Kabir Singh could well have been a Bollywood original. Such an entitled and boorish character, with anger management issues bordering on psychopathic behaviour isn’t out of place in Delhi (or the larger National Capital Region). It must have been precisely because of this fact that major portions of the film is set in Delhi, with Punjabi characters to boot.
The fact that Kabir Singh is a remake of the Telugu blockbuster Arjun Reddy doesn’t reflect anywhere in the movie. Director Sandeep Vanga, who helmed both projects, has kept the story, characters, plot line and scenes intact and manages to get Shahid Kapoor to internalise the psychopathic character. But beyond the performances of Kapoor and some of the other actors, the film is a pain for the audience due to its diligence in preserving misogyny and masculine toxicity.
Although there is an edginess to the scenes that keeps you engrossed for some 3 hours (172 minutes), it’s a near-traumatic experience to watch the film. That Kabir Singh, the hero, isn’t likeable even at his best could be why the audience cannot empathise with him. Even before he turns into an alcoholic and substance abuser, Kabir is a thoroughly-despicable and disgusting man.
A brash, arrogant, self-indulgent, bully and maniac, Kabir Singh is, strangely, loved by everybody around him. From his best friend Shiva (Soham Majumdar), who is his pillar of strength, to the girls who cannot but fall for his boorish charm, everybody adores him. Even after his turn as an alcoholic surgeon who “loves the sight of blood on his gloves”, he continues to charm the ladies effortlessly. After all, he is a brilliant doctor who performs complicated surgeries after guzzling down spirits and getting high. There should be still another statutory warning: Consumption of alcohol by medical professionals before performing surgery is prohibited.
Misogyny is a constant regardless of whether Kabir Singh is in love or not and some of it manifests ever-so-subtly. The equation between Kabir and the female lead, Preeti Sikka (Kiara Advani), is one of male dominance as Preeti comes across as a submissive and docile character. After a scene in a classroom where Kabir Singh establishes his “ownership” over the fresher, he abruptly plants a kiss on a stunned Preeti’s cheeks to further drive home the point.
In fact, one can’t figure out why she follows Kabir around like a puppy and how and why she falls for the overbearing senior. “What do you like in me, Kabir” she asks, in one scene. “I like the way you breathe”, comes the sick reply. Perhaps that sequence sums up the movie.
Preeti finally comes into her own during the love scenes and, it becomes apparent to the viewers that she is also deeply in love with Kabir. The romance is shown to flourish during a 3-year ‘long-distance relationship’, when Kabir goes to do his Masters in Mussoorie. Preeti getting equal status in the relationship cannot be established any more than in a scene in Mussoorie campus, where she goes to meet Kabir after a fortnight of separation and, demands a kiss on the spot.
Kabir’s meltdown after being refused Preeti’s hand in marriage by her father and the subsequent events form the rest of the plot. While sociopaths and psychopaths like Kabir Singh do exist in the real world, the movie clearly glorifies the character by stealth. The excuse for “character study” is a stretch and the overt misogyny and toxic masculinity in the film deserves to be called out.
Kiara Advani performs her part well by looking innocent and pretty. Arjan Bajwa as Kabir Singh’s elder brother Karan is perhaps among the few relatable characters and has done justice to his part. The equation between the brothers is heart-tugging as Karan often goes the extra mile to rescue his reckless younger brother. The graceful Kamini Kaushal is endearing as the granny and Suresh Oberoi has a relatively small part as Kabir’s father.
Nikita Dutta also manages to make her presence felt briefly, playing an actress who cannot resist the charms of the alcoholic Kabir Singh. (You see, no girl can resist the boorish charm of Kabir Singh). Shahid Kapoor performs the psychopathic character with aplomb and conviction although he fails to get the viewers to relate to the character of Kabir Singh. But then, that cannot be held against the actor in Kapoor.
Watching Kabir Singh will be a harrowing experience and is guaranteed to make you cringe right through. If the hype around the film still sucks you into a multiplex near you, I offer you my commiserations in advance.