Looking back on 2017, one moment lights up Kangana Ranaut, the memory of it breaking her face into a divine smile. Collecting snowflakes in her palms outside her eco-friendly villa nestled in an organic farm in Manali on a cold December evening. For the 30-year-old star, it was another personal milestone—her farm has been nearly two years in the making. Turns out, the year was just as significant for her personally as it was for her fiery public persona, which has been a tabloid and front page staple.
In September, she started work on what she acknowledges as the most challenging film of her life, Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi, in which she plays Rani Lakshmibai. It’s a historical figure Ranaut looked up to during her growing years. Determined to do justice to the role, the actor performed stunts that left her with 15 stitches on her forehead, a visible scar and a painful ligament injury. As work on the film wraps up and Ranaut approaches her 31st birthday on March 23, we catch her in an introspective mood.
You’ve just finished taping for your film Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi, which left you with several stitches on your forehead and
a twisted ankle. Was it the most challenging film of your life?
According to me, Rani Lakshmibai is one of the most prominent feminists India has ever seen. Even before she started the rebel movement in 1857 and led an army of women, she fought for important things. She has always been an inspirational figure to me, and I have been meaning to do a film based on her life and times for a few years now. A few collaborations were in the making, but they fell through for various reasons. As director R Krishna and his writers (who wrote Baahubali) narrated their vision of Rani Lakshmibai, I literally started clapping—even though their story focused on the warrior in Rani Lakshmibai. I just had to do the film, and it required me to train under stunt and action director Nick Powell (The Three Muskteers, The Bourne Identity) in various disciplines for a month, including combat sword fighting and horse riding. This role turned out to be the most challenging one of my life. I got injured a few times during some death-defying stunts with real swords. Of course, they were blunt, but they left me with a deep cut on my forehead between my eyebrows—my bone was left exposed. But luckily, we were filming in Hyderabad and I could get a good surgeon to stitch it up. I also tore a crucial ligament in my ankle. This film has literally taken my blood (laughs).
Simran was inspired from true events, too. All your characters are strong, empowered women. Do you make a conscious decision to pick such parts?
It’s high time that as women artistes we started essaying these roles because we don’t have the right role models on screen today. Simran received its fair share of criticism, but the underlying message was that a divorced woman cannot be denied her right to life. I’m glad times are changing, and I’m getting roles to play that are empowering not only for the audience, but for me too. It’s very liberating.
You have also been a trailblazer from your family, being the first woman to start working in theatre even while you were in college and then becoming an actor on your own steam.
The dignity of women and children in our country is underrated. People feel that young children cannot be their own person. But the truth is, you become your own person from a very young age. I feel this lack of dignity and respect in the environment where I grew up pushed me to become who I am and shaped my life and career.
The other historical film that has been in the news is Padmaavat. Have you seen the film?
Honestly, I have not seen the film.
Swara Bhasker wrote an open letter to Sanjay Leela Bhansali on what she felt while watching the film, and many dismissed it as an attention-seeking tactic. What did you make of it?
As an artiste, I can tell you that a film’s story, theme and morale can sometimes be in sync, and sometimes, it can also be a sceptical paradox. So a film about great brutality can also teach you lessons in humanity. But a filmmaker has the liberty to tell his narrative. It’s up to him if he wants to make frivolous stuff or work with a higher purpose. Coming to Swara, it’s very disturbing to see how she is being called names and slut-shamed into silence. It only goes to show that society has become scared of the movement women professionals have started in this country. The people who are trying to silence Swara are the people who treat women badly; why else are they so affected by this letter? What is so offensive about it? She has written a courteous and decent piece. We live in a toxic society so hostile to women that unimaginable crimes happen against us. The only remedy is to give attention to women’s voices. I read somewhere that Mr Bhansali has said jauhar is the character’s way of winning the war. That’s equally controversial, and one of the most insensitive things to say. Why isn’t anyone saying anything to that? Do you see the sexism there? There is no reaction to that because a man said it.
“Whether a woman or man, you can be a feminist if you believe in equality.”
What does feminism mean to you today?
Two years ago, feminism was a word that no one wanted to be associated with in the film industry. I was asked pointedly on a talk show if I considered myself a feminist. I paused because I didn’t want to be perceived as a male-basher. But today, the connotation has changed around the globe and all we are asking for is equality. I feel we should encourage everyone to be a feminist. Whether you are a woman or a man, you can be a feminist if you believe in equality and in protecting your own rights.
You are also a screenplay writer. Are there any stories close to you heart that may find their way to the big screen?
I have a few ideas but I’m committed to my acting assignments for now. My next film is Mental Hai Kya, which is written by a woman screenplay writer, Kanika. The story is about a woman who could be a murderer or a mentally ill person. It talks about mental health, but also has a light-heartedness to it.
How does it feel to be on the cover of Femina’s Women’s Day issue for the second time?
I’m thrilled! Apart from being the largest women’s magazine, you all have been consistent in encouraging girl love. It’s really a Women’s Day gift for me.
For the last cover, you had collaborated with your sister Rangoli Chandel, who was your manager and spokesperson at the time. What’s your relationship with your sister today?
Rangoli has never been an ambitious person. She has always had a close set of people that she cares deeply for and confides in. And today as mother to her baby (Prithviraj), she is even more exclusive. This baby is the centre of Rangoli’s existence today. Sometimes I only get to talk to her once in three days. I feel bad that her priorities have changed today (smiles). And I don’t have the attention, love and companionship that I had received from her in the past. It was a big shift for me when Rangoli decided to separate and move back to Manali with her husband (Ajay) to concentrate on her family life. They are also building a hotel there. My nephew is cute and it was a special feeling when I held him for the first time because he bears an uncanny resemblance to Rangoli and me. But I cannot deny that I miss the old days with my sister.
Today, you are on your own in a manner of speaking, and you have conducted yourself well even when your paths crossed somewhat messily
with Karan Johar on his talk show last year. What have your interactions with him been like since?
We are not the best of friends, as you’re probably aware. But we had a professional interaction. I don’t mind a creative collaboration with him, even if we don’t subscribe to the same ideologies. I’m not going to miss out on a work opportunity over this. Also, as an actor I want to remain close to my audience through TV and digital platforms too.
Do you manage your own finances today?
Yes, it has been a big shift and I’m learning on the job. I filed my taxes last year with help from my chartered accountant.
What do you like to invest in?
People think property is not the best investment option today, but I have recently bought an office space in Pali Hill in Bandra, Mumbai. It’s not functional yet, but I want it to be clean and chic. I want a lot of natural stone, wood work and greenery.
Your eco-friendly farmhouse in Manali is ready, and you brought in the New Year there. Was it a dream come true?
I’m an environmentalist and I’m glad I could manage to get the house ready in December. The house is surrounded with a lot of cultivable land that I intend to use to grow vegetables and fruits in. I’m planning to grow strawberries, avocado, wheat, broccoli and kiwi.
“I want to have children, but my work will always be my first baby.”
You live life on the fast lane. Does it leave you with any time to have a relationship?
Honestly, it’s not about the work, but the person you are. It’s easier to find love during your growing years because one is so raw, undefined and easy-going. As time goes by, you want something else, and it’s hard to find.
What are your expectations from your partner today?
In my early 20s, my idea of a partner was more filmi; my expectations are very different today. As you get older, you no longer want to put the other person ahead of you. Your own fulfillment becomes important and you want someone who can keep up.
Your last relationship with an actor (Hrithik Roshan) ran its course, and the break-up was widely reported. Are you more cautious today?
I was cautious then and even the other person was. We didn’t have unreal expectations from each other. But, unfortunately, events that unfolded in his life pushed him to make false promises. It was not wrong all along. And it’s not that I could have helped him because these are events in his life. There are relationships where I had made mistakes but this one has to be one of the relationships where I was unlucky.
Have you met any eligible men in recent times?
Yes, I have, and I’m at the stage that comes before dating.
Do you believe in the institution of marriage?
I do. I definitely want to get married. I’m thinking more and more about finding a solid relationship and having a family. Meeting the right guy is on the to-do list. Frivolous dating and going for midnight walks and drives are not things that interest me anymore. I want to have children, but my work will always be my first baby. Actually, Prithvi is as good as my own baby.