IT NO LONGER MAT­TERS WHAT OTH­ERS THINK OF ME

KAN­GANA RA­NAUT IS THE HERO OF THE MUCH AWAITED QUEEN, MUCH LIKE SHE HAS BEEN IN HER OWN LIFE. BY SUHANI SINGH

India Today - - COVER STORY - PHO­TOG­RA­PHER: PRASAD NAIK. FASH­ION EDI­TOR: AMI PA­TEL. MAKEUP: DIMITRA AT­LANI AT AN­IMA CRE­ATIVE MAN­AGE­MENT. HAIR: GABRIEL GE­OR­GIOU AT AN­IMA CRE­ATIVE MAN­AGE­MENT. FASH­ION STYLIST: AVANI PURO­HIT; FASH­ION BOOK­INGS MAN­AGER: NEHA AGAR­WAL.

Kan­gana Ra­naut has made quite a few strange de­ci­sions in her ca­reer. So in Jan­uary 2014, when the 26-year-old ac­tress packed her bags and spent a month in New York study­ing scriptwrit­ing at the New York Film Academy, no­body should have been sur­prised. But still many found it fool­ish that she was van­ish­ing from the scene at what many con­sider is a high point in her ca­reer. Last year, Ra­naut earned plau­dits for her role as the chameleon-like mu­tant Kaya in Kr­rish 3. Her up­com­ing film Queen high­lights her range as an ac­tor. But in­stead of rev­el­ling in this suc­cess, Kangna did what she wants to – her own thing. “I have been leading a very mo­not­o­nous life, trav­el­ling a lot, liv­ing on sets and like a tourist in the best ho­tels,” says Ra­naut. “I needed a break. I crave stand­ing in queues wait­ing for a bus, walk­ing down a street, do­ing my own laun­dry and mak­ing my own meals. These are small plea­sures and life in Mum­bai doesn’t al­low for that. It is nice to be busy but some­times you just want to stop and do dif­fer­ent things.” A screen­writ­ing course in the Big Ap­ple en­abled Ra­naut to ful­fill her two pur­suits: live an anony­mous life and learn some­thing cre­ative.

More re­cently, Ra­naut has made head­lines for her forth­right an­swers and dis­play­ing rare poise in TV in­ter­views. But she has al­ways been like this, says Ran­goli Chan­del, her older sis­ter who has also been her man­ager for the past three years. “I don’t know why people now say, ‘Oh, she is so straight­for­ward’,” says Chan­del, “but she has al­ways been a fair per­son. What­ever is in her mind, she says. As a kid you are known to lie and de­fend, but she never used to lie.”

Grow­ing up in Bham­bla in Mandi district in Hi­machal Pradesh, Ra­naut and her sib­lings, which

in­clude a younger brother Ak­sht, were not al­lowed to watch films. It didn’t help there were no cin­e­mas around. But Ra­naut al­ways stood out with her trendy sar­to­rial sense. It was strange enough to make her fa­ther, Amardeep, ad­dress her as ‘Lady Diana’. But her in­ter­est in fash­ion was never in­ter­preted as har­bour­ing am­bi­tions of be­ing an ac­tress, says Chan­del. Ra­naut’s par­ents ex­pected her to opt for well-re­garded oc­cu­pa­tions – doc-

IT DOESN’T MAT­TER TO ME WHAT OTH­ERS THINK OF ME AND I WANT IT TO BE THAT WAY. JUST BE­ING A SUC­CESS­FUL AC­TOR IS NOT THE AGENDA OF MY LIFE

tor, en­gi­neer or an IAS of­fi­cer – and she stud­ied hard and scored high marks to ful­fil that dream.

But life took a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion when she stud­ied for two years in Chandigarh and stayed in a hos­tel. By 16, much to her par­ents’ dis­may, she had moved to Delhi and joined the Elite Modelling Agency. Amardeep, who is in the con­struc­tion busi­ness, didn’t favour a ca­reer in the movies for his daugh­ter. Re­la­tions were strained as Ra­naut re­fused fi­nan­cial sup­port from her par­ents and de­cided to make it on her own. It didn’t take her too long. At 17, di­rec­tor Anurag Basu would spot her at a café in Mum­bai and grill her with 20 plus au­di­tions be­fore she’d land the leading part in his film Gang­ster (2006). Three years later, Ra­naut would win the Na­tional Award for best sup­port­ing ac­tress for her role as an out­spo­ken and self-de­struc­tive model in Fash­ion. But Ra­naut’s ca­reer never lived up to the lofty ex­pec­ta­tions that people had from her af­ter an im­pres­sive start. If she made an im­pres­sion in Once Upon a Time in Mum­baai and Tanu Weds Manu, she was for­get­table in the dis­as­trous Ras­cals and Game. She has ad­mit­ted she did a few movies to pay off EMIs. But Kan­gana, as her Tanu Weds Manu di­rec­tor and good friend Aanand L Rai says, has no re­grets.

“I don’t have any ex­pec­ta­tions,” says Ra­naut. “It’s OK if I have shitty films in my fil­mog­ra­phy. This is not go­ing to de­fine me as a per­son any­way.” When prod­ded about what would de­fine her if not her work, she replies, “No one will ever know. It is for me as a per­son to know, en­joy and value. I am not a slave to some­one’s ac­knowl­edge­ment or ap­proval. It doesn’t mat­ter to me what oth­ers think of me and I want it to be that way. Just be­ing a suc­cess­ful ac­tor is not the agenda of my life.”

It’s this com­bi­na­tion of self-as­sured­ness, stub­born­ness, in­trigue and hon­esty which has en­sured that even as her films have flopped and been heav­ily crit­i­cised, Ra­naut has sur­vived. It’s a feat of sorts in Bol­ly­wood, which can be es­pe­cially hard on out­siders. It helps that Ra­naut is not averse to the brick­bats ei­ther. “Crit­i­cism can be quite hum­bling,” she says. “I re­ally don’t mind it. So far things I have failed to see some­how, the crit­ics have made me aware of them.” That she is tal­ented helps fur­ther to en­sure the longevity of her ca­reer. It’s a sen­ti­ment echoed by Vikas Bahl, di­rec­tor of Queen. “She may make wrong choices but she will al­ways bounce back be­cause she is such a good ac­tor,” he says. “The amaz­ing thing about Kan­gana is that she

has de­cided to be­come an ac­tress but if she had pur­sued any other ca­reer she’d have been as suc­cess­ful. She is an ex­tremely bright per­son and has a huge abil­ity to ab­sorb in­for­ma­tion. I like to call her the Dhoni of movies. She comes from nowhere and she has made it hap­pen.”

Ra­naut has been in the in­dus­try for over nine years but her film graph is not as im­pres­sive as that of her peers such as Deepika Padukone and Ka­t­rina Kaif, who have en­joyed more fame and suc­cess on the box of­fice front of­ten by work­ing op­po­site the big­gest of ac­tors. For a while, Ra­naut was in the news more for her off­screen ex­ploits in­clud­ing link-ups with Aditya Pan­choli and Ad­hyayan Su­man. On her part, Ra­naut is aware of her in­con­sis­tent ca­reer but she be­lieves she has done well for her­self. “I came here as a raw teenager who didn’t know what she wanted, and didn’t have any skills and I have learned ev­ery­thing be­ing a part of this in­dus­try,” she says. “I def­i­nitely un­der­stand the value of ac­quir­ing skills and prac­tic­ing and mak­ing yourself bet­ter. It is not to please oth­ers but I want to do what I want to do.”

Hav­ing con­trol over one’s life is clearly im­por­tant to her. “Kan­gana is liv­ing life on the terms and con­di­tions de­signed by her,” says Rai. “And be­hind this ac­tress, there is a woman grow­ing beau­ti­fully.” Rai men­tions how Ra­naut is un­afraid of soli­tude and en­joys trav­el­ling and spend­ing time with her­self. That ex­plains the New York trip. More im­por­tantly, he says, Ra­naut is a friend you can rely on. “If to­mor­row I’m in trou­ble with some­thing else which is not to do with films, she will be there,” he says. “I know that I have a friend­ship which goes be­yond films.”

Ra­naut is con­scious of a life be­yond Bol­ly­wood. “I have not come here to be com­fort­able with the place or find hap­pi­ness in this in­dus­try,” she says. It doesn’t faze her that she hasn’t worked with the big ban­ners, top-notch di­rec­tors, the three big Khans or set­tled into the in­dus­try by hav­ing a camp who watches out for her. “I have done some films wherein I thought it would be great work­ing with these so­called big ban­ners but the ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing with them was very bad and the out­come was bad as well,” she says with­out nam­ing any­one. “There is no guar­an­tee that the films you do with them are go­ing to be good. So you didn’t learn and they didn’t even work. It is a loss-loss sit­u­a­tion. I much rather do films which I en­joy and I get to evolve cre­atively.”

Queen is one such film. It gave Ra­naut the op­por­tu­nity to play a welletched char­ac­ter. “In Hindi films, usu­ally fe­male char­ac­ters pop up for two scenes and then van­ish and emerge sud­denly,” she says. “You end up stick­ing out like a sore thumb.” With Queen, Ra­naut is the tit­u­lar char­ac­ter, the hero of the film. She es­says the role of Rani, a young woman from Ra­jouri, who is spurned by her to-be groom at the al­tar. She em­barks on a lifechang­ing jour­ney when she goes on her hon­ey­moon to Paris and Am­s­ter­dam, alone. Bahl de­scribes Rani as a vul­ner­a­ble char­ac­ter, whose in­ten­tion “is not to make you laugh but you end up laugh­ing at her”.

I KNOW HOW NEEDY ONE CAN GET AND HOW DIF­FI­CULT IT IS TO HAN­DLE FAIL­URE. WE COME TO A POINT WHEN WE THINK WE DON’T DE­SERVE ANY­THING

Kan­gana was al­ways the first choice for Rani, he adds, even though he didn’t know the ac­tor per­son­ally. “I needed a girl who could un­der­stand the char­ac­ter at a per­sonal level as well as an ac­tor,” he says. “I didn’t want Rani to be a car­i­ca­ture and I felt Kangna would be able to play it like a real per­son.” On her part, Ra­naut iden­ti­fied with the Ra­nis of the world. Ra­naut ad-libbed dur­ing shoot­ing and ended up with di­a­logue credit for the film. “I could quite re­late to the low self-es­teem phase that she was go­ing through af­ter be­ing re­jected,” she says. “We come to a point where we think we are not good enough and don’t de­serve any­thing. I un­der­stand how needy one can get and how dif­fi­cult it is to han­dle fail­ure.” She adds that while she shares the char­ac­ter’s small town-ori­gins it doesn’t mean that she is like Rani. “She is low on self-es­teem, full of self doubt and a bit con­flicted,” says Ra­naut. “I was never docile and sub­mis­sive like Rani. I never had con­fi­dence is­sues.”

Bahl en­joyed the process of work­ing with Ra­naut on Queen, which was shot in 45 lo­ca­tions across 25 days on a limited budget. Ra­naut would get her hair and make-up done in restaurants amongst din­ers and change in restau­rant re­strooms. Most of her col­lab­o­ra­tors such as Rakesh Roshan ( Kr­rish 3) say that she is “not fussy at all”. “If she picks good roles, she will go very far,” he says. Roshan also noted that she is a “very fam­ily-ori­ented girl”. Sis­ter Ran­goli con­curs. Ra­naut loves to cel­e­brate fes­ti­vals with her fam­ily and take them out for din­ner. She gifted Ran­goli an apart­ment as a wed­ding gift and bought one in Mum­bai for her brother, who is a commercial pi­lot. “She’s also helped friends who were short on money while they were buy­ing houses,” says Ran­goli, who has been by her sis­ter’s side for a ma­jor­ity of her ca­reer. In this new phase of her ca­reer, Ra­naut is un­der no com­pul­sion to do roles for mon­e­tary gain. “She has taken only pos­i­tives from all the low points,” she says. “You need to learn from your ex­pe­ri­ences and Kan­gana is do­ing that and grow­ing as a per­son. She has be­come spir­i­tu­ally and men­tally strong.” Miss Kan­gana Ra­naut has de­cided that she will con­trol her des­tiny and that self-aware­ness may just be the turn­ing point in her ca­reer.

TAK­ING CEN­TRE STAGE: Ra­naut on the sets of Queen

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