Aamir Khan, ex-wife Kiran Rao and Animal director Sandeep Reddy Vanga are currently involved in a three-way exchange of critical commentary, both implied and direct. In this, Aamir is a silent participant but also the fulcrum around which the controversy has coalesced. There’s a lot to unpack in the sequence of events which began with Sandeep Reddy Vanga taking aim at Kiran Rao in a recent interview. For context, Mr Vanga’s last two films – Animal and Kabir Singh – were both not just massive hits but also widely condemned for their glorification of misogyny and toxic masculinity. Sandeep Reddy Vanga has spent much of his public time since the release of Animal defending his filmmaking from critics who warn against the dangers of portraying violence against and debasement of women.
A break-down of Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s charge against Kiran Rao, her rejoinder, and Aamir Khan’s incidental involvement.
SANDEEP REDDY VANGA NAME-CHECKS KIRAN RAO
In an interview with Dainik Bhaskar, the Animal director targeted Kiran Rao apropos of an old comment in which she called out certain films for blurring the line between stalking and wooing. He told Dainik Bhaskar (translated from Hindi): “Today morning, my AD showed me an article. It is of the second ex-wife of a superstar. She is saying that films like Bahubaali 2 and Kabir Singh promote misogyny and stalking. I think she does not know the difference between stalking and approaching. When people read these things out of context, they tend to agree. This is entirely wrong.”
WHAT KIRAN RAO SAID LAST YEAR
In November 2023, Kiran Rao called for gender sensitisation at a session while citing a Tata Institute of Social Sciences report that included “stalking as one of the most glorified forms of wooing a woman” – films such as these do very well, said Ms Rao naming Kabir Singh. “Another very big film, which I find fascinating, was Baahubali 1(Baahubali: The Beginning). It started off with this exciting fight sequence, where this woman is leaping from tree to tree, and she is a warrior. But the hero delicately strips her of her agency and makes her just a fantastic romantic interest. I find it fascinating. It is (one of) the biggest films of Indian cinema,” she added, as reported by Times Of India.
SANDEEP REDDY VANGA NAME CHECKS AAMIR KHAN
Indian mainstream cinema has long been accused of promoting stalking and rejecting the notion of consent. Mr Vanga compounded his dismissal of a very serious concern with whataboutery, referencing Kiran Rao’s ex-husband Aamir Khan’s 1990 film Dil. “Main kehna chahunga uss aurat ko ki jaake Aamir Khan ko pucho ‘Khambe jaisi khadi hai, Ladki hai ya fuljari hai’ woh kya tha? Then come back to me. That is, matlab, if you remember Dil, almost rape attempt tak leke jaake usko ehsaas jatata hai ki isne galat kiya. Aur usko pyar ho jata hai. Yeh sab kya hai? (I would like to say to that woman, ‘Go ask Aamir Khan, ‘Is she like a pillar, a girl, or a firecracker?’ What was that?” Then come back to me. If you remember Dil, he almost creates the situation towards an attempted rape, and it makes her realise that she was wrong. She ultimately falls in love. What is all this?) I don’t understand why they attack like that before checking the surroundings,” Sandeep Reddy Vanga told Dainik Bhaskar.
AAMIR KHAN’S OLD APOLOGY GOES VIRAL
Soon after Mr Vanga’s remarks went viral, the Internet went digging and found an old video of Aamir Khan apologising for Dil and the Khambe Jaisi Khadi Hai song. “I am very ashamed,” Aamir had said in an interview with Aaj Tak – Dil, which co-starred Madhuri Dixit, was a huge hit but has since been accused of rape apology and trivializing sexual assault as a form of romance.
Aamir Khan said in the old interview: “Hindi films have not been responsible enough, especially the way we project men and women. When we show something wrong in the films, we also show that the result of it is something positive. Which is wrong. And we often make the women an ‘item’ in films. Even the songs are like ‘tu cheez badi hai mast mast‘. And even I am involved in this and I have done such films. ‘khambe jaisi khadi hai, ladki hai ya chadi hai.’ We are calling women ‘khamba‘ but not humans. I am very ashamed of it.”
A post on X called Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s attention to Aamir Khan’s apology for participating in Bollywood’s Nineties-era irresponsibility and asked if Mr Vanga would do the same for objectifying women in his own films:
Look @imvangasandeep#AamirKhan apologized in front of everyone for using “khambe jaisi khadi”song in Dil…will you ever do the same for showing women as objects in your movies https://t.co/22ypuOCTgbpic.twitter.com/bBBp7FjPJu
— RAJ (@AamirsDevotee) February 3, 2024
KIRAN RAO’S RESPONSE
Shots were fired by Sandeep Reddy Vanga and were answered by Kiran Rao in a recent interview to The Quint. Like the post on X, Ms Rao praised the actor. “There are very few people who would look back at their body of work and apologise for doing something problematic in retrospect and that’s really laudable,” she said, adding that if the Animal director had something to say to Aamir Khan, he should do so directly: “If Mr Vanga has something to tell Aamir, he should tell him man to man. I’m not responsible for Aamir’s work or Aamir Khan. I wish Mr Reddy would address his questions directly to Mr Khan.”
Kiran Rao also said that her inclusion of Kabir Singh as an example of screen misogyny was part of a general criticism of the way women are depicted in Bollywood and that she had not seen Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s films. “I have never commented on Mr Sandeep’s films because I have never seen them. I have often spoken on misogyny and the representation of women on screen. I have talked about it on various platforms at various times. But I have never taken the name of any film because it is not about the specific film. Why Mr Vanga has assumed that I was talking about his film you’ll have to ask him. I have never seen his film,” she said.
IS THIS THE LAST WORD, FOR ITS WORTH?
On X, the official handle of Animal posted indignantly, “We neither our director Sandeep Reddy Vanga are making any assumptions Ms Kiran Rao. It is a fact reported by a very big media channel.”
We neither our Director Mr @imvangasandeep are making any assumptions Miss @ikiranrao !
It’s a fact reported by a very big media channel.
Article Link 👇🏼https://t.co/dLKVn5pPO4pic.twitter.com/lJcLHmHwGJ
— Animal The Film (@AnimalTheFilm) February 5, 2024
So far, so complicated – it seems to be a self-goal for Sandeep Reddy Vanga given that Aamir Khan’s apology for Dil is available for public consumption.