So, this chain-smoking doctor with ‘anger management’ issues, sees a girl, as she is walking single-file with other female medical students, eyes down, demure gait. He falls in love, then goes and warns off every other man in the college campus from even looking at her; then decides who she will sit with in class, and who will be her roommate. Everyone submissively does as he orders, because he is known for violence. The girl in question, placidly follows him around — there is no question of consent. He frequently refers to her as “meri bandi” which could mean both “my girl” or “my prisoner.”
This toxic masculinity was in full display in Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Telugu Arjun Reddy, and the noxiousness comes to Bollywood as Kabir Singh — modern-day Devdas with alcohol, drug and mental problems that needed a shrink, not people calling him a genius doctor and free spirit.
After marking his territory, as if a woman was a piece of land, Kabir Singh (Shahid Kapoor) makes Preeti (Kiara Advani) shift into his room in the boy’s hostel while his friends — sycophants, rather — clear the wing so that they have privacy. This is not considered goonda-ism by the college, simply because Kabir is a topper?
When her father refuses to let Preeti marry him, Kabir goes completely off the rails, drinking and doing drugs non-stop, yet performing surgeries and, annoyingly, telling a female colleague off for wearing lipstick. He then expects his loyal friend, Shiva (Sohum Majumdar) to procure girls for him, and propositions Jia, an actress (Nikita Dutta), with “can you help me physically?” and at one point tells her to strip at knifepoint. Instead of kicking him to the curb, she falls for him, turns instantly docile and is seen ironing his clothes. The slavish friend, Shiva, actually offers his sister’s hand in marriage to this vicious lout, so that he can “settle down.”
At a time when women are fighting a #MeToo battle for dignity and respect, a film like Kabir Singh makes a hero out of a misogynist, who treats all women like dirt. The film makes no effort to understand or even criticise this entitled moron, who is always about to blow his top and beat up someone, be it a boy who put colour on Preeti’s face on Holi, or a maid who broke a glass. Reddy has no doubt that this odious creep is a model of manhood — there is no graph to the character, no introspection, no redemption.
It is disturbing that men in the audience laugh when Kabir is being an uncontrollable beast, and enjoy scenes of women being stalked and harassed. Shahid Kapoor is all swagger no nuance; Kiara Advani’s Preeti is a total cipher. It’s a shame a film like that gets made in 2019 — or 2017, when the ghastly original was released.