I like Kangana Ranaut for refusing crores to endorse a fairness cream on the grounds that celebrities should have responsibilities. I wish the male hunks of Bollywood would learn from this wisp of a woman from the hills. But I have to say that Tanu Weds Manu Returns bored and irritated me. I came away wondering what all the fuss was about. It is the worst film starring this actress I have seen, whose unusual look had struck me years ago in Gangster (where the now-destroyed Shiny Ahuja was incredible). I thought she was more interesting than Priyanka Chopra in a small role in Fashion, where she played the doped/burnt out model. Queen, the film and its leading lady, were utterly charming.
What has set her apart is that she managed to break into the Bollywood big league without appearing as arm candy for a dominant male character.
Perhaps she has not been selected for such parts as she does not fit the conventional ‘object of desire’ look. If so, then good for her! No doubt, the prevailing divas, the Katrinas and Deepikas, are more ‘gorgeous’ in a vacuous sort of way. (No offence to Deepika, as I absolutely loved Piku, laughed my way through it, and came away with a mid-life crush on Irrfan Khan). But it was the script that was outstanding and Deepika always looks very nice but in my non-specialist book, she can never match the acting abilities of a Rani Mukherjee or even Kareena Kapoor (that’s when the latter is not doing item numbers). So, while Deepika was adequate in a terrific film like Piku, Kangana was good in the very average Tanu/Manu II.
But to hold Tanu-Manu up as part of the filmography that reveals the spirit of women’s liberation in small-town India is frankly ridiculous. The protagonist Tanu is empty and shallow, and sticks the unfortunate Manu in a mental asylum because he’s a bore and not giving her a good time. The film begins on this absurdity in the UK, of all places. Tanu then returns to Kanpur where, as a ‘liberated’ woman, she flirts with a rickshaw puller, a law student and a local feudal man. Just in case we missed the point, she appears in a bath towel in the courtyard of her family home to talk to visitors.
Then, a woman of greater purpose and character springs up (a deglamorised Kangana in a double role), but then is ditched at the altar for the shallow Kangana, because marriages are after all always made in heaven (never mind if your bride puts you in a lunatic asylum). There is a comic side-track of Manu’s sidekick kidnapping a woman who rejects him. We are meant to laugh through this section, although the film never tells us what happens to the kidnapped woman. In between this assault on one woman, we are given a rather well-delivered speech by a male actor against khap panchayats’ attitude to women in the Jat belt.
If Kangana is truly set to emerge as an icon who speaks up for and against things, she should read her scripts more carefully.
Political editor of Outlook and author of Capital Conquest; E-mail your columnist: sabasara8 [AT] gmail [DOT] com