There is a line in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas that I’ve not been able to forget since I first saw the movie in 2002. Shah Rukh Khan’s Devdas leans into Aishwarya Rai’s Paro, almost whispering, “Aik baat hoti thee tab tum bahut yaad aati thee. Jab jab main saans laita tha tab tab.” (One thing always made me miss you. Whenever I breathed.)
It made my heart miss a beat when I heard it the first time. It made my heart miss a beat when I heard it tonight.
That is the power of a great love story told well.
In D.B. Weiss and David Benioff’s Game of Thrones, in different seasons, Jaime Lannister speaks about himself, and his love for Cersei Lannister, a love so forbidden, there is nothing but death that could unite them: “My bloody honour is beyond repair... There are no men like me. Only me... Everything I did was for my house, my family. I’d do it all over again... We don’t choose whom we love. We don’t get to choose who we love.... Things we do for love... I’d have murdered every man, woman and child in Riverrun for Cersei... She is hateful, and so am I... We are the only ones who matter, only us... Nothing else matters. Only us..."
You feel your heart breaking as you watch Jaime’s last scene.
That is the power of a great story of a man doing very evil things for the only woman he has ever loved until death unites them forever.
In Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Kabir Singh, Kiara Advani’s Preeti Sikka asks Shahid Kapoor’s Kabir Singh: “Kabir, what do you like in me?” Kabir answers, looking deep in her eyes, “I like the way you breathe.”
That is the effect of the very powerful emotion of absolute love becoming a caricature of itself so early in a film that is about crazy, furious, all-consuming love that you keep asking yourself what you’re watching in 2019 is actually on the screen in front of you. It is so cringe-worthy it is almost comical.
Reviews of a film have never made me pre-judge a film before I view it. Many a time, I’ve liked films most people write off, and very often, I don’t like films I read rave reviews about. My fundamental criterion to like or dislike a film is very simple: if it moves me on any level, I’m sold. Kabir Singh is that rare exception that is everything its reviews have termed it as, and horror of horrors, it is worse.
There is something about Shahid Kapoor that is inherently likeable when you watch his interviews or any of his earlier movies. Even the ones in which he wore a darker shade of lipstick than most of his female co-stars. Another reason why I’ve always been fond of Shahid is because my now 19-year-old son had his poster in his room when he was four, and barely understood anything Shahid said in his debut Ishq Vishk!
Watching Shahid as Kabir made me shake my head many times during the almost three-hour long conundrum of a film called Kabir Singh. A brilliant performance by Shahid, he makes you forget he is the adorable Aditya Kashyap of Jab We Met, or the angst-ridden, beautifully complex Haider of Haider, or the crazy-eyed, swearing and urinating and drug-ing Tommy Singh of Udta Punjab. A side note: Shahid is crazy-eyed, swearing and urinating and drug-ing in Kabir Singh too. But while Tommy’s redemption is categorical, Kabir ends as he begins: in love with his dangerous self, and in love with a woman who is everything a woman shouldn’t be in 2019. Shahid’s Kabir is a superlative enactment of a role that is monochromatic: noir.
Much has been said about Kabir Singh’s extremely disturbing themes of normalisation of everything that was always bad and will always be bad: violence, misogyny, sexism, toxic masculinity, a lethal sense of entitlement, alcoholism, substance abuse, anger issues, remorseless womanising, labelling women as per their beauty and character, self-created morality, mindless rebellion against order and authority, complete disregard for others’ existence, presence and space, and recklessness that is borderline diabolical. It is almost scary to see consistent endorsement of his bad behaviour by all those who are close to him. To know Kabir is to love him–every character seems to be attired in an identical T-shirt that says that in big, bold letters, all caps. Immaterial it is that that Kabir is everything a son, a brother, a friend, a student, a surgeon, and a lover who can’t see beyond his love, should never be, must never ever be.
In a film that has many disturbing scenes of senseless violence presented as fearlessness, and naked misogyny cloaked as passion, what I found deeply disturbing as a woman who has seen patriarchy, violence and obsessive love in their darkest shades is the in-your-face expressionless-ness of the female protagonist. Kiara’s Preeti’s acceptance of Kabir’s behaviour, shown in an endless series of growls, roars, punches, chain smoking, slaps, and gaalis, is packaged as a great, once-in-a-lifetime, soul-altering love of a man like no other is so bizarre, it makes you wonder how a 2019 woman could ever say yes to a film no rational woman would have acted in even two decades ago.
What I also found intensely troubling was the ‘trial’ scene where Kabir is on the verge of being cleared of his medical ‘misdemeanour’. Horrifying it was to hear him say that he was incapable of reconciling to being cleared on a lie, and that he did all his surgeries under the influence of liquor. For Kabir Singh, lying is a very bad thing, but operating on people while intoxicated, in a clear endangerment to their lives, is literally no big deal. Alcoholism is a dark reality of this world, and so are things done while intoxicated. What is unpardonable is glorification of both.
In the world in which we exist, only for a moment in the big scheme of things, there have always been bad people doing very bad things. Showing reality of the world is nothing objectionable. Gratuitous justification of that reality is. Unapologetic obnoxious behaviour exists all around us. What must not be forgiven is extolment of that. Movies don’t make us do evil things. But movies that are an unabashed deification of a man doing those bad things are simply what must never be made.
Ours is a world in which children, women and men face senseless violence, in one way or the other, all over the world, every day. There must be no place in our world for films that are a testosterone-fuelled validation of that. Love that is absolute, and love that is forever is the stuff of dreams. Love that is a rule-less, crazy celebration of obsession, territorial behaviour, regressive ideas of female ‘goodness,’ maniacal narcissism, and a blind possessiveness is nothing but a nightmare.
Kabir Singh, which has Shahid Kapoor in the best performance of his career, to date, is a film I’d not ask my worst ex to watch on the day I hate him the most.