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EXCLUSIVE: Kangana Ranaut On Accusations Of 'Stealing Credits,' Being Difficult To Work With, And Why She Doesn't Care

In her most definitive interview, Kangana opens up about the Simran row, the prejudices of the film industry, and why she'll never stop standing up for herself.

18/05/2017 7:06 PM IST | Updated 20/05/2017 10:13 PM IST
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Another day, another controversy for Kangana Ranaut.

In case you haven't followed it, Simran writer Apurva Asrani has accused the lead actress of the film, Kangana, for snatching his credit. In a detailed Facebook post, Asrani alleged that Kangana is taking away from his hard-work.

"For 2 months, he and his co-producer Shailesh tried to arm twist me into giving her a co-writer credit. The details of which I will reserve for the future," he wrote.

In a new narrative that emerged earlier today, writer Sameer Gautam Singh, in a Facebook post, said Apurva tried to take writing credits for the National Award-winning Shahid, while only coming on-board as editor.

In between this Rashomon-like scenario is director Hansal Mehta, who has so far kept mum. (On one occasion, the director spoke to this writer saying he's completely on Kangana's side. Asrani has called him 'spineless' for not standing up for him, and the duo, who've been collaborating for years, have parted ways.)

On top of the controversy is Kangana Ranaut. Over an hour-long chat at her Bandra residence, Ranaut broke her silence on the ongoing issue and also answered rumours that she's gotten increasingly difficult to work with. Excerpts:

You've found yourself entangled in an elaborate fight over writing credits with Apurva Asrani over your upcoming film, Simran. Tell me how this film came about.

When I was shooting for Tanu Weds Manu Returns in Gurgaon in December 2014, Hansal Mehta came to me with Sarbjit. A 15-page draft. I did not like it. He told me he'll improve on it and we jointly decided to work on it. Eventually the project never flew and someone else made it. But the idea always was to collaborate as I've been a fan of Hansal's work. I told him that if we align our sensibilities, we'll have a winner at hand. My intention was to take Hansal Mehta and bring him in a fun, slice-of-life zone. When he was in the US, he called me and mentioned a BBC documentary on a woman who took to a life of crime. He said he wanted to develop it with me in the lead. I agreed, saying let's work on this together. Apurva was nowhere in the picture. When I asked Hansal who's writing it, he told me he usually collaborates with his editor, Apurva Asrani, and that's how he came into the picture. Hansal assured me about his credentials saying he 'almost' wrote Shahid and Aligarh and being a fan of these films, I agreed to come on-board.

Compared to what he had written i.e the script registered with the Film Writers Association, how different did the film eventually become?

Apurva's story was this dark thriller about a drug-addict who goes into a life of crime. It also had a lot of flavour of Wolf of Wall Street with share market jargon thrown in. I made it very clear that if we're making a film with a budget of Rs 30 crores, we need to make at least 60 cr, to even break-even. With the kind of script we had, that wouldn't be possible as it'd appeal to very limited people. Hansal then told me that I was free to talk to Apurva and get the script tweaked to make it more accessible. Now let's make something very clear: actors are very money-oriented. Some actors even take money to cut ribbons at a store. I'm not dying to lend my creative ideas and writing ideas when I'm being paid to act. Actors always want to be blown away by a dazzling script. When that's not the case, you need to fix it. When I started collaborating with Apurva, I realised this isn't a writer who matches my expectations. And when I enquired about his previous writing work, I realised he hadn't done them.

Why didn't you object then itself?

Of course I did. I told Hansal that we need a team of writers and this guy cannot deliver. Yes, he did write 9 drafts but they became so many drafts because both Hansal and I shot them down.

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He's said that you loved every bit of it and...

.. I apparently jumped at those ideas because of how genius it was. Seriously? If it was so good, why oh why, would I have to do rewrites? This never ever happened. Yes, there were sessions but those were mostly me expressing my disappointment with the writing. Nobody can take away from the fact that if Simran today is a story of a divorced woman, it's entirely introduced by me. If the film has feminist undercurrents, I included that. The father-daughter track, the lover's track in the film -- these are subplots that I added. Even Apurva cannot take away from that, why should I be giving my precious time when I already have other commitments. It was a trying time also because I was shooting Rangoon at that time, a very difficult film. I had to do these things because I wasn't given a team of competent writers. Later on Hansal did a draft of his own and I could sense that he was under enormous pressure. He wanted to break away from Apurva but he couldn't. We did three drafts together and I still wasn't satisfied. I couldn't sense a spark. Finally, Hansal and I agreed that we'll fine tune this in the US (they reached there about a fortnight in advance) and I'll write the dialogues on sets.

The changes that you mentioned weren't part of Apurva's draft?

Not at all. Neither the divorcee angle, nor the love story, she wasn't even Gujarati or a housekeeper!

But he has repeatedly mentioned that he didn't want to make a dark, gritty thriller but a fun, lighthearted film. He also said that on seeing the first rushes, he was overjoyed because it was what he had written.

Not at all.

He saw all the changes that I made and now wants to encash on that by putting his name there. And he's been doing that in the past! Why don't you check with the original writer of Shahid. This is not an isolated incident.

Why wasn't Apurva kept in loop of the drastic changes that had been made?

I asked Hansal to inform him. I was warned not to get into it as he's a nightmare to deal with when it comes to credits. While in the US, I got into a car accident. My MRIs revealed that I had suffered some level of damage. I couldn't physically write after that. I told Hansal, 'please call Apurva as we need someone to do the writing'. Hansal didn't want to. He said if he calls him now, Apurva will lose it and not let us proceed with the shooting as the changes are significant. I didn't get into it as I thought Hansal will deal with it on his own as he shares a very long association with him. The guy who was tutoring me in Gujarati eventually wrote the lines of dialogues that I dictated. Hansal's son Jay Mehta also helped. I'll ensure both of them get credited under 'Special Thanks.'

At the end of the shoot, did your director, Hansal Mehta, genuinely feel that your contribution was significant enough to be credited?

Absolutely. And look, I also am a reasonable person. I don't want to steal someone's work. But at the same time, I also don't want to feel shortchanged for the additional work I have put in. Since co-writer was not an option, I settled for additional story and additional dialogue. The basic blueprint of the film was still Apurva's and he has been duly credited for that. What else does he want, I fail to understand.

As any writer, he feels it's largely his work while yours is a contribution expected out of any good artiste.

Do you really think I don't understand the distinction between giving suggestions and sitting and writing lines of dialogues? There's a fine line between giving direction to a script and actually, physically writing it. I did the latter. Initially, whatever happened, I don't claim credit for it. But based on what happened in the US, I very much do.

When we had the conversation about sharing credits, he lost it completely and drove everyone insane. This was when the nepotism controversy had broken and this man tells me, "Do you really need another controversy?" It was a threat. Basically he was saying if I don't shut up, he'll go ahead and tarnish my image as a 'trouble-maker' which is exactly what he has done despite getting the credit!

How were you processing all this?

We sat with him (Hansal and producer, Shailesh Singh) and signed off the legal paperwork where his credits were in place. He harassed us a lot during this. I was done. All I told my team was I want him out of the film. He was supposed to edit the film. Now he no longer is. He kept telling Hansal and everyone that I don't admire or respect him. Which is true. I cannot fake my admiration or respect for someone I have neither for. I have never done that. All Apurva is after is his two-minutes of fame. And try to plaster his name on my work. He can try to do that, but he won't be able to.

One argument that can be made is that today, you're in an influential position. You have clout. It's easy for you to have your way compared to both, Hansal and Apurva as the film sells on brand Kangana Ranaut.

Why is this just about Apurva and Hansal's feelings? Why am I being looked at in the same light as "Oh you're an actor. Set pe aao. Parrot what you've been told to. And go home." I am not that person. I'll never be. I have gone through films where I wasn't even shown the poster before it released. Not even the teaser, trailer, nothing. And then they were like, now you go and sell the film. All that makes me is a lying salesman who lies and lies and tells how great the film is until it bombs and everyone laughs at you for the clown that you are. Why should I go through that again? I will use my clout because I'm the face of the film. If an actor is so insignificant in the scheme of things, why put him or her on the poster?

But does that justify imposing your will unjustly on others? Did you ever get a sense that Hansal was under tremendous pressure to please you and hence he isn't standing up for Apurva right now?

I think it's very unfair to say that about him. More than mine or Apurva's, it's Hansal's film. To say that he couldn't tell the distinction of what he wanted to make is discrediting one of the best filmmakers of our times. To say that he was so enamoured by my charms and my stardom and get swayed by that is discrediting and underestimating a great filmmaker. I don't think that ever happened. He has earned the position of where he is and whatever I contributed, the final decision was obviously his and his own.

Kangana, there's a parallel narrative that says that the image that you've carved about yourself is at odds with your personal actions. Considering your past experiences with Aanand Rai and Vishal Bhardwaj, would you agree that your inputs are not always appreciated and that you can be challenging to work with?

At times, they aren't appreciated. And that is fine. I back off when I am told that my inputs aren't required. What can you do? (Kangana was offered Sultan but Aditya Chopra wasn't up for Kangana's involvement and hence they let go off the film). You know me long enough to know that I have never played to the gallery and said no to several so-called blockbuster films. Even this controversy is baffling as I have nothing really to gain to share credits with a writer who isn't exactly the best in the business.

Do you not think that the manner in which you are going, you'll end up isolating yourself? Eventually, it's a small industry and while it's admirable that you've constantly challenged the status quo and questioned the patriarchal undertones of it, you do need some people by your side, don't you?

I feel that isolation already.

I feel I have become a victim of my own image. With the Simran controversy, people didn't even wait to hear my side of the story and jumped to make conclusion. They had already decided I'm a vamp here, using my stardom to corner a helpless writer. But I'm glad that for now, my director and producer stood by me.

Understand again: Apurva is not fighting for his credits. He already has them. He's hellbent on not giving me mine.

You've said no to the Chopras who run YRF, you've taken on Karan Johar (Dharma)... as an artist who's yet to become completely self-sufficient, you do need these people (not specifically) to keep going... don't you feel that you're probably on a self-destructive path without realising it?

I'm an instinctive person. I am not calculative as much as you may think. I do what I think is right without thinking about the consequences or the distant future. Yes, it can backfire but that's the risk I take to be honest to myself, my craft, my work. And I truly, genuinely believe that if you are honest to your work, you'll survive. You may not thrive, but that's okay.

You are a wildly ambitious person. You want to act, direct, write, produce. Basically become a self-sufficient machine. Do you not take into account that you are trampling over too many people which could potentially threaten everything you want to do?

It's not that difficult to be self-sufficient. I am halfway there. And I'll see myself till the very end. Fortunately, I have the infrastructure right now and I'll create my own eco-system. I am here to stay. This industry is full of prejudices. I have come up the hard way and I'll challenge those notions come what may. I hope I always have this courage and I also hope that I have the strength to admit to my follies when I go wrong.

I worry that after years and years of challenging the status quo, when you finally have that power and influence, you'll end up becoming another layer of the same system that you fought so hard against. It's a brutal dichotomy but Kangana, tomorrow if you choose to have children, will you not want to launch them if they want to build a career in the movies?

That's an insane thought! And yes, I absolutely need to be worried about it. Will my children be like me or will they become privileged star kids? You know, like some silly people I fought against (laughs uncontrollably). No, seriously. This is worth pondering about. Will I give them a life of comfort or will I want them to live a life of hardships and make a life of their own, like their mother did? It's crazy. I hope my children are raised in a way that they understand struggle. With struggle, you build stamina to face the world. You've put me in an existential crisis!

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Hahaha. So is Kangana Ranaut difficult to work with? Is the end result worth it? Will she kick up a storm and try to overtake everything and everyone? What are we signing up for when we are hiring her? You've left the film industry in an existential crisis itself! Do you think a large part of it has to do with the fact that you are a woman and this industry is only used to women toeing the line and not drawing their own? I don't think Salman Khan is called 'difficult to work with.' He's just, well, Salman Khan.

Exactly. Our actresses are conditioned and trained to be a certain way. I am often told I am unlike any other actress? What's being like an actress? One who laughs on your sexist jokes, pouts for selfies, plays with her hair and flutter her eyelashes and dances to your tunes like a brainless clown? Sorry, I refuse to be that. Literally, every actress we have are smart, independent women but they're playing roles that is expected of them by a deeply patriarchal society. I'm just tired with this industry and how it expects people to massage their egos. I am done. I'm directing my own film now and hopefully that'll be much easier.

But filmmaking by definition is a collaborative effort. You'll have to deal with people, good and bad. You cannot exist in a vacuum and churn out films. Unless you are Woody Allen.

True, but it does offer you a greater degree of autonomy, right. In this suffocating environment that is good enough. I cannot tell you how good I felt when I signed my first directorial on May 14. I was happy the whole day. More happy than I have ever been. I wasn't that happy even when I was signed for Gangster. I hope this experience takes me to greater places. After all, I am just another girl, with dreams of living a glorious, glorious life. Not too much to ask, right?

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