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Kabir Singh was recently released on Netflix and the movie still has controversies around it. Here’s this writer’s take – is the film anti-women, she asks.
The controversy around Kabir Singh never seems to die down.
Recently, Kareena Kapoor Khan said that she personally doesn’t believe in the character of Kabir Singh. That’s perfectly valid. I certainly don’t, either.
But she also went on to add that it was sad that people with dissenting voices were clearly outnumbered by the people who loved the film. For the record, Kareena Kapoor Khan hasn’t watched the movie yet.
But, I finally watched Kabir Singh. I must admit that it was sheer peer pressure that made me watch it.
I’ve been coaxed to watch Arjun Reddy, the original Telugu version, by so many of my friends and acquaintances. I’ve been putting it off for several reasons. I found the trailer and some scenes quite cringe-y and off-putting, to be honest. Then came Kabir Singh, and there was a barrage of strongly opinionated articles for and against the movie.
Now, I was intrigued. There was Sucharita Tyagi’s hilarious Not A Movie Review version. Rajeev Masand’s review, and Anupama Chopra infamous interview of Sandeep Reddy Vanga, the director.
I must admit that a lot of my friends loved both Arjun Reddy and Kabir Singh. Ironically, most of them women. I decided to finally cave into peer pressure and watch the movie to know what the fuss was all about.
I forcefully sat through the entire movie. Forcefully because I’ve outgrown juvenile love-stories. I was never into the romance genre, to be honest. Even as a teen, I couldn’t get past the first few pages of Mills & Boons, no matter how hard I tried.
I was that hopeless. But yes, I enjoyed watching Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Dil Toh Pagal Hai back then. Don’t ask me to sit through those movies now, I’ve entirely outgrown them.
But I can see why Arjun Reddy or Kabir Singh became such a massive hit. It got a lot of things right. And it keeps its love story raw and real. Flawed and relatable.
Kabir Singh, the protagonist, is not your typical Bollywood hero. He has cockiness plastered on his face 24/7, he is brutally honest to the point of being outrightly rude and offensive. Think Trump! Clearly not a likeable or remotely loveable character. ‘Despicable Me’ would be an apt description for Kabir Singh.
Kabir Singh is supposedly a prodigy. An academic topper, whose astutely sharp with serious anger management issues. He’s masculinity personified. No one messes with him — not even senior professors at his university. Add to that he’s a good-looking guy. Let’s get real here! I’m not sure how many women will refuse a handsome achiever despite personality flaws.
Anyway, in walks Priti. One day, out-of-the-blue, when he decides to quit his college. They exchange intense glances, and he’s forever hooked. He tears up his resignation letter and resumes college to get closer to Priti.
No. Priti is anything but a docile doormat.
If you watch their first encounter, she matches Kabir’s glance, eye-to-eye. She’s as interested in Kabir as he’s in her. What’s more is that, she expresses her intent clearly through her come-hither looks. And Kabir takes the cue and plays along.
Kabir goes around, marking his territory and wards off all potential suitors in the college. Now, does Priti protest? No. She plays along willingly because she loves Kabir as well. If not more. Just because Kabir is the more vocally expressive one, we see that. But Priti is just as possessive and madly in love with Kabir.
When he kisses her publicly, she doesn’t protest, when they are working together, she makes the first move. She holds his hand, indicating that she wants to get closer physically to him. When they part, she doesn’t want to let go of Kabir. She comes all the way to where he is and demands that he kisses her publicly.
If you ask me, Priti is the boss in the relationship. Everyone else fears Kabir and bows down to him, but not Priti. Priti knows precisely what buttons to push. Kabir Singh is like a remote control in her hand. A deadly one at that.
Now, let’s get to the slapping business. Much ado over nothing if you ask me. Priti slaps Kabir first when they are about to part. Then there’s another scene where her father strongly disapproves of her relationship with Kabir, and Kabir slaps Priti for failing to stand up for their relationship. He tells her,
“What do you want me to do? Where is that woman in you? You look at me like you own me. Be that woman in front of your father and tell him that this is no college puppy love but the real deal.”
When she refuses to take a stand in front of her father, he slaps her and gives her 6 hours to make up her mind. Or he curses her to live a life of her father’s choice.
And then in the climax scene, Priti slaps Kabir hard several times. So the score is Priti vs Kabir: 2-1. Priti’s the clear winner in the slapping game. On a serious note though, from a writer’s perspective, the slaps were in each of those scenes for a clear purpose. It wasn’t glorification of violence, but of human nature, and failing.
And then, you know, the cliched twist kicks into the plot here. Kabir learns that Priti is married, tries hard to stop the wedding but to no avail. All hell breaks loose after that.
Kabir is an emotional wreck. He tries taking refuge in cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, and even women. There’s an actress who comes in as a patient. And he makes an indecent proposal to her – to have a strictly physical relationship and nothing more. The minute she starts talking of love, he gets mad and abandons her without even thinking twice. I told you, not a very likeable guy! But, he’s honest. True to his character, he doesn’t try to hoodwink the actress or bed her with soothing lies.
Without Priti, he is an emotional wreck and turns into a beast. He’s desperate for Priti to the extent that he wants her back at any cost. Then, he learns that she’s pregnant with another man’s (read her husband) child. And yet he goes in search of her with the hopes of winning her back. He wants to convince her to leave her husband and go with him. Crazy as he is, he says he’d be the father to her child. Crazy, I know!
In the climax, we have a pregnant Priti and desperate Kabir. Priti is livid when she sees him. She asks him to go away from her sight and that she doesn’t have anything to do with him anymore. Kabir pleads with her to talk to him just once.
They have a heart-to-heart talk where Priti stands her ground. She blasts Kabir for having the nerve to curse her to live with her father’s choice. And his nerve to give her only 6 hours to make up her mind knowing fully well the restrictions imposed on her at home.
She tells him that he brought it upon himself, so why cry over spilled milk now? Then, she asks him to go back to his actress girlfriend and get out of her sight. But Priti sees a desolate Kabir and calls him back. Asks him to come closer to her and then reveals the truth about how she’s pregnant with his child. She, then tells him, how she left the marriage after three days but didn’t go back to Kabir after seeing reports of his affair with an actress in the paper.
So, we have a level playing field here. Kabir, who evolved from being the guy who went around marking his territory and bashing guys who dared to touch his bandi (girl) to the same who accepted that Priti, is now married and pregnant with another man’ child. And there’s Priti who doesn’t go back to Kabir after learning of his affair with another woman. However, she does let him back in her life after meeting and gauging him herself.
So, you see, Kabir Singh is not your typical Karan Johar or Yash Chopra love story. But it’s still a love story that celebrates monogamy. A rarity in today’s times. This is the USP of the movie and the reason it clicked in such a big way.
Kabir Singh might not be my cup of tea. Too much melodrama for my liking. But he’s a character with some veritable strengths like honesty and courage along with some concerning flaws. Kabir Singh is a very dark and complex character. The last protagonist I saw who was messed up was Ved, played by Ranbir Kapoor in Tamasha.
Overall, I found most of the criticism for the movie unwarranted except a few which were valid. There’s a body-shaming scene in the film where Kabir tells Priti which girlfriend she must choose. That scene was shameful.
There were other cringe-y scenes in the movie too. Like the scene, where Kabir chases the maidservant or forces a woman to undress at knifepoint! The former scene was supposed to be funny, but I found the joke in very poor taste. The latter scene was plain despicable. ‘Despicable me’ protagonist, remember?
But, there are girls like Priti who fall in love with guys like Kabir (sans the prodigious achiever part). I know of such women, and you wonder why! It’s their choice and life. So, all you can do is wish them well and hope they live happily ever after. I would never remotely date a guy like Kabir Singh, leave alone marrying him. So, you know my stand here.
Coming to the performances, much has been raved about Shahid’s acting. No doubt, he essays his role convincingly. But I found Kiara’s acting subtle and nuanced. Wonder why not much has been spoken about her performance. Contrary to some reviews, she has enough lines in the movie.
She plays a screened character who is the stark opposite of Kabir. As Priti, she talks less and is less expressive. But that doesn’t make her dumb or a doormat. Priti doesn’t protest when Kabir kisses her on the cheek the same day they first meet. But, she is broken and angry when another guy puts Holi colours her. You can see her anger as Kabir stands up for her modesty and thrashes the guy. She’s just as feisty as Kabir Singh, but differently. Their chemistry is good in the movie.
From a writer’s perspective alone, Sandeep Reddy Vanga has crafted an interesting love story. A sugary DDLJ or KKHH won’t work in today’s times. Arjun Reddy or Kabir Singh is a dark and deliciously twisted love story. Songs are a crucial aspect of a romantic movie. Vanga takes care of that department, as well.
As I said earlier, had it not been for peer pressure and the heated media debates over the movie, I would have never watched Kabir Singh. It’s just not my cup of tea or love-story. Because real life is not a phillum.
What if Priti’s child was her husband’s and not Kabir’s?
Or what if Priti fell in love with her husband and found him a better choice than Kabir?
What if Kabir found out that Priti has moved on with her life?
Would he resort to blackmailing and kidnapping her?
Or would he go into a self-destruction mode and kill himself?
Would he end up being a cynical Joker, losing faith in all women and a psychopath who goes around murdering his female patients?
Or would Kabir Singh meet another woman, fall in love, and live happily ever after?
A version of this was first published here.
Picture Credits: YouTube
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Winner of the Rashtriya Gaurav Award (2019) in association with the Government of Telangana for ‘
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