When did we first discover Twinkle Khanna? No, I am not talking about the awkward actor of the disastrous Barsaat. I am talking about the intellectual Khanna or Mrs Funnybones to be precise. The one who has a joke to crack on everything that matters. Be it Baba Ramdev or Salman Khan — no one is ever big enough to escape the sharpness of her political incorrectness. At a recent Literature fest, Twinkle Khanna described how her innate weirdness transformed into wisdom for people:
Earlier, people said that I am weird. Now, the same people call that weirdness wisdom. I am wondering if those people are actually weird. I wrote half a book at the age of 18, and also had a collection of morbid poems. For many years after that, I didn’t even write a diary entry. I thought I’d write when I turn 60, but a friend moved jobs and the opportunity to be a columnist came by. That is how it all began.
As far as I remember my lasting Twinkle Khanna impression was watching her gyrating hips in ‘Kamariya lachke re‘ from Mela as a 14-year-old. Those cringe-worthy moves in the equally cringe-worthy movie have somehow stayed on as a bad memory of my otherwise happy childhood. And now 14 years later, as a media personnel at a time when Twitter chatter is treated as gospel truth and social media humour is celebrated with words like “responded like a Boss” or “badass reply”, Twinkle Khanna has become huge.
Her contemporaries like Kajol, Shilpa Shetty, Sonali Bendre or Karisma Kapoor, who in their own time might have been commercially far successful in their game are hardly spoken about. Even if they do, it would be for something they wore to an Award function, where the cameras barely gave us a glimpse of them.
The queen of sass
Khanna–on the other hand–makes news every day and it’s never because of what she wore to an event. It’s mostly because she is pissing off people with what she writes on Twitter and her columns. Sometimes she’s running down Salman Khan fans, while on the other days she is taking on Narendra Modi’s demonetisation. Twinkle Khanna’s blog on “Roohafza-Colored 2,000-Rupee Notes” had us in splits.
Her banter with Chetan Bhagat, a best-selling author in 2015 was covered by every publication. While Bhagat took pot shots at her for her disastrous acting debut in Barsaat, she showed him his place by commenting on his decision to judge Nach Baliye. And as luck would have it, she is a best-selling author herself today, with two back to back hits. The first being Mrs Funny Bones, a compilation of her columns and her latest work of non-fiction The Legend of Laxmi Prasad.
It is not about pitting her achievements against her contemporaries. However, as a person for whom Twinkle Khanna was a bad teenage memory, I find it amusing how none of the other actresses have any relevance for me today but she. She has admitted to being a bad actress and if I am not wrong she nurses certain contempt for Bollywood for being quite dumb–it reduces your mind to the size of a pea, she writes in her book Mrs. Funnybones. For the longest time, she had refused to take the annual pilgrimage to Karan Johar’s show ‘Koffee with Karan‘, religiously taken by most Bollywood actors . Even when she made an appearance this year, she made it clear, she was not going to play the stupid game of rating actors and actresses.
At the end of the show, she asked Karan Johar some mind boggling questions like, “What does chloroform do?”. Yes, indeed, Karan Johar’s show is synonymous with what Bollywood often stands for — frivolity, gossip, and glamourr but never intelligence.
The flawed feminist
For most of us, it would be stifling to be trapped in the wrong profession. Imagine, for someone as intelligent and wacky as Khanna, working and dancing in Bollywood film would have been quite torturous. Unfortunately, she entered the field when actresses were merely treated as props in the films and Bollywood perhaps was at its intellectual lowest.
However, unlike most of us, she was lucky to have found her individual voice and make a mark as a writer. She was also lucky to have married a very bankable star, Akshay Kumar. On Koffee With Karan, at the cost of being mocked as a fake feminist, she admitted that she drew up a list of pros and cons before marrying Akshay. One thing that sealed the deal, she said, was the fact that Akshay was hardworking and money would never be a problem with him around.
She often repeats the fact that marrying Akshay Kumar was a backup plan after her big break with Aamir Khan, Mela, flopped. This does reek of the stereotype about women finding successful men to marry if they can’t make anything of their careers. But to be fair to Khanna, Akshay wasn’t even that big a star when she married him. Akshay has always spoken gloriously about the “luck” she brought in his life. Another of her favorite pet lines is: “My humor can’t even buy a packet of biscuits,” while Akshay’s films make crores. She underplays her achievement vis-a-vis her husband’s, again something feminists wouldn’t appreciate.
But that’s the thing about Khanna. She is not putting up a face of being the progressive intellectual feminist who couldn’t make it big in Bollywood because it wasn’t intelligent enough. The fact that she calls herself Mrs Funnybones puts out at the very outset that she is not just a married woman, but a woman who managed to guard her wit and humour despite marriage or at least that’s how I interpret the “Mrs” in Funnybones.
The interesting thing about Khanna is that she is a Bollywood insider yet she maintains the air of being an outsider. At the Times Lit Fest she said: “They’re (the Bollywood people)actually happy that I am writing all this instead of saying it to them at parties. That’s what I used to do earlier. They feel saved.” She is married to a superstar and daughter of the first superstar that Bollywood produced — Rajesh Khanna. Yet this doesn’t stop her from expressing her views on people associated with the industry. How many people in Bollywood can make fun of Salman Khan’s court cases? None.
For those of us, who have changed from absolutely giving a f**k about Khanna to admiring her as an achiever, it is hard to dissociate her from Bollywood. It is hard because even with her peripheral association with Bollywood, she is the lone shining intellectual spot in an industry that believes in dumbing down everything, a phenomenon her husband is guilty of as well. It is hard because we want more men and particularly women in the industry who could crack us up with self-deprecating jokes about her moustache and mock the prime minister’s obsession with the camera. Till the time we get more such people, Khanna will have to shoulder the responsibility of carrying the burden of intellectualism in a politically correct, mostly spineless and always witless Bollywood.