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Cover Story
January 16, 2010

A New Avatar

Text by Sona Bahadur. Photographed by Jatin Kampani. Styling by Nisha Jhangiani. Assisted by Rishika Roopchand

An actress with edge. A woman on edge. In her three-year stint in Bollywood, the anything-but-bland Kangna Ranaut has swiftly earned the mixed distinction of being both. With four releases – including the much-hyped Kites with Hrithik Roshan – due for release this year, the leggy looker appears to have left her turbulent past behind and fashioned a calmer, savvier sense of self. Verve meets her 2010 incarnation, a beguiling blend of soul and spunk

She’d make one gorgeous Neytiri. Were James Cameron to consider making a Bollywood version of his sci-fi epiphany Avatar, Kangna Ranaut would be my numero uno choice to play the part of the lovely Na’vi heroine. Her sleek, streamlined body, her dreamy (and slightly spaced out) wide eyes, the Zen visage…. And it’s not just her looks. She actually seems to have evolved enough to merit a place in Pandora.

Exit the raw 17-year-old debutante of Gangster who embodied turbulence and volatility both on and off screen. The lady who breezes into Jatin Kampani’s studio for the Verve shoot on this sunny winter Sunday morning is a picture of calm and poise. There’s much that’s different about Kangna in the New Year – high-profile releases, fresh energy and a great new attitude. It’s as though she has sandpapered the rough edges to fashion a refined version of herself (without abandoning her intrinsic DNA, mercifully.)

How did she pull it off? In a freewheeling chat, Kangna walks down the ten-fold path that made for her happier, more balanced 2010 avatar.

Own your past without regrets
Though Kangna established herself as an actor of substance with her knock-out debut performance in Anurag Basu’s Gangster, the Himalayan blunders she made in her personal life (remember her abusive relationship with former benefactor Aditya Panscholi?) turned her fairy tale into a nightmare. Today, she has learnt to let go and come to terms with her past. “Given a choice, I’d still prefer to have those experiences. I’d never want to escape them because they have made me who I am today. I’m so different, so strong, so patient…so intelligent. I’d rather have these qualities than just be someone who’s blessed and for whom life has been a cakewalk,” the actress muses. “Honestly, how can life ever be so easy, so predictable? People should be a little forgiving about what I did when I was 17. Some folks can be very judgmental. I want to tell them I’m a human being, not some goddess or politician. My three years in the industry have been such a journey. I’ve grown into a woman from a reckless teenager. I’m now more patient and calm. I’m happier with myself. When I entered the industry, it was a different world for me. I wanted to explore everything – I didn’t realise I was not prepared to handle it. So I got into trouble but finally I came out of it. That’s what matters.”

Meditate every day
Known to be temperamental off screen – her alleged altercations with her domestic staff and manager have made tabloid news in the past – Kangna insists she’s in fact the calmest, happiest person you’ll ever meet. “I’m a very good person to consult if somebody is angry. I have this effect on people. After they meet me, they never feel angry. The reason is that I’m into spirituality and meditation. I think every woman should meditate because we go through a lot of hormonal changes the whole month. At least two hours of quietness is needed for everybody,” she believes.

Experiment, experiment, experiment
Stereotyped, often derided as an actress who mainly plays only unsteady, troubled women on screen – Gangster, Woh Lamhe, Life in a…Metro, Fashion – the 22-year-old is confident that 2010 will silence her detractors. The actor points out, “People have seen just five per cent of me so far. The remaining 95 per cent is yet to come. Thanks to Fashion, I got appreciation, awards and a lot of offers. That’s how I have been able to sign a wide variety of good characters. No Problem and Knock Out are comedies.

Once upon a Time in Mumbai has me in the role of a ’60s superstar. I play a journalist in Actor co-starring Amitabh Bachchan and Lara Dutta, and a girl next door in the romantic comedy Tanu Weds Manu. My friends tell me that because the characters I’ve played so far have been so strong, somewhere people relate me with them. It’s like if someone does comedy well, people think, ‘Oh my God, this is a really funny person.’

But it’s been just three years. I am going to experiment more.”

Believe in talent
Vociferously proud of the fact that she has made it in the industry without a godfather, Kangna considers her talent as her biggest strength. She asserts, “Look at the actresses around. Somebody is so and so’s daughter, another is Miss World. But I’m here entirely because of my acting. In my very first film, I broke the glamour doll cliché. That’s why people respect me. While every other girl comes to auditions with her cleavage showing and coloured lenses, I go without make-up because I am from a theatre background and know what I am getting into. My teacher Arvind Gaur taught me the basics of acting in Delhi when I was doing theatre. So I have gone through intense training and that’s what all newcomers should do. They should not go to doctors for surgeries and spoil their faces for somebody. They should focus on their talent. Youngsters today think acting is all about looking a certain way, about silicon implants, about showing their butt. Nobody seems to care about talent. I want to set the example that actors can succeed on the strength of sheer talent.”

Find balance in style
One of the few stylish Bollywood actresses off screen, Kangna says her personal style is all about achieving the right balance in dressing. She feels, “Colours have to be balanced; structures have to be balanced. If I see a dress that needs straight hair with a ponytail, I’ll get that. If I feel I have to tie my hair in a knot, I’ll do that. That’s what I call balance. And that’s how I manage to look different every time. I didn’t have to work on my style. I am just normal. It’s just about wearing good clothes. So often I meet people and wonder, how do they manage to look so bad? With the best jacket, they’ll wear trousers that don’t match. It’s weird for me when I see people wearing clothes that spoil the proportions of their bodies. It’s as though they go out of their way to look ugly.  I don’t try too hard but I am particular. If I’m getting into my car and realise I need a scarf with a dress, I’ll go back all the way to my room to get it. If it’s on my mind that something is not the right thing to wear, I won’t be able to concentrate anywhere else.”

Strive for perfection
A self-admitted perfectionist, Kangna has an obsessively meticulous approach to her craft. Explaining her attitude to work, she says, “I first try to visualise the character in a certain way, what her childhood must have been like, how she is feeling at this point. Then I adapt to her state of mind and body language. If you’re looking the character, 80 per cent of your job is done. The remaining 20 per cent is your conviction as you speak your lines. You’re under those lights and in that frame and the belief that you really do belong to that place and person is important. And that’s where the power of your neurons comes in. To put everything together, you have to actually be a psycho and believe your role is your reality – that’s how a scene looks convincing. I’ll never ever accept defeat as an actor. I’ll fight for what I believe in it rather than leave it to destiny. I’m not someone who is in this industry to have an amazing career for four years and then settle down and have children. I’m here for a different place, to do different things, to go far. Rebel is too shallow a word. Fighter describes me much better.”

Adapt, be open
Taking yourself too seriously is a no-no. And Kangna believes, “Actors often make this mistake. They tend to play safe and that’s why they often end up looking the same. They become the star first, then the character. In my case I make sure my own personality is not so overpowering that it dominates my characters in my films.  I try to be very subtle and ensure my body language and behaviour is so neutral it can be moulded into anything. Even when I go to photo shoots, I don’t force my sense of style or interfere with professionals. Because one has limited ideas, one can only expand if one is open. I really enjoyed the Verve cover shoot. It worked beautifully. I love the whole hat look which is so period French. I liked the thin base, the fact that my eyes were not done up and my hair was so big. The best part was wearing clothes by new designers. There was such a sense of freshness about them. I have never done something like it before. That’s what made it so exciting.”

Travel solo
Space is important. Kangna, who grew up in a middle-class family, would know. On the importance of being alone, she opines, “As an actress, my assistant is always with me, noting my every move, making sure I’m comfortable. It makes me feel very dependent. Three years after working in films, I hadn’t had any time alone. I got tired of being watched all the time. So two months ago, I went to Italy all by myself and did exactly what I wanted to do. I went to museums, saw art, visited historical places. It was basically my time with myself without interference from anybody. I wanted to experience normal life – travel in trains and buses, eat on streets, sit on roads and beg if I wished to! Mumbai is so fast, you don’t even get time to sit and think if whatever you are running after is actually what you want. Is it making you happy? You cannot figure these things sitting here. The energy is different. You’re in a whirlpool that keeps sucking you in. When you come out of it, you go, ‘Oh my God! How much I’ve changed!’ For such revelations and to be truly themselves, all women need time out alone.”

Shed excess mental baggage
She might hail from a small town, but Kangna is surprisingly liberated in her approach to morality. She says, “Look, I’m not a person who believes in too many principles or carrying too much emotional baggage. There is nothing such as values in my life. If a decision has to be made, I just look at the consequences or whether I’d feel good after doing it. That’s my only way of judging a situation. I don’t hold on to anything just because it’s something my mother told me or my father told me. There’s no such thing as right or wrong. If something makes you happy, that’s the right thing for you to do. I’m not a scared person. I don’t believe in heaven and hell. I just have to be happy and convinced that my actions are not hurting anybody around me.”

Wait for the best
Endure what cannot be cured seems to be the lady’s mature response to the delay of her big-ticket film Kites with Hrithik Roshan. “No, it doesn’t matter to me that Kites has been delayed. I’d rather focus on the fact that making it has been a beautiful experience,” she states.

The patient approach also reflects in her take on love and her recent break up with her Raaz 2 co-star Adhyayan Suman: “Adhyayan and I were never really in a relationship. He proposed to me a week after we met. I was like, ‘I don’t even know you. Let’s get to know each other.’ We were just about starting to date, but it was all over that we were a serious couple. The pressure was too much. I got really tired of it. People are very judgmental. That’s one thing I don’t like about life in Mumbai. Recently, I went to my astrologer to ask her about my love life. She told me my shani is bad till 2011 and that no relationship would work for me right now. I asked her if she could guarantee that love will happen next year. She said she was a 100 per cent positive. So I’m waiting for 2011. Will keep you posted.”

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