In the aftermath of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s tragic demise, one actress has captured the nation’s imagination like few others ever have. From leading the unsubstantiated witch hunt against Rhea Chakraborty to appointing herself judge, jury, and executioner in the absence of any locus standi whatsoever, Kangana Ranaut’s antics have been a masterclass in opportunism. Interestingly, demanding justice while at the same time upholding the dignity of the deceased hasn’t been very high up on her list of priorities. She has, however, been dogged and even hugely successful in portraying herself as a crusader against all real and perceived ills.
From nepotism and sexism in Bollywood to more sensitive issues like mental health and national security, Miss Ranaut has an opinion on everything under the Sun. Those who differ are immediately labelled “anti-national”, “terrorists” and, funnily enough, “male chauvinists”!
While all these labels are uncalled for and simply wrong, the last is the most relevant to the purpose of this essay: debunking the myth that she’s a feminist icon or even a feminist.
A brief look at her life story and filmography will reveal a completed checklist of what constitutes a feminist icon. Defied the patriarchal society she was born in and pursued the career of her choice? Check. Is wildly successful at the said career? Check. Has worked in some of the most critically and commercially successful female-centric films in the history of Indian cinema? Check. Spoken out against discriminatory practices at her workplace? Check. Refused to endorse skin lightening products? Check. Doesn’t need a husband or partner and wears her independence as a badge of honour? Check!
Unfortunately, though, the sum of parts isn’t always a perfect whole. Although her feminist credentials are noteworthy, even stellar, she is also notorious for her appalling displays of internalized misogyny. She has, in the past, boasted about having made “size zero” fashionable. What do you call a feminist who takes pride in promoting a culture of disordered eating and distorted self-image? That’s right; a(n) (oxy)moron! Her much-applauded criticism of the unfair treatment of outsiders in the film industry soon degenerated into something far less noble and far more self-serving.
She, as the self-proclaimed guardian of the flock of “outsiders”, has taken it upon herself to shame fellow actresses on every aspect of their professional and personal lives, conveniently classifying them into “dumb nepo kids” and “chaploos (sycophant) outsiders”. From their physical appearances and love lives to their sartorial choices and calibre as actors, Kangana has seldom missed an opportunity to tear another woman down.
Off late, however, Kangana, more popularly known as “Jhansi ki Rani”, appears to have gone from bad to worse. By comparing the demolition of A PORTION of her OFFICE building to the plight of rape survivors and that of internally displaced Kashmiri Pandits, she has reached a new low, even for a veteran like herself.
Via her recently verified Twitter account, she has spewed venom on all subjects, and in all directions. Her blatant casteism, Islamophobia, queerphobia, ableism, and offensive views on women who work in adult entertainment would be sufficient to disqualify anybody else from occupying the exalted position she has so comfortably settled into. RIP, intersectionality. RIP!
— Damni Kain (@DamniKain) August 24, 2020
All said and done, Kangana is not the disease. She’s just one symptom thereof. Her appeal, however unfortunate, lies in the fact that she validates the prejudices that are rampant in India as I write. Her massive fan following is testament to the fact that an overwhelming majority of Indians either have a woefully inadequate understanding of feminism or simply do not care.
For them, fawning over Kangana Ranaut performs two functions: championing a self-made, successful woman flatters their egos and makes them appear “woke”. On the other hand, an endorsement of her regressive views also acts as an endorsement of their own hatred, ignorance, fears, and insecurities. A win-win situation, albeit one that is absurd!
As tempting as it is, ridiculing her and giving her the importance she clearly doesn’t deserve, is not the way to counter the cult she has inspired. For it is nothing short of a cult. The way out is to strike at the roots of the malady. To teach, learn, question, and listen to one another. To thus reach the realization that a shallow, elitist, and exclusionary form of feminism is no good. That the pie needs to be bigger and the table, longer.
Although she’s a hugely problematic figure, the secret (?) to her success is the hugely problematic society she’s flourishing in. In a more enlightened country, rabble-rousers like Kangana Ranaut would have little, if anything at all, to capitalize on. Such a country would be safe, or at least safer, space for all. All women and all men. Irrespective of religion, caste, class, sexual orientation and gender identity. Because feminism must work in tandem with other movements aimed at achieving social justice and equity. Anyone who claims or believes otherwise, is himself, or herself, as in the present case, a “male chauvinist”!