Heroine power finally hits B-Town?

Monojit Lahiri examines what has taken both the industry and movie-watchers by storm .i.e. Kangana Ranaut’s 25 crore offer to do Tamil Nadu political icon J Jayalalithaa’s Biopic

Kangana Ranaut (Social media)
Kangana Ranaut (Social media)
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Monojit Lahiri

Let’s face it, guys. Kangana Ranaut is no ordinary Bollywood kudi. From a nothing-from-nowhere to Controversy Queen to Fearless Crusader to today’s iconic image-buster who assertively walks the talk, she has managed to do what no heroine has ever dreamt of even attempting: Rubbed both egg and kichad on the faces of every person – headlining stars and film-makers included – who once bad-mouthed, mocked or ridiculed her. In the process, she has shocked, wowed and entertained one and all! Not satisfied by shaking the crap out of the establishment and making them think thrice before taking panga with her [also name of a forthcoming starrer] she has now dealt the final blow – signed a Rs-25-crore contract to do a biopic on the late Tamil Nadu political icon J Jayalalithaa. While this jaw-dropping figure for the bi-lingual [Thalaivi in Tamil and Jaya in Hindi] tribute to trace the life story of the legendary actress-turned politician has attracted stunned disbelief, scepticism and admiration in equal measure, producer Vishnu Vardhan Induri is both cool and clear: “Kangana deserves every bit of this remuneration and we are happy to have her headlining our team. Right now the details are under wraps.

The film is being helmed by Vijay and is written by KV Vijayendra Prasad. We are both excited and confident that the project will attract the masses just as its iconic subject once did.” Fine, but the question that immediately comes to mind is whether this unprecedented monster fee can open the floodgates [purse strings] of financiers/producers to have a re-look at the discrimination and wage-gap between the Male Female Leads in B-town. Will Deepika and gang now openly rebel and demand bigger bucks or is there much more to it than meets the eye and it’s not so simple after all?

Celebrated Social Commentator Santosh Desai fires the first salvo. While he believes it certainly indicates positivity in the huge wage-gap, he wonders whether it will translate meaningfully in letter, spirit and action. “You must understand there is a larger issue involved here – traditional male mind-set, both in the Indian and Bollywood mindscape. Nutan, Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Nargis, Waheeda Rehman, Sadhana, Asha Parekh, Saira Banu are only some names amongst the dazzling parade of popular heroines of their time. In more recent times, Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit too. Did their pay-packets ever exceed that of their heroes? Beyond male mind-set lies another deadly, lethal issue - Market forces. Can heroines ensure or guarantee initials that heroes do? For example, Akshay Kumar’s Kesari is alleged to have scooped up a walloping RS 25 crore on day 1 itself. Can any heroine today ensure that – Deepika, Priyanka, Katrna, Kareena, Alia, even Kangana?

So that’s where we are. It’s the same in Hollywood. Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts maybe super popular, but when it comes to pay checks…” Veteran film critic Saibal Chatterjee is extremely sceptical about the fee. “Really? I find it tough to believe! Kangana’s last few films – Rangoon and Simran bombed and her much publicised Manikarnika barely broke even, so this crazy fee has no basis. She hardly has the panIndia drawing power of earlier stars like Sridevi and Madhuri who could pull movies through. My feeling is that the producers may have been seduced for other reasons…her uncanny ability to remain in the limelight through her sensational comments on co-stars, events and happenings; her image as this outsider, forever wronged by a bully establishment and her courageous confrontations to take them on and in the process earn love and admiration of a zillion fans who could identify with her new version of the Angry Young Woman!

Remember the loser-as-winner remains an eternal favourite for anyone loving the underdog,” he says. Everything considered, Chatterjee is not convinced that this move is likely to be infectious simply because “the likes of Deepika, Priyanka, Alia, Katrina and gang – despite making the right noises about wage-gap at seminars and forums – know what the score is.

Besides, they know what’s good for them and prefer to play it safe and cosy up with their 5-star directors and big Production Houses. They have no axes to grind and appear happy in the space they are. Pragmatic and grounded, they follow the rules of the game,” he adds.

So, will the Jhansi ki Rani’s pay packet break the rules and mark a paradigm shift in the wage gap of heroines? Will Kangana emulate Liz Taylor who’s charging a million dollars in the early sixties for Cleopatra send temperatures soaring in Hollywood? As a critic put it, “Kangana enjoys being scrutinised and megaphoned to a world which likes its idols shot out of a canon – and Ranaut unfailingly provides total ammunition!” Or will it just be a random one-off move designed to create a juicy media dhamaka? Your guess is as good as mine.

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