by Ashni Tripathi for Twisted Tiara
This weekend, I decided to do something I hadn’t done in a long time: watch a Bollywood movie. I have become very selective with my movie choices in the last few years, but this time, I decided to wing it. That’s how I ended up in the theatre ready to watch Kabir Singh, a movie I had done no prior research on whatsoever. I only knew that Shahid Kapoor was starring in it, and being a fan of his since his Ishq Vishq days, I assumed I would be entertained at the least. Boy, was I wrong! I left the hall seething at what passes as good cinema today.
Kabir Singh is a movie that addresses and glorifies everything that’s wrong with the country, whether it be toxic masculinity, substance abuse, misogyny, or the lack of female autonomy. The story revolves around Kabir Singh, a surgeon who also happens to be a roaring alcoholic who abuses any and all substances he can get his hands on. He also, somehow, has managed to successfully not kill any of his patients. As the daughter of a respectable surgeon myself, the notion that a surgeon can successfully perform surgery under the influence of innumerable substances had me extremely taken aback. And that’s just one of the issues, but the rest of the movie was no different; it had me cringing throughout.
We then see this extremely crass character meet an engaged women for a sexual rendezvous, only to have her fiancé come home early. When she refuses to engage with Kabir, he literally pulls a knife on her, commanding her to take her clothes off. It takes him a few seconds to realize that what he’s doing counts as rape, after which he walks out. These first 10 minutes had me going “What the actual f***?” How does this qualify as good cinema?
The movie then moves into flashbacks of Kabir’s college days as a senior in a medical college. He has excellent grades, but suffers from severe anger management issues. He is used to getting his way by threatening, and if that doesn’t work, beating up his opposition. He isn’t really a man of many words. He goes on to notice a first year, Preeti, and the next half an hour displays his single-minded, horse-like pursuit of her. He constantly gives her preferential treatments and threatens other guys in the college against even looking at her (keep in mind, he hasn’t even talked to her at this point, but she is apparently ‘his girl’). He also decides who she should be friends with, in this case he chose a ‘healthy girl’ because apparently healthy and pretty girls go together!
Once they inevitably begin their relationship, it is also portrayed as lopsided, with him running the show and making decisions for the both of them. At one point, he even pointedly asks her to fix her chunni, something I haven’t seen happen on-screen for a long time; it is 2019 after all. After years of a relationship, it’s time to tell the parents. As suspected, her father wasn’t thrilled with her choice, especially since he caught them making out on the terrace. After one or two attempt at convincing him, unsuccessfully, Kabir turns extremely hostile and rude. He also belittles Preeti, implies her whole identity is based on him, slaps her, and leaves her hanging. I don’t want to get into the specifics, but long story short, she gets married while he’s passed out, and he turns into a substance abusing maniac of a man.
He is unable to deal with the loss of her and keeps on spiralling, despite the companionship and support of his great friend Shiva. Shiva loves Kabir to bits, and constantly tries to lift him up to no avail. He tries everything, from tough love to offering him his sister’s hand in marriage, and when nothing works he just sticks by him as his friend visibly goes down the drain. And during all of this, what does Kabir do? Belittles him, threatens him and makes fun of him for his lack of action (if you know what I mean).
All through this, others like his family also try to be of assistance, but you can’t really help someone who doesn’t want help. There’s a particular familial scene that really got on my nerves. During one conversation, Kabir asks his brother about his idea of having kids, to which his brother replies that he and his wife will plan it out after two years. Kabir looks utterly disgusted by this and says that kids shouldn’t be planned, but should be created in the flow of passion. No offense Kabir, but in a nation with a population of 1.3 Billion, I think planning out a family isn’t really the worst idea.
Kabir inevitably realizes the error of his ways, which thankfully gets his doctor’s license revoked, but guess what? He then decides to go after Preeti again! Through a decent amount of miscommunication and misunderstandings, it comes to light that Preeti left her husband on day 3, and she pointedly stated that he never touched her (not like that was a discussion point for him). So much for a character arc and personal growth. They end up living happily ever after with a kid very much on the way. The toxicity of the relationship and the treatment of women imagery isn’t really a concern there. The trailer is enough to get a rational person riled up.
The power of cinema is immense and it’s important that the right kind of message be passed along. Kabir Singh is a movie that embodies everything that is wrong with the Indian society, and somehow, it manages to glorify it. Subconsciously, we all want to believe that life can be like a movie, but I really don’t want it to be like this one.