Kangana Ranaut’s fearless refusal to keep quiet about the pay disparity between male and female stars, or kowtow to Hrithik Roshan, may have earned her some enemies. But it won her at least an equal number of fans—including director Vishal Bhardwaj. When the time came to cast the heroine of Rangoon, his World War II-era drama that releases February 24, the director was convinced Kangana was the perfect choice to play ‘Jaanbaaz Julia’ , a stuntwoman loosely based on Australia-born Mary Evans Wadia, aka Fearless Nadia. Like many of Bhardwaj’s female characters, Julia exemplifies the “duality of a woman—her fragility and stubbornness” and “the complexity of her psyche”, Ranaut explains. Ranaut identifies with Julia because she is fierce and not submissive, a mix that she says Bollywood has lost since the days of Nadia. “Now, you can either be sensuous or timid.” Dismissive of commercial awards, Ranaut is hoping one of her two 2017 releases will earn her a fourth National Award. Along with Rangoon, she has the title role in Hansal Mehta’s Simran (September 15). “I would be pleasantly surprised to see
better written characters than Julia and Simran this year,” she says. “In that case if I do not get a National Award, then really, shame on me.” Despite winning praise for her performance in
Queen (2014) and generating more than Rs 150 crore in Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015), Ranaut is still an outsider. Karan Johar has never included her in his ‘rank the best actresses’ segment on Koffee with Karan. And he offered a cryptic insult in his book An Unsuitable Boy, saying that while most actors are known for their magnificent presence “she has a magnificent absence”. The backhanded compliment does not unduly concern her. “I don’t get it,” she says. “Is it a jibe or a compliment? Am I ‘absent’ because I’m missing from his parties or his gossip circle or the WhatsApp group they have? Or because I skip the filmi parties and award shows?”
That frankness doesn’t always sit well with the ‘film fraternity’. Last year marked a particularly low point, as many closed ranks around Roshan and she was accused of everything, from having psychological problems to being a jealous girlfriend who uses black magic.
Ranaut admits that the “malice and betrayal from someone who you have been extremely close to” affected her. But she says she found solace in her work, and she remains proud that she refused to back down.
“I personally feel that women over-identify with the healer and nurturer archetype,” she said. “I don’t encourage bullying. Why should I? The fighter instinct in me dominates every other instinct.”
She has her share of defenders—who find nothing evil in her brand of witchcraft. As jaanbaaz as her character in Rangoon, though, she’s more than capable of fighting her own battles.
“I have been chosen for things that are extraordinary,” she says. “I have had a complicated relationship with my parents. I later fell into the most unbelievable traps that the industry has and then went through a struggle of a lifetime. I have paid a heavy price for that. My life will always be of extremes. But I’m OK with it.”