Kangana Ranaut
Kangana Ranaut Image Credit: Supplied

Indian National Award-winning actress Kangana Ranaut remembers a time when she was derided for being too skinny in her 2006 debut film ‘Gangster’. A reviewer even commented that she looked like a ‘homeless person’.

She was barely 19 when ‘Gangster’ released and concepts like body shaming or bullying weren’t things that held any currency those days.

“All of it felt very personal,” said Ranaut in an interview with Gulf News tabloid! ahead of her release ‘Judgementall Hai Kya’, out in UAE cinemas now.

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Cut to 2019 and now nobody would be as flippant while writing her off. She’s as subtle as a sledgehammer and famously called out nepotism in Bollywood, accusing movie mogul Karan Johar of fuelling that system while on his chat show ‘Koffee With Karan’.

Raj has grown many folds since ‘Queen’. He’s constantly evolving and deserves the place that he’s in today … He’s so diligent at what he does. It’s always a delight to work with him and to go back to an equation that’s comforting.

- Ranaut on re-uniting with her ‘Queen’ co-star Rajkummar Rao

More recently, she slammed an Indian journalist last month for allegedly running a smear campaign against her. Ranaut is now tackling a selective media boycott in Mumbai, but reviews for ‘Judgmentall Hai Kya’ have been universally flattering.

While Ranaut, 32, conveniently skipped questions about her media boycott and that explosive press conference that saw her hijack the press junket for ‘Judgmentall Hai Kya’, she was game to answer everything else about the film.

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Ranaut, who’s fast becoming Bollywood’s most bankable actors, claims that she now chooses scripts that holds some relevance and isn’t interested in just spearheading ‘entertainers’ with no larger purpose. She has also declared in the past that she has no interest in being eye candy in films led by superstars such as Salman, Shah Rukh or Aamir — the Khan triumvirate that once ruled Bollywood.

“Whether we are talking about women empowerment, or nationalism, or mental health, I want to be a part of entertaining stories, that has something of a relevance to it,” said Ranaut.

Censor is a government body so I do not want to oppose them. I think we should respect those in that body. I definitely don’t want to crib about it. I loved the title ‘Mental Hai Kya’ more than ‘Judgementall Hai Kya’. But at least the changed title has the word mental.

- Ranaut on the title change as the original title was deemed inappropriate to those tackling mental health issues

For those asking, she isn’t anything like Bobby, her kooky lead character in ‘Judgmentall Hai Kya’.

“She loves sneaking around. That’s something so creepy and I couldn’t imagine ever doing that,” said Ranaut.

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Directed by Prakash Kovelamudi, ‘Judgmentall Hai Kya’ is a deliciously wicked thriller about an eccentric woman who’s convinced that there’s more to her tenant Keshav (a brilliant Rajkummar Rao). She harbours an inappropriate crush, all the while suspecting him of terrible things.

Excerpts from our interview with Ranaut, one of the biggest entertainers of our generation …

Do you remember your first glowing review and your first harsh one?

Reviews are very important and critiquing films is an art form. It is absolutely relevant, but there are some who abuse their positions. They tend to get personal while reviewing a film. Objectivity shouldn’t be lost while reviewing films. I think even actors, reviewers and journalists aren’t above scrutiny and should have utmost respect for their work ethics.

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Again, everybody cannot be seen with the same lens. There are some great reviewers out there and I look forward to some of their reviews. Might I add, there are people who are doing some great work as journalists, but there are some rotten apples in there which gives others a bad name too.

My first glowing and scathing review was for the same film ‘Gangster’. Some were kind to me and some were very harsh towards my appearance. Some liked my curly hair and some called it frizzy hair that they didn’t like. Some called me skinny, scrawny and that I looked like a homeless person in that character. Those were some harsh words. Back then, I was a teenager and I was skinny. They made fun of my body and my appearance. All of that felt very personal. There were kind reviews too who said that someone with extraordinary skills have entered the industry.

Why should we watch your new film ‘Judgementall Hai Kya’?

It’s a quirky thriller and that’s a rare combination. It speaks about a sensitive issue which is the need of the hour. It’s also a mystery with two very interesting characters in the centre. Why don’t you all just give it a try?

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You don’t play a conventional leading lady in ‘JHK’. How much of Kangana Ranaut do we see in Bobby Batliwala Grewal?

From the beginning of my career, I have not played a conventional leading lady like those who sing and dance around trees. All my characters are a complete in-depth study of women. Bobby is also an artist just like me. I identified with Bobby because we as artists tend to get carried away with our characters. We are hyper sensitive towards them and we are overwhelmed by the situations in the script. In that aspect I identified with Bobby. But her life is too turbulent and I have not been in extreme situations like that.

Did you have to let go a lot while playing this role then?

Irrespective of whatever character you play or whatever inhibitions you may have as an individual, you have to let go of it all.

For instance, Bobby is a very sneaky person. She is very suspicious by nature. You would have already seen the shots where she looks at a couple through their keyholes. She loves sneaking around. That’s something so creepy and I couldn’t imagine ever doing that. I can’t even hold people’s phones even if they ask me to check something for them. I have lot of respect for other’s privacy and their fundamental human rights. But you have to let go of such inhibitions as an individual and make sure that you do justice to the character as an actor.

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How would you explain Bobby to others and what was the toughest bit about the film?

Bobby is somebody who has Dissociative Identity Disorder. She tends to associate situations to her life to a point she doesn’t know whether it’s something real or a dream or unreal. Bobby was a very tricky character for me to play. The most difficult part about this film was the climax. It was draining. While Bobby is a fun character to play, director Prakash Kovelamudi wanted Bobby to be a blend of mysterious, yet vulnerable. She is a bit threatening and a bit quirky. But she is very likeable. He wanted to have Bobby as this contradictory personality. It was a tricky task.

There’s a huge focus on the importance of mental health. How will your film feed this important dialogue?

As a person, I am very responsible. When you go around making a film that has a take on socially relevant issues, you have to make sure that you don’t harm that cause. I know they say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But one needs to be absolutely sensitive to the subject that they are touching upon. ‘Judgmentall Hai Kya’ will be bring about a certain awareness to mental health. Mainstream cinema often shies away from talking about these things.

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Who’s the quirkiest person in your life and did you draw from them to play Bobby?

I have many friends who are ‘out-of-the-box’ characters. They are not famous people, but they are very quirky. I drew a lot of inspiration from them. There are several living, walking Bobbies in my life. That’s why she seemed so real to me. I am happy and fortunate to have them in my life.

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‘Judgmentall Hai Kya’ is currently out in the UAE.