Sandeep Vanga’s Arjun Reddy, which released in 2017 was a hugely popular but equally polarising. A story about an ill-tempered alcoholic surgeon’s downward spiral when the love of his life gets married to someone else, Arjun’s sense of entitlement, the complete lack of agency granted to Preeti and the implicit support that our hero gets in the film obviously prove to be very problematic.
Now releasing in Hindi with Shahid Kapoor and Kiara Advani in the lead and directed by Sandeep Vanga himself, the movie is a frame-by-frame and scene-by-scene copy of the original. The girl is still called Preeti while the hero is Kabir.
‘Kabir Singh’ is the story of an ill-tempered, incorrigible obnoxious young man who is used to having his way every time and resorts to violence and foul language when things are not as he wants them to be.
He is also incredibly lucky to have friends who forever stand by him. Parents who mildly reprimand him for his many misdemeanours , an elder brother who is extra supportive, an understanding dadi (Kamini Kaushal) and the quietest, most submissive damsel in distress completely accepting of his territorial behaviour played by Kiara Advani.
The most problematic part of the film is Kabir’s relationship with Preeti. He literally just sets eyes on her and decides that she belongs to him. He then proceeds to inform everyone else in college to stay away from her because she is his! "Woh meri bandi hai!” – all this, mind you, without a word to Preeti herself.
She is a mute entity while he bosses over everyone, even her, to supposedly take care of her.
Kiara, with the dewy no make-up look, is a merit rank holder studying to be a doctor and she follows his commands with bovine submission! When eventually we see her actually express her affection it seems more like someone infatuated with their abuser than a relationship between equals. The screenplay, rousing background score, the many love songs, all normalise, justify and eventually celebrate his abusive behaviour.
When Kabir threatens to have sex with a woman at knife-point or proceeds to hit his house help, it’s supposed to be comic relief. When he slaps Preeti in a fit of rage or his opponent on the field, it’s his passion that one is supposed to admire.
Kabir Singh celebrates an abuser’s sense of entitlement and justifies it in the name of passionate love. And in this megalomaniac universe of his everyone else is dispensable.
Kabir’s brother, parents, the women who fall for him or the one he considers his property – all are relegated to the margins while the narrative glosses over and even condones and justifies his alcoholism and his unnecessarily violent and abusive behaviour.
At one point when Kabir’s dean (Adil Hussain) reprimands him for having a bloody fight with members of a competing college, he retorts saying, “I’m not a rebel without a cause.” But through the course of the film we never quite understand why Kabir has such a volatile temper! Glorifying a man who can get away with the most obnoxious behaviour is a privilege our mainstream films sadly routinely extend to our heroes. Since Kabir’s behaviour seems to lack any real angst and manifests when things don’t go his way, it’s difficult to fully sympathise with him. The truly touching moments are therefore the ones in which his best friend Shiva, played brilliantly by Soham Majumdar, takes care of him. That’s when the film truly grips.
Because otherwise, in spite of Shahid’s performance, the Hindi remake of Arjun Reddy only reinforces dangerous notions of love which border on abuse and misogyny.
2 Quints out of 5!