Kangana Ranaut is a firebrand and she’s never short of ideas and words. Her upcoming film Dhaakad features her in an all-new avatar, toting guns, flaunting devilish red hair, donning slick costumes and kicking up a storm like a veritable international action star. While the teasers and trailers are testament to the ease with which she’s pulled off the action, Kangana admits she wasn’t sure doing Dhaakad was the right move for her career. Not just that, she’s equally candid about appraising her past self, referring to herself as overconfident and complacent. And in true Kangana style, she she even has a unique perspective on Hollywood’s The Avengers and other superhero franchises. Read on…
When you were growing up did you want to be dhaakad (strong and fearsome) or bhavuk (emotional and compassionate)?
It’s not like a dhaakad person can’t be sensitive and compassionate. And it’s not even that a sensitive and compassionate person can’t be dhaakad. The difference between dhaakad and brutal is that, a brutal person will have a single tempo, but a dhaakad person can rise and also be brutal for the larger well-being and it stems from the fact that he/she can be sensitive and emotional.
When I was a kid, the girls around me, which included my cousins and sisters, used to be busy putting on face packs after having read about them in magazines. I used to be quite disinterested in those activities. I remember, we were barely 8 or 9 years old and I used to ask those girls, ‘Who do you want to be when you grow up?’. A couple of them said, ‘Humko shaadi karni hai, humko toh bride bann na hai’. We were very young but I used to think to myself, how can someone’s life’s ambition be limited to being a bride. Those were the thoughts that occupied my mind. And it wasn’t like someone told me these things, not my parents not any other adult. But I used to wonder, how come these girls have such weird dreams about being a bride and getting a glow on the face after putting on a face pack.
Did you ever express about your dreams and thoughts to your family or your cousins? Did you ever tell them that you think otherwise?
I used to tell those girls, ‘What sort of dreams are these?’ but we were all kids, so their reactions were mostly giggles. I am happy that some of those girls have grown up and are doing well for themselves today. All my cousins eventually turned out to be career oriented but even as a small kid I used to feel that life should have a higher purpose. Life should have deeper meaning. I always had the desire to be dhaakad and I always dreamt of achieving something in my lifetime.
What was your first reaction when you heard the story of Dhaakad? What did you like about it the most?
The way an engineer looks at a project, a doctor at a patient or the way an artist looks at a sculpture or painting, likewise an actor looks at a film subject very closely. We analyse what kind of an animal we have on our hands and how will we control it and mould it. We think about how we can manifest what’s written on paper into real life. That’s how an actor approaches a character or a film. When I broke into the film industry with movies like Fashion and Krrish, I was enthusiastic about working on films like Tomb Raider and Kill Bill. I wanted to create something memorable like those characters and stories for Hindi cinema. I pursued active training at the time, I learnt martial arts and kick boxing. When I didn’t get those kind of offers, I still persevered and finished my training. I waited for 2-3 years that someone will offer me those kind of films. But once those offers never came I moved on to films like Queen and doing completely different kind of cinema. I forgot about doing those high-concept action films. Interestingly, 10 to 11 years later when I had moved further away from that dream, I was working on Thalaivi and I had gained 20 kilos, I was probably the farthest I could be from that childhood dream, Razy Ghai (director of Dhaakad) is narrating the film to me as I am plonked on a sofa weighing all of 70-odd kilos being as wide as I can be. And my reaction to Razy was one of disbelief. I had done action in Krrish 3 and Manikarnika, but at the time, at my age I couldn’t see myself pulling it off. You’ve noticed the way I dress and carry myself, I have gone through a metamorphosis. I thought about those mini skirts and the guns. There was a time when I wanted to do it, but when Razy narrated the film I wasn’t really sure. After Thalaivi I was taking up the role of Indira Gandhi in Emergency and I would also play Rani Lakshmi Bai. So for me, it was a 90 per cent no for Dhaakad because I was of the opinion that I would not be able to pull it off. The 10 per cent positive reaction was because of my past training with martial arts. I just didn’t reply to Razy for a few days.
But Razy was sure and persistent with his enquiries. He kept asking me, ‘Kangana will you be able to lose the weight?’ (laughs) I used to tell him that losing weight was the least of my concerns. I had my reservations about being able to pull it off, but eventually Razy convinced me.
Making a switch from 90 per cent ‘no’ to 10 per cent ‘yes’ must not have been easy. What convinced you to go against your feeling?
Even though I wasn’t convinced that doing Dhaakad was the right move, the old dream of pulling off a high concept action film for Hindi cinema, took me over. Razy played his part in convincing me, our producer Sohail Maklai played an important part in convincing me, too. He assured me that we will only put our best out there. The director and producer’s conviction gives you courage.
Action roles are physically more demanding, but how much emotional turmoil do they involve as well. Surely you must have to tap into your angry side constantly and that must not be easy.
It is quite challenging. You have to tap into extreme emotions while doing action. You have to express and feel a lot of pain, because anger is also an expression of pain at the end of the day. I come from a background of realistic cinema and if you look at Hollywood, too, actors who work in action films are different from the one’s who do drama. Actors who are action heroes aren’t traditionally considered good actors. That’s because action films are based on exaggerated emotions. Real-life action is a lot underwhelming. If you punch someone in real life they’ll probably fall to the ground and stay there for a few minutes. Real action will be quite abrupt and if you try to depict it on the big screen, the genre faithful audience will never accept it. That’s why you need stylised, well-choreographed action because these movies are based in a fantasy world. But it can get overwhelming when you have to hit people, slit throats, get punched multiple times yourself. Dhaakad has a never-seen-before 15-minute-long non-stop action sequence which was another challenge. We shot for that one action sequence for 20-25 days. Doing action can be a very emotionally intense process.
How important is it for you to be a trendsetter in every professional pursuit that you take up?
I don’t think about being a trendsetter. I just have an open mind and I ask a lot of questions. I always want to answer the question of ‘Why not?’ I genuinely believe that I can do anything that anybody else can. That belief is what has got me this far.
If you were to play a superhero, would you do it in a conventional comic book style, the way they do it Hollywood or would you adopt the Indian mythological approach?
I would definitely adopt the Indian approach. I feel the West borrows from our mythology a lot. When I look at their superheroes like Iron Man, I feel his armour can be related to Karan’s armour from Mahabharata, Thor wielding the hammer can be compared to Hanumanji and his gada (mace). I felt that The Avengers was also inspired by the Mahabharata. Their visual perspective is different, but the origins of these superhero stories are hugely inspired by our Vedas. They acknowledge this fact, too. Likewise, I would also want to do something original and why be limited to a via inspiration from the West.
If a young, budding actress of 19 years would come to you for advice today, what will you tell her?
I don’t know what I would tell another person, but I can tell you that the advice I would give my 19-year-old self would be to be out there and be more approachable. Let people know my story. I used to be very guarded and I would not talk to anyone. A lot of filmmakers have told me that they reached out to me for work, but I never went to meet anyone. I was truly lost. I feel I was overconfident and complacent. Even though I was struggling, I was very young but I still felt that people should come to meet me and offer work and not the other way around. I never spoke to journalists, I wasn’t open to interacting with the media. When people used to ask me questions I used to answer back with weird replies. I would want to change all those things about myself and it would save me a lot of trouble.
How was the experience of working with Arjun Rampal, Divya Dutta and Razneesh (Razy) Ghai on Dhaakad?
Arjun is a fantastic co-star. He’s got a great sense of humour, he maintains a very affable and easy environment while working. I appreciated all the inputs he gave for the Dhaakad script, too. He is a very focussed actor. Divya is an intense actor and she’s always inspired me, whenever we have worked together. Razy is a new age filmmaker and he’s brought forth some new ideas and a new cinematic language with Dhaakad and I hope it connects with the audience and he’s able to establish himself in an all-new way in the filmmaking business.