Hindi Reviews

Kabir Singh Review: A Problematic Tale Of One Man’s Obsession

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Director: Sandeep Reddy Vanga

Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Kiara Advani

I watched Arjun Reddy a day after it released, and despite only following 50 per cent of the dialogues and allowing the visuals and my own imagination to fill in the rest (I watched it in the original Telugu, without subtitles. My Madras upbringing ensured I could follow some Telugu, if only to ask Baagunnaara? Or Emi Kaavali?), I had a severe reaction to it bordering on the allergic.

Over a year later, I am thankful for that experience. Because I now realise what it was. An inoculation. Arjun Reddy gave me the immunisation I needed to watch Shahid Kapoor strut around as Kabir Singh in Kabir Singh.

Because it is objectively worse. And subjectively as well.

Worse because a lot more money and production has gone into it, and despite stars who you’d think would demand certain script changes to give them at least two lines more of dialogue, the film stays true, scene to scene, to the Telugu original without even once questioning the premise of the film.

If any, the makers have gone ahead and added a scene – which I don’t recall in the original – in which the eponymous hero asks the woman he owns to “correct” her dupatta in case some other man dares look at the exposed bit of clavicle and “upper thorax” only he is allowed to see.

*****

Kabir Singh is written and directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga, who also made the original. It features additional writing and dialogue by Sidharth and Garima. Kabir Singh stars Shahid Kapoor, Kiara Advani, Arjan Bajwa, Soham Majumdar, Suresh Oberoi, Nikita Dutta and others. It was shot by Santhana Krishnan, and edited by Aarif Sheikh. The film is produced by Cine 1 Studios and T Series.

*****

The biggest change from Arjun Reddy to Kabir Singh is that Vijay Devarakonda looks better than Shahid Kapoor, but Shahid Kapoor fits the part of a wasting, alcoholic, substance abusing junkie given his more scrawny frame.

The other big difference is that – subjectively – Radhan’s music for Arjun Reddy was better than the songs that fill up time and space in Kabir Singh. Now this may or may not be a good thing. It was the songs that made the casteism and the creepy obsessive “love” of Arjun Reddy feel more palatable. Or perhaps I still haven’t gotten over my Hindi film music mental block because why would you when you have Ilaiyaraaja and Rahman and Santhosh Narayanan and their tribe.

And as noted earlier, that scene with the dupatta. If Arjun Reddy was creepy possessive, Kabir Singh notches it up higher. He tells Preethi (Kiara Advani) to adjust her dupatta. The woman has just gotten off your bike dude. A bike ride through the streets of Delhi. Give her a moment to breathe.

I’m a big fan of the clavicle as a body part. But I doubt the men of the Kabir Singh universe share my sentiment.

Other changes are merely cosmetic. Arjun Reddy – directed by Sandeep Reddy, gave a clean chit to all Reddys while broadbrush painting over the Shetty community, to which the heroine Preethi Shetty belonged. In Kabir Singh, our hero is a Punjabi Singh but perhaps not Sikh, although he speaks the language and knows the customs. In this he and his family look and sound Upper Caste (Brahmin) Hindus. Or perhaps Rajput. And Preethi belongs to a Sikh/Sardar family. Clearly the caste equation is in favour of Kabir but it is Preethi’s father who is the villain of the piece.

And this allows Kabir, through the second half of the film, mouth off about casteism and caste evils and why that’s coming in the way of true love etc.

And thus score some woke brownie points. And the enthusiastic cheering of the audience – largely barely 18-year-old children.

This was the thing that struck me the most. As with Devarattam, the audience’s enthusiastic support and loud raucous cheering of problematic bits of a film. This film was certified 18+. The audience was largely young kids – majority boys, who while technically 18, are barely adult.  What was the film telling them?

That it is okay to be a creepy man in college who could defy authority, walk into the girls’ hostel and demand the first year student give you a kiss, tell her to develop friendship with a fat girl because fat chicks won’t steal your limelight, that you are legally allowed to punch a man in a different college because he dared to throw some colours on the woman you’ve marked as your own, that never mind how caste and class operate, you as a man can blame the father of the woman you like of being a casteist because clearly he doesn’t like you because of your caste not because you’re creepy, violent.

All of this would have been a tiny bit more palatable, if only as the views and opinions of one filmmaker, if that filmmaker had deigned to give his woman a bit more of the say in the proceedings. I really did hope that Kiara Advani would have perhaps three or four more scenes and lines of dialogue. But no, the Preethi of Telugu and Hindi are about as mute as each other. Allowing things to happen to them, not questioning the men who make the decisions for them.

And here I think of Prem Kumar’s ’96. I find thematic similarities in both films (or all three). An unmarried man lays the blame for his situation on love failure and firmly at the woman’s door. In 96, Ram lives in the idea of Jaanu, and the film’s ending almost definitively places the blame on her. It’s subtly done and superbly performed and beautifully executed. But it is problematic for all that.

Arjun Reddy/Kabir Singh isn’t even half as charming as that. That final scene in the park is nothing but wiping slates clean of the man’s behaviour and fixing blame on the woman.

*****

The Kabir Singh review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

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