Cast: Shahid Kapur, Kiara Advani, Kamini Kaushal, Suresh Oberoi, Arjan Bajwa
Director: Sandeep Reddy Vanga
What if your anger hijacks your entire life, blocks your sense of judgment, makes you ride roughshod over everyone, and also gives you a sense of entitlement (as a male of the species, what else?) that helps you get away with it?
This week’s release, the Sandeep Reddy Vanga-directed Kabir Singh lets us into the psyche of a well-respected and brilliant house surgeon who is also alcoholic and is uncontrollably ill-tempered. In reality, his description should be the other way round — a badly-behaved weirdo who happens to have a streak of talent of also being a valued doctor.
Vanga spends nearly all of three hours of the film’s duration telling us about Singh and his uncontainable rage. Right at the outset, after you enter his world where he beats up his football rival team members black and blue, you also realise that Kabir Singh (Shahid Kapoor) is a short-tempered doctor who is into drugs, and appropriates whatever he fancies. When he sets his eyes on fresher Preeti Sikka (Kiara Advani) in his college, he wastes no time declaring to his batchmates that she belongs to him. He also ensures she is well looked after, and protected. He is no Dr Jekyll and Hyde — he remains the obnoxious tormenter throughout. Gradually, he claims his place in Preeti’s heart, of course, without so much as “by-your-leave”. His family that consists of a doting brother Karan (Arjan Bajwa), father Rajdheer Singh (Suresh Oberoi) and mother, and a deeply understanding grandmother (Kamini Kaushal), are forever either trying to shield and shelter him, or doing their utmost to keep him in check.
In a scene when Preeti asks him why he likes her so much, he says rather philosophically, but without an underlying emotion of a madly-in-love man, “I like the way you breathe.” The line wouldn’t sound so cheesy otherwise, had it been used by any other man. But knowing Kabir’s right to seize and possess everything he covets, it seems ridiculous, for he isn’t someone who lives and loves all beings, and let them be; he is, quite on the contrary, a pompous sexist who overrides and tramples over whosoever comes in the way.
Still, despite all his shortcomings and the incessant flow of grievances people have against him, Kabir’s life would have been running fine had he had had his way. Compounded by his violent fury that makes him seethe with fire at the drop of a hat, as also, on the insistence of her orthodox parents, Preeti has no choice but to obey her parents’ commands, and agree to get married to the boy of her parents’ choice.
And, all hell breaks loose in Kabir’s life as he goes on a self-destructive path. The rest of the film focuses on his downfall, and subsequent partial resurgence.
The film is a remake of the Telugu hit Arjun Reddy that hit the screens in 2017, and despite its regressive theme of misplaced masculinity, it was applauded by many avid cinema watchers. The Hindi version, I am told, is a frame by frame copy of the original with minor changes, and is, perhaps, equally shorn of any pretense of psychological comprehension of a flawed and boorish character like Kabir.
When Preeti leaves him and decides to marry another man, Kabir sinks into depression and injects an injection of morphine, the effects of which last for two days.
There are people who object to his bullying and juvenile irascible behaviour: His best friend Shiva (Soham Majumdar), brother Karan whose preparations are in full swing for his own wedding, and other people at work. They are also always supportive of his delinquency and offer an understanding shoulder for him to lean on. And so, the trouble with Kabir is the easy acceptance of everyone around him, allowing him either to find an escape route, or even manifest his toxic self-assured uber-masculine machismo.
When a Bollywood actress Jia Sharma (Nikita Dutta) comes to his hospital for treatment, he falls for her, but only to forget Preeti and move on. He also makes it clear to her that he doesn’t want love, but demands just a physical relationship with no strings attached.
There is no respite for anyone close to Kabir. He gets away with murder. But why would any sensible girl fall for a reckless man’s so-called irresistible charm? Or, what on earth a group of thinking, level-headed, rational doctors find so virtuous and faultless, and thus, almost irreproachable in Kabir Singh is unfathomable.
The epic length of the film drives home some virtue that a rather reproachable tyrant in Kabir possesses. In a scene when the Medical council in its enquiry committee questions him about his misconduct during a surgery when he reportedly got drunk and nearly messed up the surgical procedure but still mumbled instructions and guided his assistants as he fell down unconscious in the operation theatre itself, he blurts out the truth about his being in an inebriated state.
Does he then salvage his reputation of being always the errant? Not really. Being wired so arrogantly volatile and violently aggressive throughout his student days, as also as a reputed doctor — no matter how good he may be — he deserves no sympathy for not sparing anyone. Not even his girlfriend, whom he slaps for not listening to his diktats. Worse, he doesn’t pardon his maid for breaking a glass and even chases her all the way with the intention of beating her up.
All those people arguing with their claims that such misogynistic men do inhabit this country, or that such misbehavior s is rampant in some parts in our land, seem to forget that the glorification of such misdemeanor on celluloid is terribly wrong.
Besides it’s misogyny that gives its “hero” the right to make decisions on behalf of his girlfriend, and even kiss her as and when he pleases, there is yet another major problem with the film: Shahid Kapoor. Limited by his looks and emotive range, he tries too hard to impress. But except for just a handful of scenes where both his physical and emotional state accord the right impact that the scenes demand, he remains a star who is perennially struggling to get into the skin of Kabir Singh. Here was one role — he could have given it his all — instead he ends up displaying more of his imperfections than his strengths. Advani, besides looking pretty, is made to look like a doormat initially but acquits herself well in a few scenes that follow.
The rest of the supporting cast including Sham Majumdar, Arjan Bajwa, Nikita Dutta and Suresh Oberoi are good, but wish there was a little more of veteran Kamini Kaushal — both in terms of her screen time and substance-driven grandmother’s role.
She is also the only one Kabir treats with a modicum of respect!