, now obviously, don’t even like being whispered in their vicinity.
I don’t think she was planning to start a war on gender. It could have been anyone who had to battle their way to enter into the corridors of one the most popular and profitable industries in India without the privilege of a legacy.
When a heavyweight in the country says that he provided a platform to a national award-winning actor so she could speak her mind, he automatically patronizes her, a means through which most self-appointed liege lords of any conglomerate function. When he almost sounds like he wants her to be grateful for not editing out her comments because it’s “his show”, he alleviates and places himself on a pedestal, something that is not allowed to exist within the moral compass of a democracy.
It’s these illusionary pedestals from which the ministers of our country sit and judge a woman’s attire and declare that rape is “sometimes right and sometimes wrong”; from which a superior at a workplace expects you to prove yourself as a sycophant rather than someone who knows their job. It is the same pedestal from which I have seen men sit and brag in front of their friends and relatives how they have “allowed” their wives to work and be independent.
Every time someone with, assumedly, more leverage and influence takes a stance like this, they end up rattling forces within their own ecosystem which they aren’t prepared for. Two days ago was the 25th anniversary of that legendary moment when during the 1992 World Cup, Jonty Rhodes had caused Inzamam-ul-Haq to run out as he flung himself in the air and shattered all three stumps in the process. The cricketing world hadn’t seen anything like that before. It was possibly for the first time that a cricketer had cemented his place by not following the traditional norms of being a hard-hitting batsman or a celebrated bowler; by being the archetypal outsider.
With her recent stand, Kangana has managed to shatter similar stumps, necessary to alter a narrative which has been controlled by a select few for far too long. Also making it evident that no matter the forces against her, you cannot really run Kangana out.
May the Rhodes be with her!