Bollywood controversy

First ‘Simran’ and then ‘Manikarnika’: This is Kangana Ranaut’s good-bad week

In a legal notice, Ketan Mehta has accused the actress of hijacking his project ‘Rani of Jhansi – The Warrior Queen’.

Kangana Ranaut is fighting on two fronts at the moment. She is defending herself from having taken undue writing and story credits for her upcoming film Simran. Another movie starring the Queen and Tanu Weds Manu actress is the subject of a legal notice by Ketan Mehta. The filmmaker has claimed that Ranaut stole a project that he had planned to direct with her and started work on the idea with another producer.

The project in question was launched as Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi, through a 20-foot tall poster and a dip in the Ganga in Varanasi earlier this month.

Manikarnika is being produced by Zee Studios and Kamal Jain and directed by Krish, who has previously made Gamyam, Gabbar and Kanche. Mehta told The Indian Express in an interview that Ranaut had agreed to star as the nineteenth-century queen a year-and-a-half ago. The film, titled Rani of Jhansi – The Warrior Queen, was meant to have an English version too.

Mehta said that he was shocked to read that Ranaut had announced the film with Jain, who was allegedly a prospective co-producer on the original Rani of Jhansi film. “We had shared several drafts of the script, all the visual material and references of the film and designs over a period of time with her,” Mehta said. “We had already tied up with an international co-producer and we’re looking out for an Indian co-producer.”

The development comes on the heels of the Simran controversy. Hansal Mehta’s upcoming movie is about a Gujarati housewife in America who becomes a criminal. The September 15 release is loosely based on a BBC profile of an Indian-American nurse named Sandeep Kaur, who became a bank robber to support herself.

Apurva Asrani, who has collaborated on the writing and editing of five of Hansal Mehta’s films, has accused Ranaut of eating into his contributions to Simran. Asrani is credited with the film’s story, screenplay and dialogue, while Ranaut has “additional story and dialogue credit”.

In an interview to the Mumbai Mirror tabloid, Asrani claimed, “I didn’t know that Hansal had promised Kangana part of the writing credit till I had finished the edit. By the time I got to know, the announcement had been made.” Asrani was dropped as the editor of Simran after the interview.

Kangana Ranaut and Hansal Mehta on the sets of Simran.
Kangana Ranaut and Hansal Mehta on the sets of Simran.

A Facebook post in which Asrani asked Hansal Mehta, who had chosen to stay silent all along, to “show some spine” finally evoked reactions from Simran’s producer Shailesh Singh, Ranaut and Mehta. Shailesh Singh said in a press release, “Apurva has a legal document in his possession signed by all parties — Kangana, Hansal, the producers and himself wherein he agrees to the credits given by us.” Singh claimed that a “printing error” was the reason for the order in which the credits appeared on the film poster. “If this is about him versus Kangana, I want to clarify that to please an actress; I’d have paid her more… Once the film hits screens, we will release the script online for the world to judge,” he said.

Ranaut told the Huffington Post that she hadn’t stolen anybody’s work, and didn’t want to be short-changed for her alleged contributions to Simran. “Nobody can take away from the fact that if Simran today is a story of a divorced woman, it’s entirely introduced by me,” she said in the interview. “If the film has feminist undercurrents, I included that... Even Apurva cannot take away from that, why should I be giving my precious time when I already have other commitments.”

Hansal Mehta too finally broke his silence and put out a series of tweets, declaring that “My spine is whatever it is, weak or strong.” The last word on the subject hasn’t been said yet.

Hansal Mehta's tweet.
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London then and now – As experienced by Indians

While much has changed, the timeless quality of the city endures.

“I found the spirit of the city matching the Bombay spirit. Like Bombay, the city never sleeps and there was no particular time when you couldn’t wander about the town freely and enjoy the local atmosphere”, says CV Manian, a PhD student in Manchester in the ‘80s, who made a trip to London often. London as a city has a timeless quality. The seamless blend of period architecture and steel skyscrapers acts as the metaphor for a city where much has changed, but a lot hasn’t.

The famed Brit ‘stiff upper lip, for example, finds ample validation from those who visited London decades ago. “The people were minding their business, but never showed indifference to a foreigner. They were private in their own way and kept to themselves.” Manian recollects. Aditya Dash remembers an enduring anecdote from his grandmother’s visit to London. “There is the famous family story where she was held up at Heathrow airport. She was carrying zarda (or something like that) for my grandfather and customs wanted to figure out if it was contraband or not.”

However, the city always housed contrasting cultures. During the ‘Swinging ‘60s’ - seen as a precursor to the hippie movement - Shyla Puri’s family had just migrated to London. Her grandfather still remembers the simmering anti-war, pro-peace sentiment. He himself got involved with the hippie movement in small ways. “He would often talk with the youth about what it means to be happy and how you could achieve peace. He wouldn’t go all out, but he would join in on peace parades and attend public talks. Everything was ‘groovy’ he says,” Shyla shares.

‘Groovy’ quite accurately describes the decade that boosted music, art and fashion in a city which was till then known for its post-World-War austerities. S Mohan, a young trainee in London in the ‘60s, reminisces, “The rage was The Beatles of course, and those were also the days of Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald.” The likes of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd were inspiring a cultural revolution in the city. Shyla’s grandfather even remembers London turning punk in the ‘80s, “People walking around with leather jackets, bright-colored hair, mohawks…It was something he would marvel at but did not join in,” Shyla says.

But Shyla, a second-generation Londoner, did join in in the revival of the punk culture in the 21st century. Her Instagram picture of a poster at the AfroPunk Fest 2016 best represents her London, she emphatically insists. The AfroPunk movement is trying to make the Punk culture more racially inclusive and diverse. “My London is multicultural, with an abundance of accents. It’s open, it’s alive,” Shyla says. The tolerance and openness of London is best showcased in the famous Christmas lights at Carnaby Street, a street that has always been popular among members of London’s alternate cultures.

Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)
Christmas lights at Carnaby Street (Source: Roger Green on Wikimedia Commons)

“London is always buzzing with activity. There are always free talks, poetry slams and festivals. A lot of museums are free. London culture, London art, London creativity are kept alive this way. And of course, with the smartphones navigating is easy,” Shyla adds. And she’s onto something. Manian similarly describes his ‘80s rendezvous with London’s culture, “The art museums and places of interest were very illustrative and helpful. I could tour around the place with a road map and the Tube was very convenient.” Mohan, with his wife, too made the most of London’s cultural offerings. “We went to see ‘Swan Lake’ at the Royal Opera House and ‘The Mousetrap’ by Agatha Christie. As an overseas graduate apprentice, I also had the pleasure to visit the House of Lords and take tea on the terrace.”

For the casual stroller along London’s streets today, the city would indeed look quite different from what it would’ve to their grandparents. Soho - once a poor suburb known for its crime and sex industry - is today a fashionable district of upmarket eateries and fashion stores. Most of the big British high street brands have been replaced by large international stores and the London skyline too has changed, with The Shard being the latest and the most impressive addition. In fact, Shyla is quite positive that her grandfather would not recognise most of the city anymore.

Shyla, though, isn’t complaining. She assures that alternate cultures are very much alive in the city. “I’ve seen some underground LGBT clubs, drag clubs, comedy clubs, after midnight dance-offs and empty-warehouse-converted parties. There’s a space for everybody.” London’s cosmopolitan nature remains a huge point of attraction for Indian visitors even today. Aditya is especially impressed by the culinary diversity of London and swears that, “some of the best chicken tikka rolls I have had in my life were in London.” “An array of accents flood the streets. These are the people who make London...LONDON,” says Shyla.

It’s clear that London has changed a lot, but not really all that much. Another aspect of Indians’ London experience that has remained consistent over the past decades is the connectivity of British Airways. With a presence in India for over 90 years, British Airways has been helping generations of Indians discover ‘their London’, just like in this video.

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