Film: Kabir Singh
Director: Sandeep Reddy Vanga
Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Kiara Advani, Arjan Bajwa, Suresh Oberoi, Adil Hussain
Kabir Singh is a movie that revolves around a possessive-mad lover who also happens to be a brilliant surgeon, Kabir, (Shahid Kapoor) and his search for the cause-to-rebel in a society like ours.
The film is not a character study or a psychological revelation of a complex character, it is in fact, a result of a chemical reaction the catalyst of which are age-old popular filmy products – ‘pehli nazar wala pyaar’ and ‘meri bandi’ etc narrative tropes.
The first hour of film is about nothing; literally nothing; it simply revolves around the titular character trying to establish and justify his madness, possessiveness and redeem all of it through his intellectual sensibilities.
This happens through a variety of supporting characters also like Soham Majumdar as Shiva – a friend who explains why Kabir is as he is. A dean of a medical college explains that Kabir is the finest surgeon the college has but has a problem with his anger issues.
All of this is done to make the audience empathise with a character that has no problem in his life but “pyaar”. The film industry should grow out of this. In a social mileau as complex and varied as our country, there is not a dearth of topics to make films on. But, the over utilization of a broken heart and the madness that stems out and gives birth to products like Kabir Singh, is dangerous.
Cinema is a cultural product; it is as much influenced by society as it creates impressions on. A dangerous weapon which when glorifies and redeems figures of this kind makes it problematic.
If the entry of Shahid Kapoor in the opening sequence of the film with the background score of “Meri Umar Ke Nau Jawano”, drew maximum whistles from the audience, so did other bullying sequences and the violence that followed.
I remember watching Vishal Bhardwaj’s Rangoon in a theatre and a particular sequence where Kangana Ranaut is jumping over train carriages like mainstream Hindi film heroes do without an inch of stress to mar their foreheads.
That sequence was revolutionary in the sense that the gender role had been reversed and despite being on the good/moral side, the hall drew no whistles for that heroic moment. It could be the gender reversal that shocked the audience but despite empathising with a good character, that moment gave if not, a minute but a fraction of second to register something extraordinary on screen. This unfortunately was not the case with Kabir Singh. Despite being the bad boy who is to some extent good at heart, the film drew a lot of positive response for Kabir’s character.
But that does not make me forget the larger narrative that cinema is just a showbiz, entertainment in a country like ours.
The love-interest of Kabir was played by a salwar-kameez clad Kiara Advani (Preeti Sikka) who was mute for about two hours and fourty minutes in the film. Her character was a prop to be utilised to glamorise the role of the mad surgeon. From barely nodding to saying yes or no, she did not say much.
With Kabir kissing her in the middle of college without her permission to establish that she is his “bandi”, the dominant-submissive relationship arch was established quite early in the film.
Even moments — when Kabir slaps Preeti because she states that there is no respect in love and that she is a nobody without Kabir, or his assertion that when she looks at him as if she owns him, she could speak with that courage to her father about their marriage — do not redeem the 50 Shades of Grey problematic.
Kiara Advani for most part of the film looks zapped – a major problem with the writing of the film – a woman with no agency. The protective figure of a hero should look after his woman or any woman in a predatory society prevailing in the entire movie.
In the first half, the film tried its best to establish the depth of their romance, but what it did instead was showing how futile it all looked. There are no dialogues to build it up to show what makes their “Laila-Majnu pyaar” click. For instance, there is a part where Kiara asks Shahid what it is about her that he likes most, he says, “I like the way you breathe”. That was among the many cringeworthy moments in the film. The director could have seen a bit of Imtiaz Ali films to explain the unexplained in the love directory, that may have lent some emotional arch to the love story.
There were so many unexplained moments, all to bulldoze it up with romantic songs one after the other. The music of the film did make it watchable. It was well used in moments of critical confrontation or as background score when defining the theme of a certain situation. The beats and pauses of the soundtrack also fitted well into the text of the film.
The announcement of the interval was suitable to the text of the film with a focus on Kabir peeing in his pants under the influence of morphine. The 360 degree rotation of the screen to suggest that literally, the character’s life had turned upside down was new. The music in accompaniment, a rapid crescendo of dhols, was also interesting.
As impractical as the plot turned with the second half, it became harder to emphathise with Kabir and the plot of the film which dragged on and on. Editing in that regard could have helped and so could the writing.
After the second half opens with Preeti getting married to another man, there is hope that the film might turn into something, anything to keep it afloat. But after the major breaking news, all goes back to the same old pace of the first half and one knows that the film is doomed.
To justify his violent and obsessive ‘pyaar’, Kabir uses the liberal line of thought to question the societal structure and arranged marriage but falls into the trap of reasserting the hyper-masculine dominant ideological trope which only, for the sake of the moment, needs Preeti’s permission.
From his character it has already been established he can do anything without “permission.”
Towards the end of the film, when the audience is finally convinced that Kabir is nothing but a selfish spoilt brat, whose only hardship in life is a broken heart, the thankless friend, son and brother are all redeemed with the moral judgment that he delivers upon himself. He cannot lie to the profession (doctor) that he worked so hard to build – As he says in the film, the only thing he likes about himself is his profession.
For a man of his type, everything is extreme. Either they fall in love with women or suggests that she can help him with empty sex, friends with benefits etc. That woman by no coincidence is an actor.
Another moment of realization is that the film represents the common consensus of ideology. There is no grey in any character in the film. You are either white like Preeti who is mostly seen in that colour to show the virginal meekness of her character and Kabir who is most usually dressed in black or dark shades.
The colour palette suggests the mental state of the characters they are in.
In the beginning of the film, Kabir had stated that he wanted a cause to rebel and that cause found its culmination in the possession of a young girl, Preeti, whom he uses as an instrument to question normative society standards and then establishes it by getting married according to his own understanding.
Initially, one thought that the hangover from Rang De Basanti gang and the power-loss that outside the world of college, no one knows you, affects Kabir Singh and his image the most. Instead of challenging and finding a cause like the former in the death of their friend, Kabir finds it in a girl, which is the problem.
But, by the second half, we are assured that it is not about that image but about the narcissistic self- obsession of a guy who cannot see himself losing or facing rejection of any kind.
That scene where he watched himself with full beard, shirtless in a pyjama in front of the mirror, drinking is just not the assertion of that image but also a romancing of his depression and suffering that he revels and glorifies in.