Karan Johar, Kangana Ranaut and male privilege
There is no doubt about Karan Johar’s immense talent. He sees Bollywood from a unique eye that captures its essence as well as its soul – what he creates on the big screen is nothing short of magical.
In a gargantuan $4.5 billion industry like Bollywood, Johar and Dharma alone stand at $200 million. Johar combines the idyllic with the marketable. He is truly a dream merchant – whether it is when Shah Rukh Khan runs towards Kajol in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai or Deepika Padukone and Ranbir Kapoor dance at a wedding –Johar has a unique eye and an irreplaceable ethos that truly and most fittingly describes the indescribable industry of Bollywood.
In the recent past, however, Johar’s battle with the bhakts (Indian nationalists) and his unspoken expression of his sexuality have garnered him enough negative attention that is also part and parcel of Bollywood. He was pressured endlessly for chopping out Fawad Khan’s scenes in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (there were even reports of changing the storyline completely to suit the patriots), he is also often hated on mercilessly on social media by misogynist trolls with slurs calling him gay, transgender and, perhaps the worst insult known to misogynist trolls: effeminate. Johar has always seemed poised under pressure, graceful under attack and beautifully eloquent about such instances. However, when it comes to Kangana Ranaut, Johar is out of his depth.
Ranaut’s story could not possibly be more different than Johar’s. And perhaps, if I may be so bold as to say, Ranaut’s true life story is more magical than all of Johar’s films combined. Here was a girl from a small town in Himachal Pradesh, who left her family and her home to pursue a dream. She, quite literally in most Dickensian fashion, has lived on bread and pickles, paid her dues, worked hard and succeeded despite all odds. She was type casted, she was hated, she was laughed at, she was mocked, and she was rejected. Yet she stood to her ground, unwavering. She became the critics’ darling and was awarded the National Award thrice; in her famous hit, Queen, the rest of the world fell irrevocably in love with her too. Her star soared. And she only made herself better from then onwards. From her fashion sense and her English to learning her craft even more, Ranaut kept on reinventing herself. She was shamed in the media because of her personal life, she was rejected by media moguls like Johar himself. But she persisted. She stayed. And like a true modern day heroine, after all that happened, she slayed.
Their paths crossed because Ranaut was on her way up to stardom and Johar was the embodiment of the many obstacles that she had to come to terms with. Johar, in his own words, accepted to the rejection that he frankly put before her. He had written her off. Much like he had written Anushka Sharma off when Yash Raj had signed her. Sharma minced words and took Johar’s dismissal with a smile.
Ranaut took no prisoners.
Johar is as privileged as Bollywood starlets come. Shahrukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor are his best friends. His dad already had a strong repute in the film industry that was given to him in a platter – as compared to Ranaut, who had to make it on her own completely. Johar was rich, successful and protected – the maximum amount of trolling he faced was on Twitter and by the bhakts for casting Fawad Khan, about which he has gone on to speak at considerable lengths. If he doesn’t find that problematic, why does he find Ranaut’s rant problematic? Why ask Ranaut to leave the industry if she decided to aim at Johar? Would he like it if someone else told him the same thing, post Ae Dil Hai Mushkil? If someone else told him about the constant harassment he faces for his sexual preferences, would he like it if someone asked him to shut up or stay quiet if he didn’t like the harassment?
It is also sad that whenever big stars and men of privilege encounter an opinionated woman who speaks up about the way she was (unfairly) treated, they immediately resort to telling them ‘not to use the woman card’. Johar was recently quoted in saying she was playing the ‘victim’ and he was ‘tired of it’ and if the industry is so bad, she ought to ‘leave it’.
The story is all-too-familiar. Whether it is Amber Heard fighting a domestic violence case against ‘beloved’ star Johnny Depp or Kesha fighting a harassment case against Dr Luke, somehow or the other, modern media finds a way to blame the woman. Add a man of privilege adding to this narrative, it reeks of hypocrisy and misogyny. In an industry dominated by families and cliques, Ranaut stood out and proved everyone wrong. If Johar is as true to his craft as he says he is, if he is as sincere to newcomers (which he claims Dharma is) as he says he is, he should have taken Ranaut’s life and her comments in Koffee with Karan as a lesson. Instead, disappointing many fans such as myself who have always loved his movies, his banter and his ability to take criticism with a laugh, his snide remarks about Ranaut proved that Johar’s the good of Bollywood – as well as the bad and the ugly.
In befitting fashion, Ranaut took to Mumbai Mirror to respond. Her interview said everything that was on the mind of many people who supported her. She replied in her classic forthright manner, and what a reply it was! It only made people like me love her more. She acknowledged her privilege (which Mr Johar conveniently ignored to do about his own position in Bollywood) and rejected the claim that she was a victim. She went on to talk about how she had worked hard and achieved many goals and did it on her own terms. She also clarified to Johar what the ‘woman card’ actually meant. Her interview was to the point. It was no holds barred. Ranaut addressed every flippant allegation that Johar had sent her way with aplomb and logic. We don’t know if Johar will respond in kind but if I were Johar, I’d just let Ranaut win this one. Because with the kind of voice that she commands and the kind of respect that she has garnered by her own hard work and determination is not something that can be ignored or subjugated at all.
“The ‘woman card’ might not help you become a Wimbledon champ, or win you Olympic medals, or bag National awards. It might not even land you a job, but it can get a pregnant woman, who feels her water is about to break, a ‘ladies’ seat on a crowded bus. It can be used as a cry for help when you sense a threat. The same goes for the ‘victim card’, which women like my sister, Rangoli, who is a victim of an acid attack, can use while fighting for justice in court.”
Slay, Ranaut. Slay.