Guest Editor Kangana Ranaut in conversation with team Box Office India
Box Office India (BOI): Congratulations on your second National Award. Were you confident about getting the award?
Kangana Ranaut (KR): No, I didn’t know as the National Awards are government awards and, unlike the usual awards where you know beforehand, these are on an altogether different level. If an actor has been invited to attend or perform at the awards, there is a definite possibility that they are going to bag an award. But the National Awards have nominations from a lot of films, which one might not even be aware of. In fact, the actor who won the Best Actor National Award this year, Sanchari Vijay, is yet to have his film released. So they even consider films like that, with both mainstream and regional cinema. You have no idea who your competition is. It is very hard to tell which performance will be appreciated.
BOI: This is your second award and you have won it after seven years. It is truly an achievement for an actor.
KR: Yes, it is, not many of my contemporaries have two National Awards. Especially at this age, at 28, two National Awards in two different categories. I believe that the Best Supporting Actress category is very tough as there is too much competition out there, especially at the national level. The National Award for an actress has all the nominations from films which have strong female roles or are women-centric. So the filtering process is not difficult. But almost every film has a supporting actress. So it is very difficult to win in that category.
BOI: Even your film, Queen’s director Vikas Bahl had an item number in his first children’s film.
KR: Chillar Party! That’s exactly what I mean. It is a children’s film and you have Ranbir Kapoor dancing in a disco. But, I believe that if a film like Chillar Party were to be made now, it wouldn’t have an item song in it. If I am not mistaken, that film also had Salman Khan in a song. If one were to make a film like that today, they would never go in for these things. I am not calling them gimmicks because who am I to pass judgment but there was a time everything had an item number and it was very bad for our films as the universal language of cinema hasn’t changed. If you watch Aag, or Kaagaz Ke Phool, or Pyaasa or any Hollywood film, performance and the language of the film in terms of cinema are the same.
I believe that films should be universal. But if you feel that your own cinema has a childish tone, no one will be able to understand it. And that is a reflection of our society. That is why people think Indians are like this. We think the audience has an attention span of a child. We feel that we have to keep doing something or the other on the big screen or else the audience will lose interest. They are not children but that is the impression our cinema gives. If this was the case, why are films like Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Queen or Piku working at the box office? It is a proof that you are underestimating the audience because of your own insecurities.
KR: No, I had no idea. And it is not just me but all the directors Vikas was competing with and I asked him where he would go after this. In his category, there were all these top directors of the industry. I said, ‘Ab, tumhare liye karne ko kuch raha hi nahi hai.’ This is the biggest crisis of your life, this nomination list and you winning the award. I told him this is as good as it can get.
At that, time no one was willing to put in their money in the Phantom banner. Vikas was going everywhere but only Vikram Malhotra showed faith in the film. Vikas is now a leading director but he was no one back then and even I was at the bottom of my career. So this film is even more special.
BOI: As an actor, is it difficult for you to out do a Queen?
KR: No (Laughs).
BOI: Why is that?
KR: (Laughs) Dekho aap Tanu Weds Manu Returns. You will take back your words.
BOI: You were very keen on making Tanu Weds Manu Retuns and you kept on insisting Aanand (L Rai)…
KR: No, in fact after Tanu Weds Manu, I wanted to work with Aanandji and he narrated Raanjhanaa to me but I suggested Sonam (Kapoor) and he too thought she would suit the role better. Aanandji is like a brother so we discuss films too. He also said he was planning a sequel to Tanu Weds Manu. I refused and told him not to nurture this thought. In fact, Vikas says people are asking him to make Queen 2, and I have firmly told him he should not even entertain that thought as I don’t want to do the same character again. I also believe that the magic that was created shouldn’t be tampered with.
So I said no to Aanandji. But he kept telling me it was a very sensitive husband-wife love story and I thought that Aanand was not a gimmicky director. He will make a film only when he has a good story to tell. He will not make a sequel simply because he wants to cash in on the first part. He is a very intense person, a very intense director. So I thought I would hear it once, and I was blown away by the narration. I hadn’t heard such a beautiful script in such a long time.
BOI: Was it difficult to get the Haryanvi accent?
KR: Playing a Haryanvi girl was difficult but what was even more challenging was keeping both the characters’ chemistry. There is rivalry between Datto and Tanu’s characters and both of them can’t overshadow each other. Their rivalry drives the plot forward. If, at any point, Datto’s existence was to become superficial, we would have lost the plot. If you see Kangana Ranaut as Datto, the film dies then and there. So that was very challenging for me. Moreover, both characters I play in the film are very contrasting.
KR: I love the way Himanshu (Sharma) writes, I love the nuances he injects in sequences. But I can’t write or think like him. This is how my lines go, ‘Mujhe lagta hain na London mein usne sex kar liya hoga’ from Queen, which is random and the way we speak in our daily life. So I can write for scenes that require everyday conversations. But with Himanshu, every morning on the sets I used to be, like, ‘Himanshuji, aisa kaun bolta hai?’ One day, a girl gets to know that her husband is cheating on her and she confronts him with a line like, ‘Hum thode bewafa huye, toh tum bachchalan ho gaye?’ I said who speaks like this, Himanshuji? He used to reply, saying, ‘Mere characters aisa bolte hain.’ So I can’t write lines like that. Only I know how I delivered those lines and sometimes I had to tone them down because, first of all, it’s an intense love story and I didn’t wanted that the humour of these lines to eclipse the plot of the film.
BOI: In your early days, you did films like Gangster, Woh Lamhe, Life In A … Metro, which got you critical acclaim but then you did some commercial flicks too. Then Queen changed things. Have you now become more choosy about the scripts you accept, like doing only roles where you can deliver a strong performance?
KR: Initially, I struggled to get roles and get noticed. So I was offered some good roles but it also happens that you chose some films which you might not like but you do them for financial reasons or because you are influenced by people around you. But there comes a time when you become financially stable and you have options. So you are financially and professionally secure at this point and you don’t have to become choosy because you’re at this stage where people were scared to give me narration. For example, when Aanandji and Himanshu narrated the script of Tanu Weds Manu Returns to me, I loved the idea. I believe screenplay is Himanshu’s strength. Himanshu saw Queen and then there was no word from him. And I am, like, weren’t we supposed to start shooting? He later said, ‘Actually, I was still writing roles for the Kangana you were four to five years ago. Then I understood the depth of the person and the actor that you had grown into. So I had to write for today’s Kangana Ranaut.’ That’s why he was absconding for five to six months, and I knew iss baar Himanshu kuch topchi likh ke lane wala hain and meri halat kharab karega aur wahi hua.
KR: I had signed a deal with Hansal (Mehta), but when I heard he was no longer directing Sarabjit I also walked out. With Reema Kagti’s film, there were date issues and secondly films that offer me bigger roles to play become a bigger priority for me. I have many biopics or roles where I have 50-50 per cent to play with the male lead. Also, you’re destined to do some films.
BOI: Do you think this is the most difficult time in the industry because it is very difficult to get nothing but the best?
KR: No, I am in a comfortable space today. People sometimes ask me, ‘How will you feel if Tanu Weds Manu Returns become a superhit?’ But I think what major will happen a good film will be appreciated. Aanand has given his sweat and blood to the film and he is a good director. When he was writing the script, he had two to three big studios waiting for him. They wanted to work with him, all the big actresses want to work with him. It’s the most tracked trailer of this year. All things considered, I don’t think it would be a big deal if the sequel becomes a super hit.
Badi baat tab thi jab while making Tanu Weds Manu, their money used to get over after every schedule. After every schedule, they used to tell us, ‘We will let you know when we are starting our next schedule’ because they didn’t have enough money. So the shoot would resume after every six months. Kisi se chaalis hazaar toh kisi se ek lakh. Somehow they managed to finish the film and then they were looking for someone to release the film, someone who would take it to cinemas. And you realise there is no buyer and then someone comes along and agrees to release the film. That is exceptional. It would be such a shame if we fail to prove ourselves, considering the facilities and resources we had.
KR: Definitely! Today people concentrate on every look that I want… Datto’s look and Tanu’s look. There was a time when they didn’t have money to pay for my costumes and look. Jitney minimum mein kar sako kar lo. We used to wonder whether we should do a retake or not because we simply did not have the budget. So a lot has changed.
BOI: When you look back at those times, how do you feel?
KR: I don’t like when people compare me with other actresses. I hate comparisons; every individual has their own struggle and charm. Why do people compare? My journey is not from Pali Hill to Pali Hill. I come from a remote valley in the Himalaya. I have carved my own individuality, so why am I being compared with those actresses? I respect their journey but I have a different journey. I have emerged from very difficult circumstances. Tanu Weds Manu was made under very difficult circumstances even though it is one of the most-talked about films of this era, My character is one of the most talked-about characters. But it was not easy to make this film. So I think people should respect our journey and our individuality.
BOI: Do you feel part of the industry now?
KR: No, and I don’t want to. Recently, when Bombay Velvet didn’t work, people trashed Anurag Kashyap. My point is, everyone fails; no one can make a super hit film every time. I watched the film and I felt the film was made with something specific in mind, a genuine effort. But why target the film so much? Aisa lagta hai log khanjar leke khade hain. Especially the social media, it’s a very poisonous platform. I am very happy where I am, I don’t want to be part of this industry. All I want to say is films will be made, people will come and go, some will succeed and some will not. Some will fail and then succeed. There is no respect here, people change with every film. I have seen these things myself, how people behave. They can scar you for life. So people should relax and calm down. Let everyone do their own work.
KR: It helped me a lot. And this is my message to everyone from a small town… If you plan to make it big, education is the only way. Study as much as you can. People from small towns are just as intelligent as people from the metro cities. The only difference is that we lack confidence. When people around you speak in jargon, you will be able to understand the fancy words they use if you have a degree. So the editing course helped me become more confident and understand some of the technicalities of filmmaking. I don’t really want to learn to edit but I want to understand the other person’s perspective and that helps me develop respect for that craft. I have seen directors who are confused while shooting and while editing too. Once I learn that part of filmmaking, it helps me understand their perception. Thus, when I talk to them, we are on the same page and I can speak to them about their craft with respect.
BOI: What about your directorial plans?
KR: Currently, I am looking at a few scripts. I am choosing projects which will take me forward. I don’t want to jump into anything. When the time is right, I will direct my film.