'I Am A Bad-Ass,' Says Kangana On Feminism, Films And Fairness Creams: Full Transcript


Barkha Dutt (L) talks to Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut (R).

Actor Kangana Ranaut talks to NDTV's Barkha Dutt about her struggle in Bollywood, male paradox and feminism.

Following is the full transcript of the interview:

Barkha: My guest today is somebody who I believe has rewritten a lot of the old rules in the film industry. Not just that, she is refreshingly candid, she is not politically correct and she speaks her mind. Over and above of all that, her film Queen, according to me, is absolutely inspirational for young women who are looking to break free from old shackles. Thank you so much Kangana Ranaut. Let's welcome Kangana to this evening.

Kangana: Good evening. Thank you Barkha and congratulations!

Barkha: Thank you. I want you to talk about a little about your own journey from being a small town girl in Himachal Pradesh to getting to this point, from growing up in a family where you have quite openly admitted that your family was more favorably disposed towards your brother and in some ways openly discriminated against you to the point where you decided that you are going to run away from home.

Kangana: I think this kind of discrimination exists even today. I won't say there was anything unusual about my childhood but I appreciate that today we talk so much about women empowerment. I don't know how much difference it's making but I think somewhere children who are growing up and women who are going to be our gen-next, in their schools, in their teens, they at least do understand there is something wrong in being discriminated, as opposed to us. Though growing up didn't seem something which is wrong like I thought it's a matter of fact that being a girl child is a liability on our parents.

Barkha: You felt like a liability?

Kangana: Yes, because there was no other perspective that we had growing up. I felt it's fair for my parents to feel that taking care of a girl child...becasue these conversations were everyday thing that you raise a child and you invest so much in her education and then she goes about to basically take care of someone else's house and there is so much dowry that you have to... So, it's basically not a very good scenario for them as opposed to a son who brings another person to work at their house and brings a lot of money along with other gifts for the family. This is how actually middle-class families feel who struggle to make ends meet. For them...

Barkha: The girl is a liability.

Kangana: Yeah!

Barkha: Did you feel like a liability growing up?

Kangana:  Well, I felt what they feel, there is nothing wrong in what they feel. But I didn't feel that I am any less than my brother and I am just someone who they just have to take care of. I felt quite independent. But that's very rare.

Barkha: But your parents also wanted to get you married off at 16?

Kangana: Not really. I had pressure of studying and things like that. But my parents, I come from a joint family and they had their own pressures on them. But yes, they definitely didn't think of me doing something other than getting married and taking care of my household.

Barkha: What made you to take the decision to almost run away from home, come here to this city where you had no sugar daddy and you knew nobody. People made fun of your accent, they mocked you for not speaking English properly. You then took lessons. You were entirely self-made. But you virtually ran away. You had an argument with your father and you walked out.

Kangana: I think the same frustration that I didn't see myself as someone who was any less than my brother or anyone else, and that something that drives you to just find yourself and your worth. I didn't have any clarity that I want to be an actress or I want to change the world or do this. But that frustration that I can't be what they think I am, I can't be such a useless person who is just good for nothing, who is just supposed to follow a script,  or sort of a stereotypical map where I do a post-graduation, then they will find a guy for me and then I will go about making babies. So I did have a lot of doubts about that system but I had so many doubts about my own choices in life.

Barkha: How difficult was it for you when you came here?

Kangana: Very difficult. It was quite harsh. I don't have to go to the details of it but...

Barkha: But you went days without food, you slept on the pavement?

Kangana: Yeah and then I fell in a trap, I was physically abused...

Barkha: By whom?

Kangana: I don't want to take names...

Barkha: By people in the industry?

Kangana: Yes. People when they see needy people and you do fall for those traps and you do feel that people sometime might help you. But there are no free lunches, right? So when you are naive, you are young you do fall for those very conventional traps. I don't think there is anything unusual about my struggle. It's a very typical struggle where you meet bad people and then you meet good people and then you finally have a breakthrough.

Barkha: But you know you hear these things about women. You hear this casting couch cliche, you speaking about physical abuse. Is it really difficult for a woman to get a break into this industry if you do not come from a filmy family, especially a woman? Is it really difficult?

Kangana: Well, I won't say that it's very difficult but there is a very narrow sort of opening. If you have to become an actress, you have to become this type of actress, you have to fit into those roles and you have to be attractive in a certain way, you have to be able to do certain types of dances and expressions. I say there is a lot of talent but there is no appreciation, there's very stereotypical actresses that Bollywood propagates. And if you are not that then becomes very hard for you to discover yourself where I feel there are as many people, as many stories, as many women and we need to encourage women, our women, for being who they are as opposed to trying to box them and fit them - this one is attractive, this one is behenji types, this one is intellectual and  this one is a baddie -  a badass who has boyfriends and wears clothes like this. So we need to stop boxing our women.

Barkha: Yeah, go beyond the stereotypes and cliches. You were one of the first people, at least I think you were the first person I ever heard in the industry who asked why women are not paid as much as men. And I have heard counter argument that women don't bring as many audience, they do not do well for the distributors. How sexist, how discriminatory is the industry you work in? And has there been any change since you made that comment asking why you are not being paid the same or at par with men?

Kangana: Yes, I started this conversation because when I was working on my films I realized that it takes a significant amount of time, like around 200 days from 365 days and when I work as many days, why don't I get paid as much. And when my films do well, it's not when these guys, I am not talking about people who have established themselves since 25-30 years like the Khans, but say my counterpart who is my age, they don't guarantee you success of a film.

Barkha: And you are saying that your male counterpart would get more paid than you?

Kangana: Triple. Thrice the amount!

Barkha: Just for being a guy?

Kangana: Yeah! No one can guarantee success of a film. So why such discrimination? When you contribute in so many ways other than just acting and your directors appreciate, why are they not ready to pay? And I realised that I did not get a lot of support from the industry and many women came up and they said because you don't bring about enough audiences. I don't agree with that. That's not true. But yes, it matters what kind of roles you do. I don't do one scene or one item song in a film. I can only speak for myself and I am commanding certain amount of money, but I still think I am underpaid.

Barkha: Women have a problem talking about money. I have seen this in my own industry. I think women are generally shy to say we need to be paid more. Did you go through that struggle?

Kangana: Oh yeah! I think we are made to feel extremely... this is the mentality in India we have that overtly ambitious woman is just looked down upon; which is also very...  I don't think that's the case though. But they make you feel that way that if you are overly ambitious, no one is going to admire you and you are not a nice person.  But then in my experience, the more successful I get, I see a lot more proposals from men. Why is that then? Isn't it? I have been around for 10 years and the more successful I get the more crazy they get. Why is that?

Barkha: Ultimate male paradox!

Kangana: The same guys who will tell me that dedh shaani kisi ko achi nahi lagti and these are the same guys who are now head over heels. So why is that? I want to know that.

Barkha: That is the male paradox, it's attractive and it's also unnerving to the male ego maybe. Let me ask you this, what about women and age? The reason I ask you this is we are in an industry where the Khans are all 50 but they all get to star against women who are half their age and women don't last that long. There is no Meryl Streep equivalent here. Is that frustrating? Do you work in an industry that men are going to be forever young while women are put on the shelf...well most women seem to have 5-6 years if they are lucky? How does that make you feel?

Kangana: Again, it's a kind of manipulation. They manipulate us to feel that way, to believe that way. But it's not true. If that was true, I mean who remember last glamorous hot bod face, everyone remembers Datto, the woman I played with buck teeth, everybody remembers Queen. Our society loves raw character, we love raw women. We don't love our mother because she is hot and sexy, we love our mother because she is our mother. We love our granny because she is our granny. We value her. We don't remember anyone's face from our childhood; we love our granny's face. So, our society loves...if that wasn't the case why would Datto be such an iconic character? My Krish character is not iconic, the one where I play a really hot ass.

Barkha: But yet the men last longer than the women in the role of hero?

Kangana: Because they make us believe that. They don't want us to be, you know they want us to be a certain way, they make us lose our identity. It's a trap. It's a trap. We need to be aware of this trap. They will make you lose your identity and then you will not like yourself and they will not like you either. So when a man says that , 'Oh! you are not 16 or you are not 15, oh! there you have your first wrinkle', don't hate yourself for that. Love yourself and he will follow you. So we need to love ourselves first. We are desperate to look all the time a certain way. But in my experience, I can always speak for myself, all my hot characters or whatever, by the grace of god, I never got any attention, but the day I played real women... and that we can't give credit to the industry, we have to give that credit to our audiences, our population. They love real characters, they love raw women and I don't care...why would anyone care if Queen is 27 or 37? It hardly makes a difference. What difference does it make? But the industry, they would not want you to feel that way, they get extremely threatened. You don't have to fall for that trap. You have to be aware of your gifts.

Barkha: One of the things I really applaud you for is that you had a two crore rupee offer to do a fairness cream ad and you not just turned it down, you said you are embarrassed and ashamed of every colleague of yours in the industry, and this includes both men and women and some of the bigger stars who market fairness products. What made you say no?

Kangana: Like I said, I really think my ex, a white guy who I was dating... because growing up I didn't come across conversations like this and I thank you and people like you who... I don't know how much change people like you can bring about but at least you are talking about it. The one who is willing to have that awareness or may be fortunate enough to have that awareness will actually get it. Growing up, I didn't see anything wrong with fairness cream; in fact I thought it was actually cool to be fair or not to fair.

Barkha: So did you use them growing up?

Kangana: I think I was pale growing up and I didn't need it. Like I said, I didn't see anything wrong with fairness cream. When I was dating this white guy, he teased me and he said you guys are so funny, you openly sell fairness creams and it is not acceptable. And I was like why is that? He said because it is not acceptable that you are trying to tell your race that you shouldn't be this way. And that's the time I actually realised what we are doing, how we are sort of giving our generation complexes and not letting them be confident and not letting them find beauty in their own race. And this whole new world opened up to me and I am like - what are we doing as people; the whole world is laughing at us. And he used to tease me that you must be thinking that I am fair and lovely because I am white. And I hated that. I think in a relationship also, you wouldn't want to have the other person have the upper hand because you as a population behaving so stupidly.

Barkha: What do you think of your colleagues who do market fair and  lovely or fairness products?

Kangana: I think it's very very irresponsible. If tomorrow I have a dark kid, I wouldn't my kid to think he needs to get lighter or she needs to get lighter. I would be extremely embarrassed and wouldn't know how to deal with the situation if my child is watching that advert, I wouldn't know how to tell him or her that it's supposed to be that way. I wouldn't know because the whole world is saying something else and I would be in a very very awkward situation.

Barkha: So you are embarrassed by your colleagues in the industry who market these products

Kangana: You need a headline, don't you?

Barkha: And you are giving me one. But, I mean, speak openly

Kangana: Speak openly. Wow!

Barkha: Do you feel angry when others do it? Do you feel contempt? Do you just ignore it?

Kangana: Well, I definitely feel embarrassed. We don't have to be fair. There are so many things we can work on but definitely not our complexion. We are perfect. Beauty is everywhere; we need to make our women confident. We need to let them find their confidence. When you show an advert where a brown person goes for an interview and gets humiliated and she goes back and puts on this thing and goes back being a little bit lighter and gets the job, what are you saying? Come on! This is so stupid.

Barkha: Yeah I agree. Your sister was a victim of an acid attack and you really helped her through it and you got her back on her feet. Speak a little bit about how that experience shaped you and your views on violence against women? What you saw your sister go through.

Kangana: My sister is an acid attack survivor and she is quite a hero of her own. I really can't speak for her, but I can...

Barkha: But for you to watch her, her going through what she did after that...

Kangana: I just feel we are so...all over the world, not just in India, you know just winning... and success is so overrated because any way nothing lasts. So rejection is so hard to deal with anyone and people who, like growing up in schools also coming first was such a big deal and even in my own family, the kind of trauma I had to go through, the year I didn't stand first my parents treated me like I have done some sort of crime - that kind of attitude. So I think especially men, there is no acceptance that this woman doesn't want me or she doesn't have feelings for me

Barkha: This was a rejected suitor who threw acid on your sister?

Kangana: Yeah! Usually that is the intention. I think 90% of violence against women, that kind of violence triggers it...that if I can't acquire you.

Barkha: The ability to accept no as no.

Kangana: Yes. So I have been through this struggle for 10 years and what shaped me up as a person today, I don't know how much success people see me as today like that is very external sort of aspect of one's growth. But within me I am a very successful person on a very personal level. The way I dealt with my failures has been very heroic and I would like to write a book about that. Success will never teach you anything and failures, when you lose something; how to deal with it and how to not lose your self-respect and your self-worth. If 10 years of rejection, humiliation, embarrassments and...

Barkha: You are talking about yourself?

Kangana: My own self, if that would have made me believe in what the whole world thought of me as, they thought of me as a loser or whatever. I didn't think of myself as that. I didn't think of myself as what my parents thought of me or the world thought of me. And that's why I could do what I did in my life. I feel no matter what kind of crime is it, we need to tell our children it is ok to fail and there is nothing wrong in failing, nothing lasts forever. So that kind of spirit has to be there you know.

Barkha: What was the toughest thing for you in these ten years? What was the most cruel thing you have heard said about yourself?

Kangana: I think body shaming is one. A journalist openly wrote that this girl from the mountains has frizzy hair and a lizard-like body.

Barkha: A journalist wrote that? Okay I am ashamed.

Kangana: In a review of Gangster...a body like a lizard or something and I am like, okay!

Barkha: And people made fun of your accent, they called you the pahadi ladki. You taught yourself English. Why was that important to you?

Kangana: It was important to me because I wanted to reach out to many people. I don't always see failure and criticism as something which is out to destroy me. Definitely, I can't do anything about the lizard thing but all the criticism that I get I have a very objective point of view to that and I have always been like that and that really helps me and shaped my personality. I wanted to reach out to many people especially in Mumbai where not many people speak in Hindi.

Barkha: How did you teach yourself?

Kangana: I have a tutor who works on my accent and on my language when I get the time. So the idea is to reach out to as many people I do and we travel a lot and sometimes I get to attend these very significant summits so I want to reach out to many people.

Barkha; How would you descibe yourself? Because one of the things you said about yourself is that, I am not a sati savitri I am a badass. What is a bad ass?

Kangana: Me. Well, it's very hard to describe yourself. Like I said, it is so inbuilt in a woman like growing up anything that I demanded, I just felt that I stuck out like a sour thumb, like my parents made me feel like... so I had to have this thing that ok fine I must be a baddie but I want this, I want to do this. So I am very comfortable in being a baddie. We need to let our girls be overly ambitious. When people said you are so ambitious and dedh shanni kissi ko acchi nahi lagti, I remember someone telling me that.  I was okay with that. I don't feel anything wrong in being dedh shaani, that's your definition of a smart woman. I even don't mind in calling myself a bitch but I do have a different definition for that.

Barkha: What's yours?

Kangana: Babe in total control of herself. So that's ok people can call me names.

Barkha: But this is a new trend. It is very interesting, that's what I write in my book that today the urban feminist especially is embracing; you know slut used to be bad word, now you have slut walks. There used to be shame around menstruation now you have people actually pinning sanitary pads in campuses. You are saying I will embrace the word bitch, this is interesting. But we still can't seem to answer a very simple question are you a feminist without women going into yes, no, maybe, if's and but's. Let me ask you are you a feminist?

Kangana: Well, Yes.

Barkha: Thank you. I am glad there is a simple answer to that question and there is only one answer. As we close, you have been really blunt you said you have trashed film awards, you have said it's a shame. You have said you don't need to take selfies to be in the news. When you make these kinds of remarks, do people in your industry just hate you; do they still call you to their parties?

Kangana: There is a lot of prejudice around me I would say. The simpler you get the more complicated you seem, isn't it? I don't know why is that. But the way they approach me it's like I am a time bomb which can explode anytime. I don't know why is that.  In my understand of me I am what I say and I have been the most honest person about my past, about my present and the person I am, and still I seem so threatening is beyond me. But again that doesn't distort my understanding of myself.

Barkha: You have never doubted yourself?

Kangana: No, I am not that dangerous. I could be little dangerous...

Barkha: But you know you come here without knowing anybody. You go without food, money, you sleep on the pavements. You've told us you even experienced physical abuse because you fell into a trap. When you go through abuse, abuse changes you and this is something I have spoken about. It changes everyone who have experienced it how did that physical abuse change you?

Kangana: When this man who used to be my father's age, he hit me so hard that my head was...I fell on my head on the floor and it started to bleed. I must have been 17 or something. I picked up my sandal and I hit his head hard and it started to bleed as well. But then obviously his physical strength took over mine and I struggled so much that I couldn't believe I had so much of strength that either I die or I kill you. I went to the cops and I lodged an FIR against this man. That day I really saw myself as who I always thought I was. I never really tested myself under such extreme situations. But then that clarified my own understanding of myself and I thought I am actually a born fighter.

Barkha: And was the man ever punished?

Kangana: He wasn't punished. He was just given a warning to stop stalking this woman and he has a criminal record.

Barkha: Was he a powerful person in the industry?

Kangana: Well to a struggler who doesn't have a...

Barkha: So he is a member from the industry?

Kangana: Yes.

Barkha: How did that experience change you? As a woman you recognised the fight in you, the spunk in you but did it change you? Did it make you cynical or angry?

Kangana: It made me a total badass. I do not now like anyone raising their voice against me. It made me so guarded of my own personal and intimate space that it's amazing how guarded I became which I love, I absolutely love. After going through that extreme experience at that young age it just made me understand my own strengths and weaknesses.

Barkha: As we end, your message to women who maybe struggling, who maybe fighting. Your own journey and the message you take away from that and give them? Just a last thought.

Kangana: Just be yourself. See yourself the way you are. I mean there is no message as such.

Barkha: But be yourself. That's difficult enough for so many women.

Kangana: Yeah.

Barkha: Well thank you. Your own journey has been remarkable and extraordinary. Thank you so much.

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