Just when you thought Bollywood was done with the angry, young man, it gives you Kabir Singh. Only this time, he’s not angry about the establishment or any social evil — he’s angry because that’s what passes off as a personality apparently. Starring Shahid Kapoor in the titular role and Kiara Advani as his love interest, Kabir Singh, is exactly what you think it’s going to be like and nothing more — a love story no one needed.
A shot-by-shot remake of the Telugu hit Arjun Reddy, directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga, the film shows the story of a young medical student, who is an academic all-rounder with an anger management problem. It doesn’t take much to rile him up, and when he does get angry, there isn’t much that can stop him from seriously going off the rails. So, it isn’t a surprise that everyone, including the professors in his college, are afraid of him and do what he says. He sees Preeti, his college junior, and falls in love instantly. He then goes around and stakes his claim on her, threatening anyone who speaks or flirts with her. He then takes a ‘special interest’ in her education and gives her private tuitions to spend time with her. The two fall crazily in love, and Kabir Singh does everything to protect Preeti and make her his. Someone messes with her? Beats them to a pulp. She injures herself? Moves her into the boys’ hostel to personally take care of her. And if anyone says a word — make sure they never speak again. Because, that’s what you do in love, right?
After college, the two maintain a long distance relationship, hoping to get married. When her parents refuse, Kabir Singh’s heart breaks and he goes into an abusive spiral, turning to alcohol and drugs for comfort. He is disowned by his family, and continues to make a living as a surgeon, all the while drinking and brooding over the loss of his love. Reckoning comes when his substance abuse threatens his promising career, and his best friends, who have been with him all these years, tell him to forget Preeti and move on. He tries, but to no avail, and decides to do something about it in his own way. Oh, and Preeti? Well, clearly no one cares what she thinks or wants, given that the number of lines Kiara Advani has in the film can be counted on one hand.
Shahid Kapoor pulls off an angry, disturbed, devil-may-care guy well — a character he’s fine-tuned over the years since Udta Punjab. His dialogue delivery and timing is spot on, if not for the ‘crazy man’ look he dons every time he gets angry, which is about every five minutes. Kiara Advani is about as useful as her role in the film. She stands pretty, says barely two lines, and cries at the drop of a hat. Soham Majumdar as Shiva, Kabir’s best friend, is a new face who shines through as the concerned friend, comic relief, and magician who manages to find Kabir no matter where he ends up. All other characters are incidental, just like the plot of the film.
The real hero of the film, however, is the blatant misogyny and toxic masculinity that stands out tall and proud, in every scene. Preeti is introduced as a 19-year-old girl, who is not asked anything, rather is told. She is gaslighted by the love of her life every few minutes. She is admired and loved for her quiet, meek demeanour by a man, who is the personification of ‘my way or the highway’. When she asks Kabir what he likes about her, his ‘romantic’ answer is, “I like the way you breathe”. When they try out the long-distance relationship for the first time, Kabir Singh yells at her for getting ‘too emotional’ as he’s not good with goodbyes. Preeti is then blamed for her parents’ refusal to the marriage, and is slapped by Kabir — more than once — and given an ultimatum to convince them. She takes it all, in the name of love and because ‘that’s just how he is’. Kabir Singh may be the story of an angry man with an ego the size of Jupiter, but it shows the story of so many young women like Preeti — silenced in the name of toxic and warped ideas of love thanks to Indian cinema.
True to its Telugu source, Kabir Singh is over-the-top dramatic and unnecessarily long. The romance shown blossoming between the main characters makes you believe it was written by someone who still believes in the Tollywood kind of love, and may not have witnessed an actual relationship in life. The ending is disappointing and anti-climactic, to say the least. The music is typically emotional but suits some of the scenes.
Last word — watch it, if you really must, for Shahid Kapoor’s performance. The rest of the film will make you just as much as an alcoholic, because that’s how many drinks it will take you to forget you watched it.
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