I was talking with my friend yesterday about how hating Ranbir makes us all so happy, and it made me think that I should repost something to sort of give background on how myself and our small community has for a while been seeing him as a little toxic.
Back when Ranbir first appeared on the scene, I was vaguely excited because he was set up as the new Kapoor hope. There were lots of articles about how hard he had worked to prepare for his launch etc. etc., pretty standard stuff. The first movie was a joke, but whatever, lots of first movies are bad. And then his next movie was a big hit. And Wake Up Sid came out and I loved that movie, and most people I knew and respected in the Real World also loved it and Ranbir was added as one of many options as an acceptable male lead for a film in our minds.
I didn’t watch Rockstar and most people I know didn’t either, it wasn’t our kind of film. That’s fine, we don’t have to like every movie. I thought of Ranbir as some dude, one of many young actors, interesting family history and some juicy gossip, but nothing special. And then I saw Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and I looooooooooooooved it. It’s the kind of rom-com with a brain that I most enjoy, Ranbir was really perfect in the role, it was a surprise blockbuster beating out the Khans, and I got really really excited for what he would do next. I was thinking Ranbir could be another big fun star in big fun movies that I enjoy. I actually saw Besheram in theaters and was very disappointed, but it was a terrible script, everyone can pick a bad script. I saw Bombay Velvet, and started to get nervous. That movie was kind of a mess, but a pretentious mess, and the way Ranbir attacked his role was kind of….try hard? Look-at-me? Not good.
I watched Tamasha first day first show and haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaated it. I saw it with a friend who found it really touching and meaningful so, okay, maybe I’m just missing something. And I definitely hated his character so very VERY much in that movie, but that’s Imtiaz Ali, not Ranbir.
It was actually two things unrelated to Ranbir himself that flipped the switch for me into thinking of him as not harmless but actually toxic. And they happened right at the same time. First, I saw Jaggo Jasoos, the first movie Ranbir produced, touted as a huge HUGE deal. I knew filming had been a disaster, and I hated the end result film it had the same out of touch “my struggles are most important” feel as Tamasha, plus a weird central performance in which Ranbir infantilized himself. But what really turned the corner was the comments I got here, on my blog, on my critical review:
This is a comment I got in response from someone calling himself “moviedude”:
this so-called intellectual review is the reason why i don’t rely on reviews of random people to decide whether to watch a particular movie or not. thank goodness i watched the movie *before* i read this or i’d have had done injustice to a fairly decent, enjoyable movie by not watching it. i’m sure you’ll defend your review and some blind followers of you will support you but i have made it a point to steer clear of your blog in future.
Here is another comment from “Kabir”:
Seriously you are dumb. Your review literally proves that you have no knowledge of movies. Criticizing Ranbir? I am a student at the NSD Delhi , I have completed a year long film making course in NYU and a diploma from Lee Strasberg ( Ranbir kapoor is an alumni) . While pursuing the course in NYU I showed a bunch of Hindi movies there to the professors and students. All had one thought in common ” This guy Ranbir , he is a frickin good actor”. Ranbir did off-beat movies like Barfi , Rajneeti , Tamasha , Bombay Velvet , Rocket Singh and still you’re calling him an actor who don’t want to step out of his comfort zone. Even here in NSD everyone considers Ranbir as one of the most talented actors we have now. Most of the people in comment section haven’t watched Satyajit Ray’s work that’s why they weren’t able to understand this movie. This country is plagued by dumb fucks like you.
Coming to Jagga Jasoos , mark my words I repeat again mark my words. This movie is gonna go the “Mera Naam Joker” way . That movie was understood and considered a cult much later. You idiots don’t know shit about movies . I agree Katrina was not suitable for the role , and playing a teenager at the age of 34 ( you idiots are calling him 35) that’s called acting. This movie was one of the best Hindi movies I have watched ( my friends in NSD and overseas pals also think the same). So fuck off, this review of yours is shit
What shocked me was the tone of the comments. As you know if you are a regular reader here, our comments section has an overall tone of respectful disagreement. There is an assumption that everyone’s opinion is valid, and everyone has a desire to learn from each other. These two comments were completely dismissive of any possibility of disagreement, any concept that they could be wrong and I could be right. Or that I we could both be right in our own way. Or simply that I (or anyone who disagreed with their world view) had value in the world.
These were also not early comments. In the first few days after I post a review of a new film, my posts are high in the search results because there just aren’t that many reviews out there (especially with spoilers). I get a lot of first time readers who hop in just for that review and hop out again. For “moviedude” and “kabir” to have found me, several days later, it means they were trolling the back corners of the internet for Jagga Jasoos reviews, looking for people to either attack for disagreeing with them, or praise for agreeing. While their comments may have a tone of “you attacked me by forcing me to see your opinion”, in fact they were out there looking for people to attack, needing to enforce some kind of power over others at the same time that they re-affirmed their own role as “victim” of some kind.
That was the first thing that started to change my mind heavily about Ranbir. The realization that his behavior, his film roles, his everything does not exist in a vacuum. It is reaching out and influencing people in the real world and influencing them in a BAD way.
And then the second thing that changed my mind was the film Jab Harry Met Sejal. As you know if you read this blog, I looooooooooooooooove that movie. And part of why I love it is the sensitive way it handles the female character, and the willingness it has to judge and blame the male character. It’s remarkably even handed between the two leads. And it is directed by Imtiaz Ali, the same man who gave us Tamasha which I hated. I thought of Imtiaz as a selfish misogynistic self-centered director, based on Tamasha and Rockstar. I figured the movies I liked from him, Socha Na Tha and Jab We Met and Love Aaj Kal, must have been exceptions, altered by producers in order to be more universally relatable. But then I saw Jab Harry Met Sejal, a passion project, no alteration, and it was the same as those movies of his I had liked.
So that means, Ranbir Kapoor is the poison in the Imtiaz cocktail. Which made me go back and look at his other films that I had disliked and start thinking “wait, is it Ranbir who is destroying these movies?” I won’t blame him for Besharam, that was just bad judgement. But Jagga Jasoos, Rockstar, Tamasha, Bombay Velvet, is it that Ranbir’s demands and presentation of himself as the perfect actor, the perfect hero, the troubled artist, the one better than all his co-stars influenced the filmmaker to weaken all other characters in support of his?
This had not occurred to me before because the problem with those films, that only the pain of the privileged male lead matters, is so universal in filmmaking. I just figured a series of unrelated directors all had the same problem. The same with Ranbir’s presentation of his personality and personal life, lots of up and coming male stars go for a “I am so wise and sensitive and understand things others do not” sort of performance in public.
But eventually the data adds up. This many films for this many years all with the same problems, delayed filming, rewrites, and finally an end product that puts the lead hero’s struggles over everything else around him, and Ranbir is the only constant element. And this many failed relationships, this many times successful actresses have had their careers derailed by being considered just “Ranbir’s girlfriend”, this many times Ranbir has been positioned as the only young actor who can actually act, it’s not just the people around him making this happen, it’s Ranbir himself.
When the rumors of Ranbir’s series of girlfriends and series of cheating on them first started, way way back when after the Dips relationship imploded, my response was “what fun juicey gossip! And boys will be boys”. I stand by that response! Because boys will be boys, and also girls will be girls, and when you are in your early twenties and suddenly famous your personal life can get suddenly very weird. But again, the data adds up. Sonam to Deepika was an awkward shift, and then the Deepika relationship was handled very badly (publicly promoted relationship, and then sudden ending no one acknowledged or explained). But by the time he’d moved on to Katrina, that was too much. Too many times he dated a famous woman without providing any PR cover for her, any statements of support, anything. And WAY too many times he broke up with a famous woman without any support for her.
I guess that’s why I gave up on Ranbir. Time just ran out. No, nothing changed, he didn’t do anything different from when I thought of him as an okay new actor I was excited about, but the data just kept adding up. And it’s still adding up. The way he has treated Alia in his relationship with her, publicly being almost embarrassed to show affection? “Joking” about her in public conversations in ways that are disrespectful? Expecting her to show up to support his films, but never saying something to support hers. Where is the Ranbir quote about how amazing Darlings is? The best I can find is a response to a direct question back in July when he was promoting his own film Shamshera. Can you imagine Deepika releasing a film she produced and starred in without Ranveer saying SOMETHING supportive in public to help the release, on the day of the release? Or Aamir Khan about Kiran Rao, or Virat Kohli about Anushka, it’s truly the least a famous husband can do, use his fame and voice to nudge a little more attention to his wife’s passion project.
And now, possibly, time is finally running out for a lot of people. I can understand why it took a while for folks to hate Ranbir. I never super loooooved him, and I think that is because he never really courted my kind of audience (female). He’s never been super loved by lower class audiences either, which is why his films tend to flop. But there’s a difference between neutral and hate. Sure, the fanboys have loooooooooooooooooooooooved him for years, he speaks to their upperclass male privilege fragility. But most other folks I think just sort of didn’t care. He doesn’t make rom-coms, he doesn’t make action films, he doesn’t do fun public appearances or songs or anything, just ignore him.
His big mistake was marrying Alia Bhatt. Alia has as devoted a fanbase as he does, and it tends to be female, and it tends to be educated and feminist. And suddenly this new group of educated feminists who have, until now, probably ignored him because he really didn’t matter to them, are suddenly looking and seeing the same data points I saw. Seeing the toxic public persona first, the bit that overlaps with Alia, but I am guessing once Brahmastra comes out they will start seeing the toxic film persona too, and maybe eventually go back and look at all the years and all the things that slowly built up for me.
What is it that people are seeing in Ranbir? Well, now is when I repost the very detailed discussion I wrote years ago.
Let’s start with life as a little boy in India versus a little girl. In India, the reality that little boys are better than little girls, more desired and more deserving of love and just generally more important, is so accepted and widespread that there are laws to protect female fetuses from being aborted simply for being female. The documentary “The World Before Her” interviewed a young woman who casually talked about how she always had to be grateful to her father because he allowed her to exist, he chose not to abort her before birth. As he regularly tells her. To her, that was a great generosity on his part, to allow her life despite her original sin of being female. A girl is taught humility, shame, and guilt literally since birth. She is female, and that is a terrible thing.
A little boy is taught that he is special since birth. He is male, and therefore deserving of everything. When a baby boy is born, the family holds a celebration, complete with prayers and sweets distributed and everything else. When a baby girl is born, Indian culture has no celebration.
That is the wider culture Ranbir, and his fans, grew up in. A culture that says, as boys, they are innately better and the world owes them everything for their mere existence. But let us look at Ranbir’s more specific family culture. When Neetu, Ranbir’s mother, married Rishi and moved into the family home, she struggled with her husband’s drinking, autocratic nature, and casual infidelity. She went to her mother-in-law Krishna for help and was told, essentially, “this is marriage, deal with it”. Rishi tells a story of when his career hit a rough patch soon after marriage. He sank into a true depression, was unable to get out of bed in the morning. And, as he himself says, he blamed his wife for everything and that was wrong and he shouldn’t have done that. But he says that now, decades later. When Ranbir was a little boy, the behavior he saw was his father’s emotional pain as the center of the household, with his mother’s job being to keep him happy, and her fault being that he was miserable. Within the household where Rishi was raised, the expectation is that men have pain, men misbehave, and everyone else will have to try to understand and forgive their pain, will have to deal with it. In fact, if a man has pain, it is the fault of those around him, the responsibility is on them to always keep the man happy and the failure is theirs when he is not happy. That is the way of the world, men have pain and women deal.
Now, if Ranbir had remained a private person, I would pity him. A little boy who never learned how to be an adult because his adult male role models never showed him proper behavior, and the women around him indulged him. Of course he would grow up to fail at everything he tried and live off of his parents and grandparents. Of course he would be unable to maintain a real relationship with a woman. Of course he would have a strange shallowness and emptiness inside that kept him from ever being a real person. This is Ranbir, and this is his uncle Randhir as well, the forgotten youngest Kapoor brother who had one failed late in life marriage and spends his days hanging around the family studio or living with his mother (and Ranbir, when Ranbir was living with Krishna too). We see these people all the time, superficially charming men in the grocery store check out line who, you eventually learn, are living with their grandmothers, never married, and never held down a job. Lost souls.
But Ranbir did not remain a private person. That’s not entirely his fault. His family indulged him and told him he was wonderful, and that gave him the attitude that sent him out into the world and convinced others to feel the same way. Opportunities fell into his lap, and continue to fall into his lap, with no effort on his part. I would not expect someone as emotionally and intellectually stunted as Ranbir to understand the unfairness of this, to turn away the beautiful women, the choice film roles, the slavishly adoring interviews. But that does not mean I need to treat him like that as well. Most of all, it does not mean that my differing opinion of him is “wrong” or (as the tone of these conversations often becomes) a crime that deserves punishment, a sign of my inferiority as a person because I cannot appreciate him.
Ranbir’s family sent him to New York, where he lived for two years on his parents’ money, occasionally attending film classes they paid for. He went to two schools while there, the School of Visual Arts and the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. They offer completion certificates once you finish a class, I am not sure what certificates Ranbir earned or classes he finished. The School of Visual Arts also offers an undergrad program (which he certainly did not finish because it is 4 years and he was only there 2) and a Masters program (which he couldn’t have been in, because he was not able to finish college). The Strasberg programs vary from a 2 week course to a 2 year course. The application requirements are a certificate of completion from a high school program, a personal statement, two letters of recommendation, and a photo. And $75. To be accepted to the School of Visual Arts as an international student, you must provide proof of English proficiency and proof of financial ability (VERY IMPORTANT to them). And $500. Ranbir spent 2 years in New York and claims to have studied at both schools and made two student films during that time. What is not clear to me is exactly what and how much he studied at both schools. He says two student films, one 6 month course on “this is how you make a movie, this is how you turn on a camera, this is how you look through a viewfinder” would have given him two films. “Studying” at the Strasberg Institute could easily have been a weekend workshop or a two week course, at the most it was their one year intensive since he wasn’t gone long enough for the 2 year program.
So here we have Ranbir, a failure at everything he had ever attempted, supported by his family his whole life, arriving back in Bombay and handed a job assistant directing Sanjay Leela Bhansali thanks to his family connections. That’s odd to me, now that I think about it. Ranbir had already officially assisted on at least one family film production. And he had acting and filmmaking training (supposedly). Why did he need to spend time assisting SLB before he was qualified to start acting? This is usually promoted as his work ethic, or his dedication, or something. But that doesn’t really fit with everything else we know about him. It feels like more of the massaging the narrative to make himself always look good at the expense of others. Ranbir cared so much that he did Overseas Training, and then still wanted to train more in India. Not that Ranbir, despite supposed two years of training, was still not ready to have a real job.
Education and training can be one of the markers of both male and class privilege. Advanced education is a luxury not available to most women in the world, and most lower class people in the world. If you are married young, if you have children young, if you don’t understand the education system, if you don’t have the money, or simply if your family is not willing to spend the money, you cannot get advanced education no matter how much you want it. And then for the rest of your professional life, you are told “see, you are just a nurse, while I am a doctor. I am better than you, I am smarter than you, I care more than you do, because I am a Doctor”. When the reality is often that the Doctor is no better than the nurse, simply was given more opportunities because his family was rich, his family was powerful, or he is a Man.
Kareena Kapoor, Ranbir’s cousin, did not have expensive overseas training. She did not even have a training period as an assistant director. She started acting at age 19 and just kept acting. No one would have considered “wasting” the money on training her. Her family needed her to work while she was still young and pretty, if she was interested in learning filmmaking, that was just too bad. And yet somehow, for Ranbir, they found the money and gave him the time.
Ranbir struggled in his first film. It flopped terribly, but his father arranged a second chance and he finally got a hit. He had a series of hits or at least not bad films for the next couple years. And during that time, he fell into the proper persona for his characters and himself, a persona that would ring a bell with a large part of the Indian audience. The primary mover in this persona was Ayan Mukherjee, who became (and has remained) Ranbir’s best friend. Ayan’s film Wake Up Sid established Ranbir as a charmingly immature type, who struggles with pleasing his father, with finding a place in the world where he can succeed, with finally being appreciated and happy in his life. With learning to appreciate the great talent and power he has inside of himself and using it to “show them all” that he can do what he wants if he just gets a chance.
This is what Ranbir’s most popular films have all been about in the subsequent years. The young man who is special, but no one knows or appreciates it. The young man who has a talent that only other special people can see. The young man whose pain dominates those around him, whose pain is cinematic and beautiful and greater than anything else that has ever been before or since.
This is how Ranbir plays himself in public as well. I believe the stories of his difficult childhood, but I also find it a little odd that I know those stories. That Ranbir will sit down in an interview and talk about hiding from his parents’ fights. That he thinks this is something it is important for us all to know, not because it will say something about spousal abuse or have a bigger meaning, but simply because it affected him. Ranbir is in love with the idea of his own pain, his own depth, his own importance and “specialness”.
Picture a young man who, at his birth, was greeted as the promised savior of his family. Who was told by everyone around him his entire life that he is the most special person in the world, better than his sister, better than his classmates, better than everyone. A young man whose family sacrificed everything to give him an education better than anyone in their family had had before, who was praised over and over again for those accomplishments. And now this young man graduates from the school that he was told is the greatest school ever and everyone will be impressed with him for going there, with a degree that he is told is the greatest most impressive credential anyone has ever received, confirmation of his amazing specialness and perfection. And he goes out in the world and he can’t get a job. Or he gets a job, and his boss expects him to be respectful, to prove himself, to make coffee sometimes. Or worst of all, he gets a job and then is fired because he just isn’t very good. Maybe his girlfriend breaks up with him, or the woman he has a crush on rejects him. And now this young man watches Wake Up Sid, or Rocket Singh, or Tamasha, or Rockstar, and he thinks “that’s me!!!!” It’s not that he isn’t so special after all, it’s that he is TOO special, too much for the world to recognize. And then he goes and reads about Ranbir and learns that he had a series of beautiful girlfriends who he left behind because he was Beyond Such Things. And that he has an Important Degree proving that he is better than anyone else. And that his films aren’t appreciated, flop sometimes, because no one appreciates his Specialness. This young man, this disappointed confused man facing failure and the possibility of humility for the first time in his life, clings to Ranbir.
And now Ranbir is married and about to be a father. And what behavior is he modeling for these same young men in this new role in his life? Joke about your wife, barely mention her accomplishments, let her be the “face” of the family while you are the face only of yourself. Accept that in every circumstance your wife will now be asked what your opinion is of what she is doing, while you will never have to answer that question in return. Expect your wife to fold into your family, while you put no effort into becoming a part of hers. It’s a new phase of the same line that his fans were already on, get married to some woman who becomes an appendage to your life. And THAT is what is really p—ing off the women of the world.