Kangana's Attitude Helps Her Survive a Bad-Ass Business

(Shobhaa De is an established writer, columnist, opinion shaper and social commentator, who is considered an authority on popular culture.)

Kangana definitely knows how to give it those ones!

There is a terrific Mahesh Bhatt story about Kangana's entry into Bollywood. I believe it. Mainly because I believe my buddy Mahesh Bhatt. He never lies. He doesn't need to. Apparently, the pale, skinny teenager who had run away from home in Himachal Pradesh entered Maureen Wadia's 'Gladrags' contest. She made it to the final round, arrived in Mumbai for the training programme, and was prepping for the big gala night when she was spotted by Mahesh and Vikram Bhatt as she wolfed down a snack in the coffee shop of the suburban hotel where contestants were staying. They obviously saw something special in the under-nourished kid, and offered her a movie break - but, on one condition - she would have to walk out of the contest right then... and never look back. Apparently, Kangana did just that!

And she has never had to look back! Call it 'luck by chance', if you want. I call it raw guts.

That's the essential Kangana - instinctive, mercurial, daring, individualistic, impetuous, spontaneous... and quite mad. I love her madness. It's what makes her stand apart from the robotic, programmed, artificial 'stars' in the Bollywood firmament, those  with far less talent but a great deal of nonsensical attitude. Kangana has attitude - of the right kind. It serves as a protective cloak and helps her to survive in a bad-ass business.

The first time I met her, she disarmed me completely. She was an unknown starlet, performing a medley of item numbers at an awards function. At the after-party, she walked up to me shyly, introduced herself, confessed she had never danced on stage before, and said she would prefer to converse in Hindi since her English was very 'kuchcha'. I loved her instantly. Everything about the girl had 'transparency' stamped all over it. And it is precisely this attribute that jumps out from the screen and straight into the hearts of the audience. Kangana connects directly and immediately like no other female actor in Bollywood today. I am sure she does give a damn about her major win (the prestigious National Award for 'Queen'), but it doesn't show! While her formidable competitors with all their super-confidence and sophistication feign nonchalance when it comes to winning or losing awards, here's a 28-year-old who doesn't have to try! Her unconventional life stays on track regardless. That's what makes Kangana so endearing - on and off the screen.

We run into each other occasionally. Mainly at airports. Early one morning, I caught up with her dressed from head-to-toe in baby pink Dior, hair and make-up in place. "Event?" I asked. Kangana nodded. She was by herself. No fuss. No body guards. We got chatting. She wears couture like she was born sporting Chanel rompers. I enquired whether she had a permanent stylist. And she said she picked her own clothes. Where did she shop? She giggled and admitted it was in assorted thrift stores in New York and Europe, during her travels. Like in most other areas, even when it comes to fashion, Kangana is a natural. She makes it all look so effortless and easy - like true style needs to be. Kangana is her own finishing school. She observes, learns, absorbs and interprets. But on that hopping flight to whichever small town she was going to wow, she rued not being in the running for top brand endorsements like some of her less accomplished colleagues. "Why don't they approach me?" she wondered. I told her to be patient .... and wait. They'll come running!

This year, she made it as a front row invitee to a posh Paris Fashion Week show. Kangana looked as poised and soignee as the top drawer Hollywood star seated next to her.

This is Kangana's Cinderella moment. She is right up there in the Bollywood pantheon of super-talented actors. And the best part about her fairy tale story is that she doesn't need a Prince to transform her - she has done it for herself. It sure looks like some lovelorn Prince will have to wait for Kangana to glance in his direction. Though, as the reigning 'Queen', her kingdom of dreams is here. And Bollywood is at her feet.... who cares about that missing glass slipper? Not this amazing Cinderella!


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