You type the words Kabir Singh on Google right now and the first thing you will find are a bunch of shows around your city, followed by the news articles on the same. As of this moment, most of them are reviews. Every one of those titles have something to say about the film. Majority of them contain the words ‘toxic masculinity’, ‘misogyny’, ‘patriarchy’ and what not. Your Facebook feed might be full of such articles where people are calling the movie out for promoting such behaviour which shouldn’t really be promoted. Now, the topic of ‘which things should or should not be promoted’ is something that needs a bigger discussion; but the one thing that every one is keen about the film is that there is something that is deeply unsettling to the people who are watching it. Cringy, as many called it.
But if you are not one of those people who have paid any attention to such information and would want to know as to what is going on with Kabir Singh, let me draw you in.
Kabir Singh is an official remake of the Telugu film Arjun Reddy, by the debut writer director Sandeep Reddy Vanga. Arjun Reddy was a critical and commercial hit. And as the trend is with a lot of regional films, no producer leaves the golden opportunity of milking the rights of a film that might have done well in isolation in a particular region, subsequently trying to earn millions by scaling it nationwide.
However, there was a lot of buzz around Arjun Reddy and for good reason. If you are a bit versed with the regional film industries, there are more than four distinctive ones. You are a highly ignorant person if you just call every movie coming out of this part of the country as a ‘South Indian Film’.
Malayalam movies are based out of Kerala and are characterised by their high concept stories that are driven by lack of production resources; but they heavily rely on the stories themselves. For example, ‘Drishyam’ was a remake of a Malayalam film. Tamil film industry is extravagant but still has a lot of heart built right into their films. The Kannada film industry is in the lower octave when it comes to its neighbouring players. The Telugu film industry is the most over the top films like Baahubali.
Arjun Reddy was none like the Telugu films that came before it. It was not over the top by its presentation, but it was still over the top in its execution. But then, Arjun Reddy was never subject to the treatment that right now Kabir Singh is being to. Everyone who watched Arjun Reddy, unanimously loved it. Then what is it about Kabir Singh that feels so wrong? Even the writer director is exactly the same, then what exactly is the issue?
The problem with Kabir Singh is not a problem per se. It is basically a function of whom we consider our hero.
An Indian Hero is Above Everything
Every time we watch a film or a series or even listen to a story, we listen to the journey of a character whom we consider the ‘Hero’. Joseph Campbell in his book ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ details the various kinds of such heros’ that the world has come to associate with. And the definition of a hero changes with the people. Here is a basic example. Think of a Samurai Warrior in Japan who decides to kill his master, since his master is a blood thirsty landlord who is being an absolute moron. If the Samurai Warrior kills his master, he is a hero to do that. But he is also supposed to kill himself since any samurai without a master is a ronin and must do ‘seppuku’, that is, kill himself in a ritual suicide.
Now think of such a scenario in India. Our heroes are not supposed to kill themselves or even die in the first place. They could be shot to pieces for all we care, but the hero survives as the hero wins always and the hero must live. Because winning is living and getting the girl. I know this could sound shallow and it is to a certain degree, but then this is what we have come to accept for a very long time.
Now what I say would be a bit difficult to digest in the first go, but bear with me for a second. Kabir Singh is basically ‘Fifty Shades of Grey for Indian Men’. If you have watched Fifty Shades of Grey, then you are probably thinking that I am high while I am writing this. Probably I am. But if you give it a second, you will see innumerable parallels between the two.
Fifty Shades of Grey is an American erotic ‘romantic’ drama film, based on the novel of the same name by E. L. James about a college graduate who begins a relationship with a young billionaire. That film details the journey of a young timid Anastasia who goes to interview a young, hot, chiseled jawline Christian Grey and soon after that the things the two of them do together could not really be written here explicitly.
Point being, that film details the fantasy that a lot of women and men identify with. This was the major reason why the book did extremely well even though no publisher took it and the author had to self publish. Also the reason why the film did good at the box office although it would be criminal on our part if we do not attribute the film’s success to Dakota Johnson who was mostly without clothes for the greater portion of the film.
So how is Kabir Singh even remotely like Fifty Shades of Grey?
Breaking Down The Character of “Kabir Singh”
Kabir Singh is a character study that has all the things an Indian male identifies with. The titular character does everything that Indian men would fantasise about in their life. And what is it that Indian Men fantasise you ask? Let us go down this rabbit hole. Warning, you won’t really like what you find there. Also, spoilers ahead for the film.
Kabir Singh is a top of his class, gold medalist house surgeon who has a chiseled jawline much like Christian Grey who is good at everything but not anger management. Just this line itself has so many fantasies built into itself.
Kabir Singh has a great physique. Because who doesn’t wish for that.
Kabir Singh is great at sports. Because a nerd who tops the college is not the hero we want. We want someone who can score goals or hit sixes in matches. Everything about the person should be dialed to hundred.
Kabir Singh is extensively studious. Because no matter what you are good at, in an Indian household your prowess as a person is dependent on your academics.
Kabir Singh is extremely violent and outspoken and has no care in the world. The movie begins with Kabir fighting with the football team of another college they are in a match with. And from there it is a deep character study about a guy whom Indian men might fantasise to be. He is reckless, and is about to leave college when he sees Preeti. This changes everything. How you ask? Even I was clueless.
The only thing that draws Kabir to Preeti is the way she looks. He looks at her and suddenly, she’s his ‘bandi’, or girl. Even by the end of the film, we as audience know pretty much exactly the same amount about Preeti as much Kabir knew when he fell in love with her in the first place. There is no human interaction between the two. Hell, Kabir never even asks Preeti before he kisses her on the first day of meeting her. Talk about consent? There was none. I wonder why Indian men would identify with that.
Kabir Singh is an alpha male who dominates anything and everything that moves. Everyone in his college is shown to be scared of him. Like, literally scared of him so much so that they run away at the mere sight of him. He takes Preeti and shifts her to his boy’s hostel and no one is able to do jack shit about it. Isn’t that something to fantasise about?
Even when they shift to a long distance relationship setup, their long distance is something to fantasise about. You know what is the one thing every person in a long distance relationship wants? Flight tickets. And Kabir and Preeti take flights as if they are taking a local from Thane.
I can break the whole film down this way. Kabir’s eccentricity is what drives much of the drama. When he goes to meet Preeti’s father, he is rejected point blank on the account that he was making out with Preeti when her father walks in on them. He then tries to convince him but then leaves after slapping Preeti and giving her a deadline to be with him. Thank God I am high while I am writing this otherwise the level of absurdity here is mind boggling.
You see, Kabir is not a road side romeo. He is from a well to do family who is top of the line surgeon and earns a bomb. He arrives in a Jaguar to ask for Preeti’s hand, but he is still rejected on the ground of god knows what. If you think we do not fantasise about problems in our life, you are wrong.
There is a satisfaction in overcoming issues and that is why you see such a thing happening in his life. Kabir is intoxicated with morphine for two days when Preeti is forced to marry someone else. From that point on, Kabir takes a downward spiral into alcohol, weed, cocaine, alcohol, weed, cocaine, random hot girl playing a movie star in the film who enters Kabir’s life since he wants to fill the void left by Preeti via sex, alcohol, weed, cocaine, morphine. And that goes to the point where he messes up his body and passes out one day only to realise that what he is doing is wrong.
Even with all of this happening, the movie somehow manages to keep the fantasies alive. Kabir leaves his vices and is ready to move on when he finds Preeti again in a park, eight months pregnant. To his utter surprise, she is carrying his child and that she left her husband after days of getting married.
This brings us to another big problem. Why was it so important that the baby belonged to Kabir? Why did he even get Priti eventually? And why did Preeti get a deadline of 6 hours? Why did she hug him, kiss him and ask him to marry her? Preeti literally has no character development in the film whatsoever. How is this possible that she is pregnant with no support from the guy she got pregnant with and one fine day this dude walks upto her and she is fine with it? My girl would kill me if I didn’t talk to her nicely while she is on her period, but Preeti was somehow absolutely fine with a baby rocking in her belly.
At no point in time is Kabir misogynistic though. He is angry at everyone all the time. He doesn’t hold back from hitting anyone albeit a guy or a girl. Also, he showcases the typical alpha male behaviour who is good at everything. One thing that he does a lot is mansplaining Preeti.
There have been a lot of films that deal with troubled characters. The two at the top of my mind are Shame (dir. Steve McQueen) featuring Michael Fassbender who plays a sex addict, and Filth (dir. Jon S Braid) featuring James McAvoy who plays a dirty manipulative cop. When you see both those films, they showcase characters who have their demons and are trying to deal with their demons. Those characters are not typical heroes, but they are whom a certain part of the society can associate with.
This brings us to the biggest problem of Kabir Singh. Us. Not the Jordan Peele film. Us as in we the people. Kabir Singh could be viewed as character study where the protagonist is a troubled character trying to fight his demons. But for the majority of people in India, it is a fantasy like Fifty Shades of Grey where we wish to be like Kabir and have a life like his. Of course not every one associates with either of the films, but the ones who do make it problematic for the rest of us.
Kabir Singh is a nice film. Because as I always say, a film must work within its own established framework. It is a fine film, although the editing and transitions are awful at times. The problem with that film is just not in the filmmaking; it is with all of us and whom we consider our hero. Sadly, Kabir Singh is a hero people would identify with in today’s day and age. This wouldn’t really reflect in the several one star reviews that you read, but the cult status the film achieves at the box office where as of right now, it is the second biggest opener for Shahid Kapoor (who does a brilliant job in playing the part).
Do you think it’s us?