Bollywood controversy

Kangana Ranaut is in the eye of the storm once again, this time for her remarks on India’s liberals

In a conversation with the spiritual leader Jaggi Vasudev, the actress made several controversial comments about contemporary politics.

Not for the first time, Kangana Ranaut is in the news for making controversial remarks. In a conversation with the Isha Foundation leader Jaggi Vasudev at Mumbai’s National Centre for the Performing Arts on August 8, the Queen actress criticised India’s liberals and also weighed in on mob violence and undocumented migration.

The 90-minute discussion was part of the In Conversation with the Mystic series hosted by Vasudev, in which he talks to celebrities about matters ranging from earthly to esoteric.

The conversation touched upon such topics as politics, nationhood, spirituality and mysticism. The bits that have attracted the most attention, however, were the disparaging remarks about liberals and comments on mob violence in the name of cow protection. At one point, Ranaut even insinuated that liberals, with their finger-pointing, were trying to incite civil war.

The conversation veered into political territory when Vasudev, hailing the diversity of India in the context of how the country has survived centuries of invasions and years of colonial rule, said, “They found this land there is no sameness anywhere...but they called this one nation because this was the only nation which was a land of seekers, not a land of believers. This is why we have always identified as seekers....of truth and liberation.”

While liberation and freedom have always been the country’s highest values, “now the so-called liberals are talking about freedom as if they’re talking about it [for] the first time”, Vasudev added.

Liberalism, the belief that puts liberty and equality at its core, has become a catch-all term for all those who disagree with the Right-Wing in India. Ranaut’s comments echoed that perception. The actress said that while they were filming her upcoming Rani Lakshmibai biopic Manikarnika, her crew decided to change a scene where the Queen of Jhansi saves a calf to one where she saves a lamb, ostensibly because the makers did not want to indirectly condone the spate of lynchings carried out in India over the last few years in the name of protecting cows.

“For me it’s very conflicting,” she said. “As a person you feel very protective of who you are what your values are and you want to save all the animals, why just cow? But you definitely want to save the cow for sure...but a lynching for cow takes place and you look like an idiot and then, you jump to the other side, which has always been criticising and never wanting to protect cows...these are so-called liberals.”

She then said that liberals, by definition, are those who are accepting of diverse opinions, but in India, “liberals will not take you in their group unless you hate the same people as they do”.

At this point, Vasudev interrupted and said, “No, no. They are fanatics.”

Ranaut continued, “If this is for the betterment of the country you don’t mind hating on BJP, you don’t mind believing that everything that is being done by Amit...literally Amit Shah is practically doing, but, what I don’t get is, what is their agenda and plan of action for bringing this country out of the pit?”

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In Conversation With The Mystic: Kangana Ranaut

The actress then commented on soldiers fighting on the border and the murder and alleged rape of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua in January.

“When a war breaks, liberals are the first ones to say...to demotivating an Army man who is protecting the borders for you. A rape takes place in Kashmir and they say ‘Hindustan raped our daughter’. To be pointing fingers at each other when the country is so vulnerable and trying to break [into] a civil war. Is that what liberals do?”

Vasudev offered a theory about why cows are considered sacred in India and went on to contend that those who debate the subject of lynchings are cut off from reality. “In this country, which is a pastoral country, cow and cattle was the wealth of this nation...so if somebody stole a cow, they cut you and beat you up. This whole lynching debate that’s going on in the country, the people who are talking about it, have not seen India. They’re just living in cities and television studios and endlessly talking about these things. Let me say this clearly. I’ve always been connected with rural life. In my life, I have witnessed three lynchings. In two, they were killed and in the other one, nearly killed.”

Lynchings happen because of the absence of timely law enforcement in parts of the country, Vasudev concluded.

He then insinuated that critics were using the cow-related lynchings to score ideological points. “If we want to change this, there are many things we have to do,” he said. “Not going on about, ‘somebody saved a cow’... Cow is an easy thing right now to go at.”

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In Conversation With The Mystic: Kangana Ranaut

The two also weighed in on the violence that surrounded the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat in 2018. Rajput groups had agitated for months to ban the film, contending that it misrepresented facts and sullied the image of the fictional Queen Padmavati, and threatened violence against the director and the film’s cast, Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh.

Ranaut said that being a Rajput as well as a film industry member, she found the controversy disturbing and embarrassing, but she said it was unfair to associate criminals with a particular religion.

Sadhguru said, “I don’t think it was about religion at all...When it was happening in full flair, the Padmaavat issue...When they were burning buses then I called somebody, a very responsible person in the country, and said, ‘How are we allowing this to happen?’”

Vasudev said the person he called told him that there were 100 women dressed as brides, ready to immolate themselves in protest. The law enforcement authorities believed it was a better option to let the Rajput groups burn some buses because if even 10 of the women were to kill themselves, it would become an international issue.

“I thought this is a strange kind of wisdom, but it is wisdom,” Vasudev said. “Instead of giving commentary because somebody went to western universities and came back...giving that kind of commentary without understanding the realities. No. There are unfortunate realities of various kinds of divisions that people are trying to play up. When they don’t get any voice to say something, they will gather...their community together and do something on the street to get attention. ”

The two briefly discussed cross-border migration before the conversation veered towards philosophy, mythology and cosmology, with debates about Shiva and the quest for meaning in life.

Ranaut’s remarks about liberal thought and mob violence attracted criticism as well as praise on Twitter. Some rued the fact that a woman who has been hailed as a feminist icon was aligning herself with majoritarian politics.

Ranaut’s remarks came less than a week after she praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for being the “rightful leader of democracy”.

Some also praised the actress for her stance.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.