A recent survey found that Kangana Ranaut, the Gangster star who had recently rocked the cinemas with her 2015 blockbuster Tanu Weds Manu Returns, is one of the most popular and highest-paid actresses in tinsel town.
This might come as a revelation to many fans of Indian cinema – it certainly did to me! There was never any doubt in most minds about Kangana Ranaut’s acting abilities; these were apparent enough even in her debut role, where she played the part of a neurotic woman in love with a member of the underworld. Her widespread popular success, however, is a more recent phenomenon.
The curly-haired diva had first come to Mumbai as a teen on a modelling assignment. While there, she had auditioned for a few roles and a music video. She says that if the Gangster role had not worked out for her, she might have gone ahead with the music video and became an ‘item girl’ instead of the actress she is today. She admits that she had no definite goals for her career during those initial years in the show biz.
Working under Anurag Basu’s tutelage at such a young age changed Kangana’s career path, and she has never looked back since! She candidly confesses that having come from a theatre background and repeating the same action for different camera angles often frazzled her during those first months. She would sometimes end up in tears of frustration.
The experience also taught her a good work ethic and made her learn never to make excuses and give her best shot to everything, she says. Despite a few hurdles on the way to success, in the form of box-office failures such as Double Dhamaal and Rascals, and being typecast as the neurotic crazy woman after her stunning debut, the young actress never lost faith in her abilities and never gave up.
Kangana, who hails from a relatively humble background, admits freely that there was a time when she had to worry about putting food on the table for herself and her family. This gives her a different claim to fame in our country’s dynastic and nepotism laden film industry, where stardom is passed from father to son like a well-guarded family heirloom. As she proudly proclaims, she is a self-made woman – which makes her an inspiration and an icon to many a young girl in this nation. By her success, she has given them a reason to hope for a brighter future.
Kangana is also a vociferous supporter of equal pay for both genders in the film industry – which remains one of the only industries in the country with such glaring gaps in the remuneration of men and women. She asks passionately if a woman’s time and effort are worth less than that of a man, or if she has more than 24 hours a day, that her contributions should be valued less than those of her male counterparts.
While Bollywood is yet quite far away from gender equality, the rise in Kangana’s pay-cheque itself bears testament to changing attitudes towards the role of women and their importance in a film. Films like Queen, starring Ranaut and resting almost completely on the shoulders of the female lead, prove that female-driven films can be just as successful and profitable as their more macho counterparts.
The film industry is changing, along with a changing India, and that change is driven most ferociously by energetic and vibrant young actors like Kangana. Therefore, let us hope that Kangana’s success is not an isolated incident but is the precursor of a trend of successful female superstars in Bollywood! Often coming from outside the dynastic loop, these young stars bring a breath of fresh air into the industry.