Reel Deal: All Things Problematic About Shahid’s ‘Kabir Singh’
Let’s get one thing out of the way. Kabir Singh is a flawed and self-destructive character who is almost impossible to like, but perhaps, easy to cheer from the sidelines, as his outrageous angry bad behaviour is glorified and portrayed in a sensational manner. The director mildly dubs him just as an “unconventional” person, but 10 minutes into the film you can see through all the toxic masculinity of Kabir.
Shahid Kapoor has done a brilliant job of playing a flawed and toxic man, who has no real redeeming qualities. Perhaps one of the best performances of his career. But it doesn’t absolve him,or the film, of all responsibility.
Director, Sandeep Reddy Vanga, did get flak for being problematic and misogynistic the first time around when he made the Telugu film Arjun Reddy. But no lessons learnt, he remakes it in Hindi almost frame by frame, keeping all the problematic stuff right where it was. Perhaps, encouraged by the box office success of the film and egged on by the thought that the audience will lap up the toxicity if the performances are good and the film is entertaining enough.
In this week’s episode of Reel Deal, let’s break down all the problematic stuff in Kabir Singh.
Tune in to the podcast here.
Misogyny and No Agency
Till the time the two leads begin their courtship, the girl barely has any dialogue. She only follows his instructions without even batting an eyelid. In fact, she barely even lifts her eyes. Her depiction is that of a pristine virginal beauty who the man declares as his without even asking her first. I felt uncomfortable and humiliated for the girl, forget rooting for their love.
Kabir Singh behaves like he owns her and shows his toxic masculinity at every given point. She sits where he asks her to, studies the way he wants her to, tells her chunni theek karo and even kisses her on her cheek in front of everyone only after a few meetings. Not only did he not take permission from her before kissing, but also we never see the female character’s response. She is cold and expressionless. Did she feel violated? Did she like it because she’s always had the hots for him? The problem is that this whole story is a male gaze, with no space for the female perspective.
How does one get involved in a love story if one person’s view is left out completely?
Perhaps she is attracted to dominating men because her own father is quite toxic too. Meri beti hai, jahaan chahe shadi kardunga, he tells Kabir.
Perhaps her conservative patriarchal family and a highly dominating father were the reasons why she fell in love with a dominating violent bully. But we don’t know anything about that because the director never offers us any insight whatsoever into the mind of the girl.
Right at the beginning of the film Kabir’s grandmother tells the story of how Kabir cried and threw a tantrum for three days when he lost his doll, which had a white dress on. Its a symbol for how the director sees Preeti (who is seen wearing a white salwar kameez when he first lays his eyes on her), as just a toy in the hands of a man-child.
And then he goes ahead and names his dog Preeti - loyal and always wagging her tail for him. Perhaps, he should have settled down with the dog because Preeti is a human being who has her own thoughts and desires. Preeti has no agency, no voice until almost the very end.
In one scene, while trying to woo his girl Preeti, Kabir Singh, asks her to be friends with a “healthy” girl. He says, “Healthy chicks are like teddy bear. They are soft and loyal. Healthy chicks and good looking chicks are a good combination.” I just cannot believe a dialogue like this exists in 2019.
Problem is that Preeti has no problem with either him dictating her life or fat-shaming a girl in front of her. Nobody scoffs or points out his blatant fat-shaming.
Kabir Singh blatantly harasses and bullies people in college and nobody really does anything about it. He asks those sitting on the front bench to go to the back of the class so his girlfriend can get the best seat. He gets his girlfriend into the men’s hostel without any repercussions. He talks back at his teachers, instructs his nurses not use lipstick in the operation theatre, chases his maid like a mad man, points a knife at a girl because she refuses to have sex with him and many other things.
His behaviour in his loser phase is actually no different from his behaviour before that when he still supposedly not in a “bad phase.” Perhaps he can behave the way he wants to because everyone around him constantly condones his behaviour.
The justification is that in the end he is a “man with a good heart” and that gives him the license to behave in the most anarchic manner. But honestly there was nothing good about this man, especially his heart.
Where’s Professional Help?
He has no remorse for badly beating up a guy right at the beginning of the film. And there are barely any repercussions for it. Everyone around him condones his behaviour. The nurses he bullies, the friends, the family, teachers and his girlfriend, only because they somehow love him. The message here is don’t be like Kabir, but also don’t be like all the characters around him.
If you see a loved one suffering from anger management, behavioral problems psychological issues, alcoholism, drug addiction or depression please get them to go to a psychiatrist or a therapist or a rehab, instead of just telling them to forget the girl he loves. No character in the film even mentions any kind of mental health treatment.
Kabir says in the film, “This is just a phase.” Don’t take their word for it because in most cases the guy or the girl won’t get their ex-partner back and have all their problems resolved like in the film. On most occasions the phase turns into a life-threatening problem.
Kabir Singh is not a modern-day Devdas even though both were losers who took to the bottle (and in Kabir Singh’s case, drugs) after they could not bare to be separated from the love of their lives. They were thrown out of their homes by their fathers for their behaviour too. But Devdas was self-destructiv,e not toxic. Devdas also had two empowered female characters, Chandramukhi and Paro, who had agency and voice, unlike Kabir Singh’s Preeti.
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