If any reader is thinking that Kangana Ranaut’s Bollywood-bashing will run out of steam soon giving the nightly newshour shouting matches a much-needed break and leaving the BMC to do some actual work, then he/she is wrong. Because she’s only just getting started. Months after Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide, the pugnacious Queen star has been taking digs at “Bullywood” by attacking nepotism, blaming the Hindi cinema “mafia” for his death and even alleging drug addiction among her colleagues. With a steady campaign built on taking on Bollywood’s high and mighty — it skid off course along the way after her public spat with Maharashtra’s Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, with the high drama ending in her Bandra office being demolished — the Panga actress’ provocations have made her the biggest newsmaker and hottest social media property in India today, overtaking even pressing issues like Covid-19 and the weak economy. In her new avatar as an agent provocateur, Kangana has proved that she can get the eyeballs. To her fans and supporters, she has what they call “the guts.” The result being that she’s been celebrated as a feminist in these circles for standing up to Shiv Sena and having given voice to outsiders but more importantly, for championing Sushant’s cause and keeping the interest in him alive. To her critics, she’s a loose cannon and yet another bleeding-heart nationalist kowtowing to the Modi government. (She has denied playing the propaganda role). To the film industry at large, her vitriolic comments reek of ingratitude.
It finally took a woman from the industry to shut up Kangana Ranaut. That woman is the redoubtable Jaya Bachchan. Speaking in Parliament on September 15, Mrs Bachchan slammed such concerted attempts at tarnishing showbiz with a stern, ‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.’ “People who have made their name in this film industry have called it a gutter. I completely disagree. I hope that the government tells such people not to use this kind of language,” roared the Samajwadi Party MP. And the row continues, with the 33-year-old hitting back — this time, dragging Abhishek and Shweta Bachchan into it.
B for Bachchan, B for Blunt
In Jaya Bachchan, Kangana may have met her match. Mrs Bachchan is known for being blunt, a stark opposite of husband Amitabh Bachchan’s dignified diplomacy and play-safe approach to everything, especially politics. Jaya’s defence of her industry should not surprise anyone. Neither this is the first time she has spoken her mind. In December last year, in response to the gang-rape and murder of a veterinary doctor in Hyderabad, she suggested “public lynching.” In her Rajya Sabha speech, she raised concerns about women’s safety and crimes against women urging the Modi government to give “a proper and a very definite answer.” In 2012, she broke down in Parliament protesting the Nirbhaya case. “I am very worried about the parents of this girl. Everybody will forget but she will remember for the rest of her life. It will be a scar and a terrible mental torture more than phyisical,” she said at the time.
While Amitabh Bachchan has been famously guarded about his difficult relationship with Congress, Jaya Bachchan, on the other hand, was not afraid to express her displeasure at the grand old party to NDTV in 2010, “Congress has not been fair with me.” Contrary to her husband, who may have severed all ties with Congress but claims to have friends across the political spectrum (he even shares good rapport with PM Narendra Modi), Jaya belongs to Samajwadi Party’s socialist ideology after having made her political debut with them in 2004. Currently, she’s in her fourth term. In an industry that’s wary of politics, the 72-year-old veteran is the rare film star who has made a success out of her Parliamentary career. This places her in the same category as other successful stars-turned-politicians like Hema Malini, Jaya Prada, Smriti Irani, Shatrughan Sinha (whose wife Poonam contested from the rival Samajwadi Party in 2019) and the late Vinod Khanna.
Reportedly, it was the powerful duo Mulayam Singh Yadav and the late Amar Singh who drafted Jaya Bachchan into politics after Big B had sworn off ‘rajniti’ following the Bofors fiasco. Talking about her political role, she told author-journalist Bhawana Somaaya in 2017, “I like visiting the parliament, listening to the discussions and raising questions. It’s a stimulating environment and it opens your world view. I’m fortunate to have a home in both Mumbai and Delhi, and to be a part of cinema and the political world. Both are different and engaging.”
Run-in with paps
In the same interview, she calls herself “a free bird, too independent to be tied down.” That kind of frank talk explains why Jaya Bachchan is popular in the press. But at times, her strong personality coupled with her feisty attitude and candid demeanour have made her an “angry woman,” a sobriquet that once sat well on her superstar spouse. Paps often report of her “losing her calm,” whether slamming the media for addressing daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai as “Ash” (“Is she your classmate?”) or replying with an acerbic, “I am not a spokesperson for my family” when asked about her husband. On occasions, her honesty has cost her dear friendships. Even her own children are not immune to her attacks. Case in point: the time she dismissed son Abhishek’s Happy New Year (2014) as “nonsensical”, a statement that had reportedly caused a rift with Shah Rukh Khan.
Also Read | Jaya Bachchan defends Bollywood in Rajya Sabha: ‘To divert attention, film industry being flogged on social media’ | Kangana reacts to Jaya’s thaali remark, Swara calls her comments sickening | ‘Respect’: Sonam, Farhan, Taapsee laud Jaya on her Parliament speech
For doyenne Bachchan who came of age in the meaningful era of Hrishikesh Mukherjee (Guddi was her breakthrough), Satyajit Ray (she made her teenage debut with Mahanagar in 1963) and Gulzar (Koshish) and someone whose acting credentials were evident thanks to her stint at the prestigious FTII, lightweights like Happy New Year will definitely not make the cut. She quit a legendary career to start a family (she agreed to work with Amitabh Bachchan in Zanjeer when he was a nobody while she was a bona fide star) and even while remaining in Big B’s shadow over the decades, she has managed to create her own niche, first as an actor and later as politician. Kangana Ranaut’s admirers delight in calling her ‘gutsy.’ But ‘gutsy’ is a tag that Jaya Bachchan wears lightly, something that the younger actress would do well to learn.
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