Exclusive: The best performance so far has been Mr Bachchan’s in Piku, and Irrfan's: Kangana Ranaut

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When you meet an artiste who knows that the audience has indeed celebrated their best work, there’s a different aura- of contentment & artistic satisfaction- that they sport. Catching up with Kangana Ranaut after the release of ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’ stands testimony to that. As always she surprises with her candour. The actor par excellence has a freewheeling chat on her passion for cinema & personal choices with Archita Kashyap even as her romantic comedy with R Madhavan challenges box office norms.

With ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’, you have delivered a super hit mainstream film; with a much lauded double role. You have spoken about the elaborate preparation. How have you gone beyond the script in creating these two people onscreen?

I don’t know any other way, for me that is the only approach for every film. What really surprises me is that how much our audience is maturing. Our audience is used to seeing a certain pattern of acting and cinema. Now they are enjoying performances! Not just my performance, finer performances than mine; I think finer than mine is Irrfan Khan’s performance in ‘Piku’ is being loved by audiences. I am hearing housewives react to certain performances when they see them onscreen as ‘not real’ or ‘fake’! They look for a connect with real people.

In the West, sometimes an audience will opt to watch a film just because Meryl Streep is in it, or Daniel Day Lewis is in it; they don’t particularly care for the plot. They just want to enjoy the performance. And it’s not just movie stars; they have star directors and star technicians.

In our cinema we don’t yet have that. But the way audiences are accepting acting that feels real is definitely bringing in a change. For example, if you look at how people have reacted to Datto. Even in the women led film space- the heroine oriented film had a certain image; Be it a ‘Pakeezah’, or ‘Mother India’- the woman is attractive, looks and behaves a certain way. The one thing common to all of them is that they are aspirational, yes, but they are also very heroine like. But Datto? She is not like the usual heroine at all. Neither was Rani- she was shy, unsure & didn’t aspire to looking glamorous. Yet people loved Rani (Kangana’s character in ‘Queen’.)

After watching ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’, I was surprised that audiences love Datto- her choices, personality and even her mannerisms. A member of the audience said noticed the quirk I had added: each time Datto feels unsure of her; she flicks her hair. Some people in the audience actually noticed that! No one cared about Tanu- whereas one would feel that given the way Tanu dresses and sort of gets her way, audiences would go for her. But people actually loved the Datto part! All these little details and enacting a real character worked.

It felt good when some people said that my only competition today is with myself. I have worked hard to play these strong women parts; and when audiences say that, I know I have to keep doing this better; I think I have a lot to give as an actor.

Which of the two women did you relate to?

Well, it’s a requirement of an actor to relate to both of them, I have to get into the part to play it. Tanu is someone who always gets her way with everything. She is also impulsive and takes all her decisions based on emotions. Datto, however, is mature beyond her years- in emotional matters; she will take a react after thinking. She displays purpose. In that sense, I relate to Datto.

Having grown up in a small city with your striking looks, I would assume you were quite sought after; perhaps someone most boys would want to ‘date’; a bit like Tanu is.

No I wasn’t like Tanu at all! Tanu is impulsive and is a rebel without a cause; she never has a reason and therefore, doesn’t have focus. If you look at the first film, she was popular in college but never pursued a career or future. After she got married too, Tanu couldn’t make it work- she just fails at it.

On the other hand, I was very focused. To my parents and family, I was also the child who held promise for a bright future; and was quite intelligent. I was intellectually driven too. (Looks at sister Rangoli, and asks, ‘Wasn’t I’? Rangoli replies, ‘yes you were the one expected to be a doctor or an engineer or an IAS officer;).

(Smiles) yes I was the one expected to study further & do well. Now my parents are very proud of me having become a star; initially though when I chose not to pursue studies and chose acting, they were perturbed.

I had a rebellious nature of course, and that bothered them at times, but that was because I questioned standard thinking about women.

You see for men there are many ways to be- conventional, unconventional, smart, professional, emotional, and ambitious. But often for women- there is just one way to be- beautiful & not beautiful. Oh I hated that! How can anyone judge all women like that? That’s not fair. It is limiting. So the male attention- from seniors or boys- was always something that turned me off. I don’t want to be judged just based on my looks.

But you were always pretty- although a bit differently perhaps. Right from your first film ‘Gangster’, you looked striking onscreen.

You see I always looked quite delicate- my hair is golden brown, color of my skin and features. But I really couldn’t relate to this categorization- as pretty or not pretty. In school too, so many would pull my cheeks and compliment my looks, but I never quite understood that!

I mean I am so much more than just a beautiful girl- I would like to be known for my work & for my personality. There are so many other aspects to every person- judging them just on the basis of their looks is so limiting. In fact, in our films too, we need to stop doing that- we need to call some girls item girls & girls need to stop labeling themselves as item girls! With all the lighting, make up etc our leading women look gorgeous onscreen and then when girls try to measure themselves up to those standards, they don’t feel nice about themselves. The moment looks became a way of judging a person, a young girl’s growth gets limited.

According to me the most beautiful woman in an Indian film is Seema Biswas. That’s my idea of beauty- look at her deliver that performance in ‘Bandit Queen’. The way she looked in that film, and her role is extraordinary. Therefore, I have very different notions of whom or what is beautiful. When people judge me by my looks, I would rather stay away & not respond to such a limited worldview.

Why do we have two categories for actors- best actor & best actress- at awards? Why not just one? The best actor- or the best performance? Does that have to be divided as men and women too?

Speaking of performances- you did set a standard with ‘Queen’ last year- subsequently there have been women led films. Are there any performances that you really liked? What do you think of say an ‘NH 10’, ‘Mary Kom’ or ‘Piku’?

(Pauses to think); again I wouldn’t want to separate these as an actor and an actress’s performance. For me, I think the best performance so far has been Mr Bachchan’s in Piku; that is simply brilliant. It is real & honestly, very beautiful. I also think that Irrfan Khan, like I said before, acted brilliantly in it. They were so real.

In these years, there have been some good films yes; and these have featured a few good attempts.

6. Now you’ve set yourself a very high standard with these two films. Are there any actors that you would want to work with?

(Smiles). You know the one actor I really look up to, is Irrfan Khan. We almost did a film together. I am not sure what’s happening to that now, and I hope we do end up doing it. He gave me the hugest compliment after watching ‘TWMR’, and said, ‘how do two swords exist in the same scabbard?’ Which to me, coming from Irrfan Khan, is the greatest compliment ever! And it is true as well. Irrfan & I both picks scripts where we play powerful, key roles. Usually our films are written around one character; like Rani in ‘Queen’. So a suitable script for both of us might be hard to come by.

As for actors, my role has to be something I would really want to do. In the past too, I have rejected so many films with stars because the role wasn’t suitable; scripts have been sent to me. Usually with heroes, they want the most important role in a film and that’s how a script is written.

Tell me about ‘Katti Batti’. Is it a light romantic film?

It’s not. Payal’s character in the film is quite intense & layered.

So from one intense role to another- how do you handle the transition?

It’s a hard life really. These scripts my directors bring to me take out so much- they need me to give so much to these roles! Whenever I play these characters- Tanu or Datto- then I am just being them. I have no time for my personal life & myself! I am 28 and have had only two relationships so far; otherwise I have just been working.

Now I feel I need to take some time off & take it easy for a bit. I would like to travel, and just be myself. I need to experience regular feelings- maybe fall in love, have a quick romance, then suffer some heartbreak & sing sad ghazals (laughs). I just need some time off!

Finally, what do you plan to do next- after your break and films wise?

I will be doing Hansal’s next film. Its Not the Sarabjit Singh biopic. I would like to explore international cinema too; films wise, we haven’t even come close to the kind of work they have done so far. I don’t just mean Hollywood films, but movies with content & with global appeal; I wouldn’t mind trying to dabble in that. It’s fine to do very well in your home country but why not try to work in cinema outside too? I think I have it in me to do a lot more & do a lot better.

This Day That Year

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