Kangana Ranaut during the trailer launch of her upcoming film, Manikarnika
Kangana Ranaut during the trailer launch of her upcoming film, Manikarnika | PTI
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In Manikarnika, Kangana Ranaut the actor and Kangana Ranaut the patriot have merged.

Manikarnika is certainly feeling the pulse of India these days.

At the end of the trailer of the upcoming Kangana Ranaut blood-and-pearls extravaganza, Ranaut-turned-Lakshmibai grimly intones, “Jhansi aap bhi chaahte hain aur main bhi. Farq sirf itna hai, aapko raaj karna hai, aur mujhe apno ki seva” (You want Jhansi. And so do I. The only difference is you want to rule over it, and I want to serve my own people).

Change Jhansi to Bharat, and this could be an electoral challenge from pradhan sevak Narendra Modi to shehzada Rahul Gandhi.

Manikarnika might be set in 19th century India but its nationalism is very 2019 indeed. And it could not have asked for a better ‘Bharat Mata’ at its centre than Kangana Ranaut.

She has already made her nationalism her USP. At a News18 summit, she said that when she mentioned in an interview that she was a nationalist, “people said ‘oh you are that type of a person’. I was like ‘what do you mean by that kind?'”. “I have come to this conclusion that if India does not grow, then I won’t grow. I am an Indian and born an Indian. I have no other identity,” said Ranaut.

That sounds almost as it was ripped from the script of Manikarnika. Art and life have fused admirably.


Also read: Kangana Ranaut’s Modi comment shows she is a feminist, but only for herself


Safe to say that there is no chance that Manikarnika would ever get embroiled in the kind of angry buzzing controversy that engulfed Padmaavat. There are no Muslims anti-heroes, certainly none as dashing as Ranveer Singh who in real life will go on to marry the Padmavati of the film. There are no rumours of forbidden love dream sequences.

The British are the safest villains to rail against. No one will rise to defend them in India even as Kangana Ranaut’s Manikarnika spectacularly cleaves a British head in two. There is no danger of being accused of communalism. Or, minority appeasement. Everybody from Shashi Tharoor to Dinanath Batra can be united in decrying the evils of colonial Britain. But most of all, it has Kangana Ranaut at its centre insulating it from any whiff of being unpatriotic.

In these charged times, a film, whether it purports to be history or historical fantasy, is not allowed to be just a film anymore. The present seeps into the past.

When Kangana Ranaut appeared with Sadhguru Jaggi in her best Gayatri Devi chiffon-and-pearls elegant avatar, she railed against liberals and was accused of normalising lynching. Apparently in one scene in Manikarnika, she saves a calf. But it was changed to show her saving a lamb because we “don’t want to look like cow saviours”. After that they had a rather surreal conversation about lynching where the Sadhguru says those who debate over violence have not seen India and are “living in cities and endlessly talking about these things”.

Liberals gnashed their teeth in vexed frustration when the feisty star of women-oriented films like Queen declared she is a fan of Narendra Modi and thinks he is “the right role model“. That’s her choice and everyone’s surprise about it says more about their assumptions regarding her than about Kangana Ranaut.


Also read: Modi-loving Bollywood can learn from Kim Kardashian, who raised prison reforms with Trump


Kangana Ranaut is probably one of the most interesting actors to have come out of Bollywood lately where stars are known for anodyne views, which get more anodyne as they climb up the ladder to superstardom. She, on the other hand, is not afraid to pick fights. Luckily for Kangana, her views are in sync with the country’s powers-that-be. So, nobody will ever ask her to go to Pakistan. After all, she even defended the call to ban Pakistani artistes from working in Indian films because “when you are talking about boundaries, you can’t go into an esoteric world and say ‘I am an artist'”.

She wants to remind us that “the Americans stand for their national anthem. Why do you feel ashamed of standing? If you want to learn something from Americans, then learn good things from them”. In reality, American football players are also taking the knee during the national anthem. And the issue was never about not standing for the national anthem. It was about beating up or arresting the person who was not doing it for whatever reason.

In a way, current Indian majoritarian politics has its perfect spokesperson in Kangana Ranaut, who is very confident in her liberalism. “In a diverse nation like ours, one has to be considerate of people’s emotions. Why is it hard for the so-called liberals to wrap their head around this? Being inconsiderate is not being liberal,” she says. But her liberalism and consideration seem wrapped around her worldview. For example, “If a certain religion worships cows, you can’t slaughter cows. I am vegan and I can’t see raw meat. I can’t be shamed for my choices. If it’s a sentimental thing, why instigate people?” That liberalism might require us to stay out of each other’s lunch box and refrigerator or not lynch dairy farmers transporting cows in Rajasthan seems to escape her. That fake WhatsApp forwards can be used to instigate people also seems to elude her.


Also read: Kangana Ranaut to Rahul Dravid: BJP’s wishlist of celebrities it wants on board for 2019


This majoritarian version of “liberalism” has many takers in India these days, especially those frustrated with the smug self-righteousness of politically correct old-school liberals who, as she put it, won’t include you in their group “if you don’t hate the same people as them.” Ultimately whether it’s Bollywood or politics, it all boils down to the Old Boys Club in India. “The earlier government played on dividing basis majority (sic)and minority because the latter sticks together and votes flock in. The truth is majorities run the risk of being wiped out by the minority-friendly governments.” This is music to the paranoia that fuels majoritarianism.

Manikarnika is supposedly a period film about a historic character. But as Padmaavat showed us, nothing in India is in the past. Everything is now. And in Manikarnika trailer, when Kangana Ranaut snarls Har Har Mahadev, face and teeth streaked with blood, one almost expects to see a Babri Masjid or two come tumbling down. But that’s another movie for another time.

Sandip Roy is a journalist, commentator and author.

For ThePrint's smart analysis of how the rest of the media is doing its job, no holds barred, go to PluggedIn


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9 COMMENTS

  1. Why everything has to be political conspiracy or some sort of political connections? Why can the author see the hard work and appreciate women to have her own view ? Why women have to justify for all the good/not so good?

  2. Just because Kangana openly supports the current regime, The Print will publish all nonsensical things. It is a movie, which every Indian should watch. Laxmibai was offered a handsome pension amount which would have ensured her and her son a comfortable life, she refused it. She knew there is no way to win this fight,but she also knew she needs to loose and die so that the generations to come could win the Battle. If a left leaning Swara Bhaskar be playing this role, Mr. sandeep would see no problem. Judge an actor for there acting prowess and not for their political views. As far as lynchings are concerned, they are unfortunate, but just as Dr. M M Singh was NOT telling the then UPA ministers to do Corruption, same way, Mr.Modi is neither encouraging or organising lynchings. Liberals are loosing sanity bcz they want everyone to Hate Modi. We voters are smarter than you would like us to believe. This article is such a shame.

  3. Is the author trying to give a guarantee that no one in India (whichever community he or she belongs to) does any harm to the cow either in the form of beef eating or in the form of slaugher for leather, despite knowing that it is a religious sentiment for the majority?
    If being secular means respecting one another’s sentiments, then shouldn’t these journalists put the question to the communities responsible vor disrespecting the religious sentiment of the majority?
    If being secular & liberal also means reducing unnecessary violence against animals like jallikattu, shouldn’t they also bring about the religious practises of certain minorities where the animals are slaughtered while alive and allowed to suffer until death?
    Isn’t it hypocritical when you ask these questions to one community while you fail to do so about the other community? That is why, this form of reporting is called pseudo-secular or pseudo-journalism.

  4. The author seems to forget that “Har Har Mahadev” was simply a war cry boosting the troops for battle. Why bring Babri Masjid out of nowhere?? Is that not instigating? I admire Shekhar Gupta a lot and watch his “Cut the Clutter” regularly. I will urge him to cut the clutter on this topic. A war cry is a far cry from what’s happening today.

  5. The author is clearly high on propagating his own agena here. Manikarnika is just an upcoming Bollywood film. It’s a wonder how the author has manipulated the entire premise to create a false and imaginary narrative to suit his own interests. Because neither Kangana nor Manikarnika seem to have any political inclinations or undertones whatsoever. And the British were the villains. Get that fact square and clear to your head. The damage they did to us in 200 years of rule, we are still struggling as an economy to overcome that exploitation. So there is nothing wrong in portraying them as one.

  6. The article is misleading and prejudiced. Kangana is playing Laxmibai who has not been exalted like other freedom fighters. Women on top portraying iconic women makes some people nervous I guess. Don’t assign agendas to this film and Kangana’s stellar work please!

  7. Kangana must be admired for her achievements and her ability to defend her beliefs and act on them.
    The author seems to be putting words into her mouth. She didnt say people should be beaten up for not standing for the national anthem. She never justified that. Neither did Sadhguru..they in fact categorically condemned the violence.
    In fact, shouldnt the author be questioning the totally idiotic order by the SC mandating the NAnthem be played in theatres? What sort of hyper patriotic silly decision is that?
    And then, after unleashing this madness, you expect no beatings in a lawless place like India, where we dont lack for violent people looking for a fight and where anyone with some muscle and money power makes the law comatose?
    On cows..of course she has the right to revere cows.. its part of our civilisation AND is a constitutional directive principle and a law. Everyone can eat beef, there is no law against EATING beef…but you cannot slaughter a cow in some states. In fact, everyone I know who eats beef has been doing so for decades, EXCEPT it is CARABEEF (buffalo meat) in states where cows cannot be slaughtered.
    So, dear author, please state facts, not fairy tales to suit your agenda.
    And yes, In India, we need to protect the cow as it is a symbol of our agricultural civilisation.
    Also, the environment will be better off without beef as a major source of food..the author would do well to inform himself of the latest scienceon global warming and beef. So, dear author, if you care about the earth and its sustainability, you will quickly stop eating beef. Its poison for the atmosphere.
    I am certain the author looks west for his intellectual fodder ( pun intended), so i will cite the example of the USA which has passed a law BANNING slaughter of horses and consumptionof horse meat for cultural reasons ( not that we need to follow the US but since most of the ideas of this author seem borrowed,i thought this example would resonate with him better) .
    And ACTUALLY, true liberalism will demand that you not stay out of lunch boxes but actually start to shame people who eat beef because it is simply unsustainable for this planet…yes, SCIENCE says so. Unfortunately, it is a fact.
    Get with the times, dear author. Your liberalism will not save Mother Earth.
    I suggest you start worrying about Mother Earth rather than fake ranting about Kangana as Mother India.
    Thats a real plan for the future …not this childish, school yard rant.

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