Karan Johar is afraid of the ‘C’ word: What his row with Kangana Ranaut is really about
If you have read Karan Johar’s recently released autobiography, An Unsuitable Boy, you could be mistaken for thinking that he holds women in high regard. Of course, his stance on Kangana Ranaut has got nothing to do with his love and reverence for his mother, Hiroo Johar, or some of his close women friends such as Gauri Khan — but he would never accuse them of playing the ‘woman card’ or ever think of calling them ‘victims.’ Following Kangana Ranaut’s statement on his popular talk show Koffee with Karan where the actor called Johar the “flag-bearer of nepotism”, Johar has gone to town saying that he is tired of Kangana Ranaut constantly playing the ‘woman card’. Kangana has also mentioned to Karan Johar that in the past he had given her unnecessary attitude by saying that she wouldn’t make it and made fun of her English in a previous episode of his show. Johar topped his comments on the whole Kangana issue by saying that if Kangana felt so victimised, she was free to leave the film industry if things were so bad.
To the uninitiated, Johar’s response might at best appear to be some kind of a tit-for-tat retort. To further simplify it, what Johar wants you to believe is that you do not come on the talk show that every single Bollywood A-lister makes an annual appearance on almost like a pilgrimage, and chide the host. Moreover, when the host, Johar, was ‘gracious’ enough to confess that he was glad that he was proved wrong in thinking ‘iss ladki ka kuch nahin hone waala’, you were to simply smile and accept life’s gifts. The real reason for Karan Johar’s pathetic statement accusing Kangana of being a victim and playing the woman card is that he and ilk are not scared of Kangana Ranaut as much as they are of what she represents. What Johar and his Bollywood need to realise is that the only card Kangana Ranaut is playing is the ‘choice’ card.
Bollywood has never liked the idea of the option of ‘choice’ being made available or being used as a tool beyond a select few.
This coterie will leave no stone unturned to ensure that anyone from the outside must play by their rules, which means don’t ask for a script when dealing with the insiders, something that shocked Feroz Khan when the then rank outsider Shah Rukh Khan asked of him for Yalgaar; anything offered by the Chopras or Johar or Bhansali or the ‘other’ Chopra is a worthy role; you must pay obeisance to the powers be or be ready to face the consequences like Arijit Singh who suffered loss of work for telling Salman Khan that his hosting skills put him to sleep; irrespective of who you are you must lobby for roles till death or embarrassment (Amitabh Bachchan supposedly ‘requested’ friend Rajinikanth to consider daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai Bachchan for Enthiran /Robot instead of Deepika Padukone; initially Salman Khan was said to launch Govinda’s daughter Narmada in Dabangg but Shatrughan Sinha won Salman over for daughter Sonakshi).
Yet nothing comes even close to the ugliness when it concerns Bollywood’s attitude towards women and especially the ‘outsider’ who refuses to give in.
A few days ago Sanjay Dutt went on record to say that he would have broken his daughter’s legs if she became an actor. Of course, this was to be seen as his concern for ensuring that his daughter, Trishala, was in a “safe” job. Later, on a lighter note (yes, that is what Dutt thought he was infusing) the actor added that he was not doing the same with Aditi Rao Hydari, the actor playing his onscreen daughter in his comeback film Bhoomi. Dutt’s statement speaks volumes about the way women are treated in the Hindi film industry. Almost every major male star has at some point or the other mentioned openly or implicitly implied that they would not like their daughters to join films and would be happier if they were elsewhere. What Johar said of Ranaut is nothing less than a testimony of an actor being out of the control of the industry’s high and mighty. Kangana has broken rules both said and unsaid in her decade-long career and garnered not just commercial success but also critical acclaim and a bevy of awards including three National Awards. Moreover, the fact that Kangana would be the only superstar to have not worked opposite the top three or four leading contemporary male actors – Aamir, Salman, Shah Rukh Khan and Akshay Kumar – and not featured in a single Yash Raj or Sanjay Leela Bhansali production only makes the success sweeter (she has worked in one Dharma film: the Rensil D’Silva-directed Ungli).
Perhaps what further irked Johar was that even now Kangana is not interested in acting opposite the Khans; something that the industry would readily offer as a gift to welcome her and also somewhere make up. When asked which of three Khans she was looking forward to working with, her reply was ‘none’. She asked why should she look forward to a role that would never be truly equal (to that of the male hero’s)? Juxtapose this with the fact that in the past Kangana has also openly mentioned that remuneration for males in the industry far outweighs the salaries of the leading ladies. In some ways, you can then hold Johar and company directly responsible for not only promoting such practices, but also turning a blind eye to it. They merrily seek younger heroines for the aging Khans; rarely write anything half-decent for leading ladies beyond a certain age (imagine Juhi Chawla, Kajol, Rani Mukheji, Preity Zinta or even Aishwarya Rai Bachchan playing a ‘regular’ role in any of their films) and refuse to look beyond insiders such as Alia Bhatt and Parineeti Chopra when it comes to leading ladies for newer films. There is an Anushka Sharma, a Deepika Padukone or even a Vaani Kapoor but even when it comes to them, a few have called out the harassment faced. In an episode of Koffee With Karan Anushka Sharma told Johar — albeit in jest — that she was going to sue him for sexual harassment, as he would sometimes touch her very inappropriately during the making of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. When the other guest on the show Katrina Kaif tried to side with Johar by telling Sharma that maybe it was “to spark a little fire inside her”, Sharma added that even Jacqueline Fernandez had complained that at Manish Malhotra’s party Johar was touching her inappropriately.
Kangana Ranaut has not only broken these rules but also beaten A-List Bollywood at its own game. And for this writer, it is Kangana’s this very trait and the identity that she has carved for herself that scares the industry. Therefore, they will mock her about her accent being different, her make-up being not up to the mark, she not having the right names on her CV, etc. What’s more, she is also not interested in playing the role of the “bimbo” off screen, a template that the industry often forces women to adorn in order to get by. She is not a Somy Ali, the former girlfriend of Salman Khan (as insider as it can get) on whom the superstar reportedly threw a bottle of cola or an Aishwarya Rai, who was thrown out of a film when her ex-boyfriend publicly harassed her on the sets of his friend Shah Rukh Khan’s film, and neither is she a Tanushree Dutt, the former Miss India, who was ostracised from the industry for calling Nana Patekar’s misappropriate behavior towards her during the making of the film Horn Ok Please.
Kangana Ranaut is simply exercising her choice — and what can you say, even this is unacceptable to Karan Johar.