Kangana Ranaut: In News, Not Fashion

Kangana Ranaut: In News, Not Fashion

The actor has lost her magic as a fashion muse. She has made herself quotidian, a rebel without a pause 

Actor Kangana Ranaut’s recent war of words with the Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut, with some statements defined by her newly self-styled patriotism make her a peculiarly controversial person in the current scenario. Comparing Mumbai with Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) saying that she feels unsafe in the city of her work has led to Ranaut getting Y category security from the Home Ministry, which reportedly assessed the risk to the star’s safety.

Does this political tussle, and the patriotic rewriting of her resume, hike Ranaut’s popularity and aspirational value as a “fashion icon” as she is often called? Or, will controversy-wary designers and luxury brands think before associating with her as a cover girl and showstopper?

After all, arguing with the Shiv Sena is not the only episode from Now Showing Kangana Ranaut, the high on octane, high on opinion drama we have been watching ever since actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide. Even while she admitted that she had never really met or talked to the late actor, Ranaut hit out at those who called him anxious and depressed, adding these terms were an unfair cover-up by a gang of industry “insiders” (allegedly Karan Johar and co) who enable nepotism to flourish in Bollywood.



Yet, once it seemed clear through investigations that Rajput did indeed have some mental health struggles, Ranaut went on to talk about the rampant drug abuse in the film industry. Crying foul, then crying wolf, going hyperbolic about the “outsider-insider” politics even as it was rebutted by actors like Taapsee Pannu, Swara Bhaskar and the veteran Naseeruddin Shah, brought more grist to the grind.

Misogynistic attacks on Ranaut or her getting bullied for her outspokenness are completely unacceptable. Yet, there are questions that come with her territory as a star who is also treated as fashion royalty. It is worth asking if fashion designers, jewellery brands and international luxury labels will continue to associate with a celeb who keeps adding new mythologies to the story of her stardom by mixing the political and the personal, thus confusing what she really stands for.


Photo: Sujit Jaiswal / AFP

Kangana Ranaut at the Vogue Beauty Awards 2018 in Mumbai.

Brands, Controversies and Celeb Endorsers

Mitigating loss of brand image when a celebrity gets mired in scandal is nothing new in marketing studies. The May-June 2019 edition of Harvard Business Review ran a story called ‘When Scandal Engulfs a Celebrity Endorser’. It cited a study where researchers began by examining news databases for examples of publicly traded U.S. companies whose celebrity endorsers generated negative publicity from 1988 to 2016 while under contract. The search yielded 128 incidents involving 230 companies.

The impact of allegations of adultery against golfer Tiger Woods in 2009 on brands like Nike, Tag Heuer, Gillette, General Motors among others which had endorsement deals with the player—many were discontinued—were studied as one kind. As were those that surrounded the late Kobe Bryant (the charges against Bryant were subsequently dismissed). Other smaller controversies were also researched to understand brand response. The story included an interview with Bob Williams, CEO of the US-based Burns Entertainment which has been matching celebrities with brands for two decades and changes impelled by social media came up. “Looking at a celebrity’s social media history is one way companies perform due diligence. It’s impossible to completely avoid the risk of scandal; few celebrities are squeaky clean,” said Williams explaining how companies react, why contracts are binding with quick exit clauses and how some brands handle it better than others. Nike for instance likes to recruit controversial celebrities, pointed out Williams, and it deals with controversy differently compared to other brands.

Ranaut, one of Hindi cinema’s most applauded actors in recent times is also among India’s most fashion smart and glamorous stars. She has an innate flair for making fashion look good. She can go from dandy and gender fluid to feminine and look stunning every way. She turns saris into dream drapes and gowns into Cinderella fairy tales. GQ India called Ranaut the “Queen of Hot” (May 2014), while Harper’s Bazaar India put her on the cover for a special issue on personal style (June 2018). She graced umpteen other covers—Femina, Elle India, Vogue India, Grazia…you name it. She has also been a showstopper and model for many jewellery and fashion brands and continues social media endorsements even for smaller, less known labels. French luxury major Dior invited Ranaut to grace the front row at the brand’s Paris Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2015 show.


Ranaut on the cover of GQ India magazine, May 2014.



Kangana Ranaut’s New Calling Card


Now the once ethereal Kangana Ranaut, a fashion “muse” for many has not only gone rogue about Bollywood (this is not the first time) but stepped down to quotidian quarrels and blame games. She argued fervently against nepotism in the film industry but chose to do so on a TV news show that routinely provokes controversies and only seeks conflicts. She spoke about mental health issues in the film industry in the context of a dead actor but without adequate information to back her allegations and claims.

An actor or a celebrity can of course be a climate change champion, stand up for a cause and have strong political opinions. However, once such a person allows this to be overtaken by one political party versus the other, one TV channel over the other, the magic of a muse is lost. Ethereal becomes real and easy to pigeonhole. That is what Kangana Ranaut has become today. A street fighter who protests the moment she spots a gap, but does so without enough factuality and objectivity. She has become a rebel without a cause. Unlike Swara Bhaskar for instance who has resolutely kept her socio-political dissent intact, has spoken seriously of pertinent issues but without getting into political blame games. Or the once upon a time rebel Aamir Khan, who found a way, through the television chat show Satyamev Jayate to express his social-political angst and raise the right questions.


Unmasking Makes a Good Cover Story

One of the reasons trouble, tragedy and dissent make a good story in the West and not just for political news magazines is because “troublemaking” celebs are open to shedding starriness in self-exploratory interviews. They may wear the best couture and shine bright but many are willing to take their masks off. In 2018, when Rolling Stones put actor Johnny Depp on the cover, the cover line left nothing to imagination. It read: “The Trouble with Johnny Depp—Lawsuits, booze and hash, a broken marriage, money problems. Inside the trials of the Hollywood Superstar.”


American actor Johnny Depp on the cover of Rolling Stone, 2018.


There have been many such instances. In 2015, Vanity Fair put Caitlyn Jenner (born William Bruce Jenner) on the cover after her sex reassignment surgery. It was hardly a sugar and candy interview. A trans fashion muse was born. In another instance, actor Clint Eastwood was billed the “Badass of the Year” on an American GQ cover in 2009.

Kangana Ranaut too is a good, badass cover story. But until she uncovers her objective self and chooses her battles, she will remain in the news, perhaps not in fashion.

Banner (L-R): Kangana Ranaut showcasing a creation by designer Tarun Tahiliani during Lakmé  Fashion Week (LFW) Winter/Festive 2016 in Mumbai, on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar’s India June 2018 issue; and wearing a Falguni-Shane Peacock ensemble at the Cannes Film Festival, 2019.

Sujit Jaiswal / AFP, Instagram/kanganaranaut

*The introductory line was amended from “rebel without a cause” to “rebel without a pause”. This article was published on September 9, before the Bombay Municipal Corporation’s demolition drive of actor Kangana Ranaut’s office in Mumbai, that was later stopped by the Mumbai High Court. There is no correlation between the events of September 9 and the views expressed here. This disclaimer is issued in the context of readers’ letters to TVOF on social media.