(Images via Google Images)
Small town girl goes to big, bad city. In the pursuit of her dreams, she falls into bad company and makes a few mistakes. But finally she comes out of it as an independent, strong and successful woman. Add to this storyline a few songs and dances, and it would make for a mushy Bollywood film, right? This is pretty much the life story of actor Kangna Ranaut, who was adjudged the best actress in the 62nd National Film Awards for her performance in last year’s sleeper hit Queen. Calling it the best gift she has ever got, Ranaut, who turned 28 the day before the announcement, said that she was “elated, over the moon” and expressed her gratitude to everyone who placed their trust in her. Ranaut’s “endearing, etched-out and disarmingly spontaneous performance” was what won the jury’s heart, according to the citation issued by the information and broadcasting ministry.
Rani Mehra, the character Ranaut played in Queen, was indeed last year’s hero in Bollywood. Ranaut blended in so perfectly into the skin of the Rajouri Garden girl who goes on her honeymoon alone after being jilted by her lover just days before the wedding. It was as if she was living Rani’s life. There was no drastic physical transformation of the Mathew McConaughey variety, but a subtle one that directly connected with the viewer. She walked with a slight hunch, hugging on to her bag tightly, and wore ill-fitting clothes that had long gone out of fashion.
As she had broken into the industry with films like Gangster, Woh Lamhe and Life… In A Metro, the space that Queen placed her in was something the audience least expected from Ranaut. There was a certain pattern in the characters she played, either they were neurotic or they were substance addicts. “That is where her brilliance as an actor comes out,” said film critic Anupama Chopra. “Someone like her, who started out playing the most unconventional roles in Bollywood, could convince us that she was Rani from Rajouri Garden who had never kissed a man in her life. That points at sheer acting prowess.”
But, Ranaut did not have it easy. Initially, she faced pressure from her conservative family, who couldn’t understand why she would abandon studies to be in films. So, she went against the wishes of her parents, who had harboured the dream of her becoming a doctor, and left her home at 16 to chase her dreams. They did try hard to bring her back. “They called me daily and my mother accused me of being the sole reason for my father’s deteriorating health,” Ranaut once told THE WEEK. “I got messages sent through others, [like] from my grandfather, who asked me not to use our surname to avoid bringing shame to the entire family.” Add to this some failed relationships, fashion faux pas and bad hair days, and the going got tougher.
Despite being praised for her performances right from her first film, Ranaut’s journey wasn’t smooth on the professional side, too. Even after delivering a national award-winning performance as a model struggling with substance abuse in Fashion, Ranaut found that she wasn’t being offered any meaty roles. “It was either the arm candy type in male-dominated films like Rascals and Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai or the mental type,” she said. It was Aanand L. Rai’s Tanu Weds Manu that became a turning point in her career. Many around her called it a mistake, because she had dropped out of Ekta Kapoor’s The Dirty Picture, which earned Vidya Balan her national award, to be part of Rai’s film. It was after watching her performance in Tanu Weds Manu that filmmaker Vikas Bahl decided to cast Ranaut in Queen.
The film, which also won the national award for best Hindi film of 2014, wouldn’t have been made if she had said no, said Bahl. “I knew she would be able to portray Rani because she comes from a similar background,” he said. “She took all the efforts to get it right, from writing her own lines to selecting her own clothes. And all this was why the film touched so many people.” Rai, who is currently working with her in the Tanu Weds Manu sequel, said Ranaut amazed him with her talent. “She is a fantastic actor, she writes well, she has even made a film and she has done a course on scriptwriting from New York,” he said. “Show me one girl her age here who has done all this without worrying about the numbers game!” Chopra said Ranaut’s choices were a reflection of her secure nature. “She had the biggest hit of her career and she just took off to New York,” she said. “She has a unique way of looking at life and she believes in doing whatever makes her happy.”
As she was snubbed at many of the popular Hindi film awards this year, Ranaut said she had no hope of winning this one either. She had also announced that she had lost faith in and respect for such awards. In a recent interview, she said that but for her strong stand against awards, she would have got all the popular awards that actor Priyanka Chopra won last year. “The biggest award that I received was the love I saw in the eyes of people who watched Queen and connected with Rani,” she said after the release of Queen. “Never in my life have I been appreciated, accepted and respected so much, just like I was a part of their families.”
Her recent releases Ungli and Revolver Rani did not do as well as she had expected them to, but Ranaut considers every slump in her graph a stepping stone and learning experience. “I am what I am today only because of the mistakes I have made in the past,” she said. “If everything went right for me and I had it easy, then I would have stopped doing this a long time ago.” Shooting for Rai’s film at the moment, Ranaut is also in talks with Tigmanshu Dhulia for his next project, a biopic on yesteryear actress Meena Kumari. But she seems to be in no hurry. One thing she is certain of is that she will not follow the set path followed by many who came before her—getting married to a rich industrialist and taking a back seat in her career and life. “I have a lot of ideas,” she said, “and if men can act when they are 40, why can’t I?”