In the desperation to appoint a feminist icon – triggered by a dearth of suitable role models and the need for an unfiltered take on politics, society, entertainment and everything in between – this generation had pinned its hope on the Bollywood ‘outsider,’ Kangana Ranaut.
And in defence of the people, Kangana fit the bill too. The Bhambla girl – Kangana hails from the sleepy town tucked away at the edge of Mandi district in Himachal Pradesh – had all it needs to script her own success story. Banking on sheer talent and a refreshingly different screen presence, the actress had even delivered a bunch of hits, without help from any of the three ‘Khans’ or other bigwigs of Bollywood.
And this success wasn’t all smoke and mirrors; the actress has three National Film Awards and a Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian award. But with great power comes great responsibility.
In 2017, Kangana made her now-infamous debut on filmmaker Karan Johar’s talk show Koffee With Karan and tore apart the host with words like “nepotism” and “movie mafia.” That’s when the actress found herself a new responsibility: she was the voice of outsiders in an otherwise close-knit and non-transparent movie business.
Demise of logic and a war of words
Cut to 2020 and things seem to have spiralled out of control.
Kangana, who was once the voice of the unheard, is now launching scathing attacks at fellow actors, field experts, and basically anyone who does not side with her. Her sharply-worded jibes on Twitter haven’t even spared the topic of mental health. Most recently, Kangana targeted actor Deepika Padukone and her very public account of dealing with Clinical Anxiety and Depression.
In 2015, the Piku actress had opened up about her struggles, bringing to light the mental health conversation, a topic typically swept under the rug in India.
“There were days when I would feel okay; but at times, within a day, there was a roller-coaster of feelings. Finally, I accepted my condition. The counselling helped, but only to an extent. Then I took medication, and today I am much better,” Deepika had told a leading daily.
Her story of struggles and failures, markedly unusual for a star of her stature, became a turning point in the conversation surrounding mental health. Soon, other prominent personalities – including actors Anushka Sharma and Ileana D’cruz - too shared their struggles, adding to the discussion. It almost seemed possible to have an open culture where mental health could be discussed with as much ease as any other physical ailment. That is until now, when Kangana, with one single tweet, derailed the conversation.
If people like her get their way they will put every extra ordinary individual in asylum, this illness has no diagnosis based on blood reports or body scans,anyone can gather a blood thirsty mob and declare one a psycho and get them lynched,stop using mental illness so loosely 🙏 https://t.co/zoYlGYBiiB— Kangana Ranaut (@KanganaTeam) August 19, 2020
With a fresh jibe in arm, the actress has launched into another verbal tirade on social media. Her latest post questions the authenticity of Deepika’s claims about Depression while making a leap of logic and basing opinions on the unverified claim that the Padmaavat actress suffered Depression due a break-up that happened 10 years ago.
“Yeh jo depression theory hai, yeh Deepika Padukone ji hai woh achanak se 2015-16 mein kehti hain ki ‘2008 mein mujhe dump kiya gaya tha, toh mujhe uska depression aaj ho gaya hai. Aath saalon baad,” said the Manikarnika actress.
A loose translation of this post reads: “Deepika is complaining in 2015-16 that she is suddenly depressed because she was dumped in 2008. She is depressed after eight years.”
Often, in the war of words, the impassionate takes precedence over facts. But here, neither is the claim factually verified – Deepika never mentioned a break up as the cause when she publicly acknowledged her battle with Depression – nor is the offhand suggestion, associating a time period with the symptoms of a mental health disorder, based in science. At most, this is a rant, and an insensitive one at that.
Why loose talks on mental health is harmful
Depression and other mental health issues demand active intervention, not loose talks. Especially in a country of a billion people where one in every 20 Indians are reported to suffer from Depression, according to the National Mental Health Survey 2015-16, it is imperative to understand the serious implications of casual diagnosis thrown around by unskilled, medically unqualified individuals.
A mental health disorder is not like a common cold; you cannot spot the symptoms by checking for a runny nose or temperature. Sometimes, people struggling with their mental health go about their entire life without even realising that there is more to the sadness than meets the eye.
“I have had signs of Depression since childhood, which came to light only when I decided to seek help for my anger management problems at the age of 25 - from a psychiatrist at NIMHANS. I was diagnosed with Emotional Unstability Personality Disorder (EUPD),” Aditi (name changed at request), now 31, tells MAKERS India.
“EUPD comes with Depression, Anxiety, and borderline Bipolar tendencies, which means mood swings control you with anger, sadness, happiness, and even euphoria,” she explains, adding, “It took me five years of medication and regular therapy to attain self-acceptance, happiness, and more importantly, the hope that I can have a "normal" life too. In my experience, mental illnesses can be genetic, and made worse by our living conditions.”
The truth is mental health – and the dialogue surrounding it – is much bigger and more important than a scathing Twitter tirade. And no one knows this better than Kangana Ranaut herself. After all, she was at the receiving end of a bitter controversy once, when in connection with her alleged affair with a Bollywood A-lister, the troll machine had targeted her with insensitive questions.
Is it fair to turn the barrel the other way around then? To attack fellow actresses – whether it is Deepika or Rhea Chakraborty or Taapsee Pannu or Swara Bhaskar – and once again fuel the “women and hysteria” nonsense? Or to set back all the progress on mental health in India in the name of justice for the deceased?
A luminous life is lost, surely, but a good fight is STILL the answer.
(Edited by Athira Nair)