Readers Write In #90: Why Kangana’s spat with the media is just what the doctor ordered

Posted on August 1, 2019

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(by PG Nair)

Unless you have been living under a rock there is little chance that you have missed Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut’s confrontation with a media person Justin Rao during the promotions of her upcoming film ‘Judgemental Hai Kya’ and the subsequent ban of the artist by select sections of entertainment media. Kangana responded to the demand for an apology with an unrepentant and brash video calling them out as paid stooges with no journalistic integrity who brazenly run negative campaigns and sell their opinion pieces to the highest bidder. She followed it up with a dozen odd interviews that consistently double down on her position.

It seems Bollywood is a world of open secrets. These secrets are not outed because of the risk of power centres being implicated. But it works only if everyone is complicit. Like the small boy who calls out, in the much loved fable, that the “Emperor has no clothes..” Ms Ranaut seems to have called out many such open secrets on Media Integrity, Nepotism, Misogyny, Smear campaigns and Partisan Criticism. In a world where image is everything, where stories of heroism is the product itself this showing the mirror on corrupt practices is very damaging especially for artists maintaining their longevity and status based on these tactics. You cannot imagine artists of the ilk of Irfan Khan or Ayushman Khurana or journalists like Baradwaj Rangan or RSTV’s Irrfan losing sleep over this controversy. Clearly it is harmful for her own personal interests and she could rule the roost if she just towed the line like all the rest of her contemporaries. So it is a rather selfless choice to be the instigator of change once an actor has had her breakthrough.

The other choice is to maintain silence from these problems and take a stand by not participating in it herself. But that does not seem to improve the situation and actually further worsens it to non-relevance. Popular awards are a case in point. It is an open secret that awards are given on basis of favouritism, attending, compering or performing at the event and not necessarily actual merit. Aamir Khan decided to refrain from participating in Award ceremonies instead of using his clout to call out the malaise. But that has not improved the situation it has just reduced it to non-relevance. Nepotism and lack of support for new talent also hurts the prospects of the industry. In 2017, 364 Bollywood films were released, more than 80% did not recover their cost, only 11 made more than 100Cr Domestic (USD 14m). Critical acclaim in International film festivals is out of the question. Even countries like Iran, Russia that produces less than a tenth of the movies we make in India have at least some showing year after year. But a fair argument can be that Indian films are original almost operatic so Film Festival appeal doesn’t matter. Still the artists of yesteryear have created a respected art-form which is watched from Egypt to Turkey and now of course the big dog China. Just looking at the numbers of a Dangal or Andhadhun one can say that there is an incredible opportunity to make good films and to make the industry many times its size and India’s biggest export. For this close door tactics, remakes and over-promoted sequels of aging stars have to end and new writers and creators from Kashmir to Kanyakumari should be found and encouraged. Various names implicated in Me Too have been open secrets for decades but the silence has caused an unsafe working environment for new-comer female professionals.

The biggest job of the media in a free society is to be a watchdog with unbiased unpartisan reporting that alerts us of the facts to form our own opinions. The fact that they have slept at the wheel with no fair reporting on all these macro issues proves that entertainment media in its current state, promoting mediocrity and convenient secrets, has failed. And so perhaps just perhaps these rabble rousing sisters are just what the doctor ordered to turbo-charge us to a better more vibrant creative industry.