The character Kabir Singh, or Arjun Reddy for that matter, is basically an updated Devdas, a loser in love, with additional anger management issues, who hits the bottle at the drop of the hat. There’s even a Chunni babu in his life in the form of bestie Shiva who keeps coming to his rescue and appears to have no life whatsoever of his own. In fact not a single character in the apology of a script — from his college principal to the family to the hospital staff — seems to have any raison d’etre other than pandering needlessly to a man, who, instead of any sympathy or indulgence for his “troubled” mind needs some serious treatment and therapy to control the inherent noxiousness he is spreading in the world around him. The entire arc of the film is to somehow make his negativity attractive, explain it away as “unconventional” and have him find redemption despite his unforgivable ways. Well, he is a genius at everything after all, even at performing surgeries when he is sloshed and coked out.
Having watched and balked at Arjun Reddy for its celebration of a misogynistic, infantile bully of a hero, Kabir Singh felt like a doubly suffocating experience. One that makes you feel violated. Devdas at least had the headstrong Paro and graceful Chandramukhi, two beholden women alright but with personalities of their own, to bring some sense of balance to the man-woman game. Here the woman is denied any agency whatsoever. She is a property, marked and owned by the man. She will meekly follow him wherever he takes her, eyes always down, is masochistic in allowing herself to bear with his violent ways. While the soulful ditty in the background plays “tujhpe hi to mera haq hai (I have the right on you)”. He is the protector and the saviour.
There is barely any nuance, no credibility when it comes to the love affair itself. It’s more perverse than persuasive, humiliating than affirming when it comes to the woman. Then there are all the women falling for this gent who officiously tells them not to wear lipstick into the surgery and adorn their chunni (stole) properly. Where is the much mythologised and attractive masculinity and bad boy charisma? There is no sense of place either, be it Delhi (no Delhi is not merely Punjab and Punjabi) or Mumbai. The finale is ludicrously convenient making one wonder whether to laugh or cry.
The entire film, just like the original, is dependent on and propelled by the performance of the star at the centre. And however good Shahid Kapoor might be in living the trauma and angst of the character, you still can’t get away from the sickening male entitlement. I almost choked at his treatment of his house help and when Shiva suggests that Kabir should marry Shiva’s sister to get some stability in life. Who is he to take the decision for his sister? No but she likes Kabir like so many other women do. Why? What does the filmmaker think women are meant for? Be sacrificial goats at the male altar?
There is a point in the film where the hero slaps the heroine and gives her an ultimatum of six hours to leave her family and come to him. The girl sitting ahead of me at the press screening let out a sigh of fear and loathing. A man somewhere at the back yelped in approval. I despaired. If this is the great idea of man-woman dynamics, if this is a “hatke” love story, well just tell me another one. End of rant!