Readers Write In #79: Kabir Singh and everything wrong with our film industry… and our feminists

Posted on June 27, 2019


(by Sairam Yadavilli)

I had waited a week too long. The movie was doing extraordinarily well, acclaimed by both critics and audiences. As I sat to watch the grand spectacle unfold on the large screen, with a large coke in my hand – actually scratch that. I was on a diet and I had just given up soda (I am currently staying in the US and we call it soda here) for the sixth time in the last one year – the anticipation was almost uncontrollable.A couple of hours later, I walked out, less excited than when I walked in. Disappointment was an understatement. However, a couple of scenes stuck in my head.

The celebrated assassin stole the show, putting holes in heads and cutting up corpses. As John Wick carved up two Chinese (or Japanese, or Koreans – I am ignorant as to how to distinguish between people from east Asia)guys, I couldn’t help but think how racist themovie was. Especially in a country like the US, whereracism is the ‘Trump’ card to winning the presidency, I was aghast at how unremorsefully they could show a ‘white’ guy kill people of ‘color’ (not wanting to offend the 3 million groups that might call me racist). And do not even get me startedon the number of guns shown and used – and their obvious negative impact in an otherwise peaceful country like the US. A week later, I am still frantically searching for those 3 million anti-racism, anti-gun violence groups to show up on the most watched debate platforms – Facebook. And a thought struck me – so, people can actually watch a movie without attributing everything wrong with the society to it. But, can people actually watch a movie and not be influenced by it? That’s a question that is open to discussions and debates – over a cup of chai and some pakodas (priorities you see).

A month before its release, Kabir Singh was making all the right noises. A customary chartbuster, about a customary heartbreak, re-released with the customary Arijit Singh vocals – cos who better than him to make us cry over a heartbreak. It had me hooked. Add to that, the acting talent of Shahid Kapoor, the meticulous execution of Sandeep Reddy Vanga and the hauntingly beautiful BGM.

The film was a remake of a ‘South Indian’ film – Arjun Reddy. It had garnered extreme popularity, catapulting its leads to superstardom overnight (just the ‘hero’ actually – cos who cares about actresses in Indian films right?). But, you would have already known all this unless you were living under a rock. Moreover, the original hero – Vijay Devarakonda, was my senior in high school (not that it matters for this review, but I just wanted you to know it).  I wanted to watch the film for Shahid Kapoor. I had recently watched Kaminey and Udta Punjab, and was blown away by the sheer skill and talent possessed by him.

Saturday morning. The clouds gathered, cancelling our cricket match. I lazily turned on my laptop and browsed through the many unimportant things that I usually see. Kabir Singh had opened to amazing reviews and turned out to be Shahid’s highest opening day grosser. I was happy, not just for him but also for Sandeep Vanga. The enormous negative backlash that had descended on Arjun Reddy was largely missing prerelease. Slowly but surely, the clouds grew darker.

Sexual harassment and consent have gained global importance lately. The #metoo movement gained momentum thanks to the extraordinary efforts by scores of celebrities and common people – of course mostly women. And then came Arjun Reddy and Kabir Singh.

Arguments, both for and against Kabir Singh have been vehement. “See it just as a movie” he said. “And such glorification is the reason we are so regressive”, she replied.

Firstly, before I am called an MCP, let me clarify. Did I like Arjun Reddy? NO. I thought it was over hyped – just like RGV’s Shiva was (yeah, I know nothing about movies!!!).Having said that, let me begin.

Was there something wrong with Kabir Singh (Arjun Reddy) the person? Yes, definitely. No second thoughts.

Was there something wrong with Kabir Singh (Arjun Reddy) the movie? Yes, definitely. No second thoughts.

Was it the glorification of a male chauvinist, misogynist egomaniac? Actually, that wasn’t one of them.

Movies have gone from being “a break from reality” to “inspired by real events”. Kabir Singh, to its credit, was as realistic as reality gets. Bullies, egomaniacal alpha males, guys who “mark” girls like they are territory, girls who say nothing, and yes, guys who kiss without consent – these were all real-life characters. The guy you talk to daily, your friend from the office (actually acquaintance, cos who would want to be friends with that cheapskate), your female friend of 15 years who keeps up with the abuse of her boyfriend – they were the characters that were brought to life. So, did the movie inspire the characters or did the characters, the movie?

Does a story about a misogynist lead, make a movie misogynist?

Let us assume the character was played by a quintessential villain (say Sonu Sood – cos he has the looks, the six-pack to go and some acting skill and also because he is almost always the villain in any half decent movie), would you still say the movie glorified sexism or misogyny? Did the movie really glorify Kabir Singh’s behavior or did it get glorified because it was played by a charismatic actor (Vijay Devarakonda/Shahid Kapoor)? Hey! But it did get glorified – look at all the cool dudes cheering for Vijay Devarakonda shouting “M*******d”. So, let us do the most logical thing anyone should do – blame the movie and the director for wanting his character to be played by the best actor possible.

Movie – Srimanthudu

Character – Ideal human being – generous, kind, Of course superhuman strength, “ladies-will-orgasm” good looks and below-average dancing skills.

Setting – An employee is worried about his daughter’s marriage. The to-be-groom’s family is asking for 20 lakhs for his higher studiesabroad (now, which course in which country are you planning to complete with just 20 lakhs?)

Scene – The families are finalizing the marriage. Apparently, the groom’s family is very decent (yeah, sure). And in walks our hero (of course he knows everything).

And, instead of asking the family to shove their shameless request for dowry up their “decent” orifices, he goes on to give 20 lakhs to them. “Please take care of her. She is like family,” he says. Cue – applause. How kind, how kind. And no winners on guessing what a blockbuster the movie turned out to be. Are these not the kind of movies we should be speaking up against? Sadly, I did not see a single feminist speak up.

We applaud heroines for rejecting fairness creams, and then applaud them even more when they appear onscreen – with tons of it. We speak out against “item numbers” and “cleavage shots” but spend thousands of bucks to see hundreds of Bollywood and Tollywood films where the heroine’s character has absolutely zero influence on the story. We want pay disparity amongst the leads to be reduced, but we never question why we don’t have movies where the female lead beats up the baddies, does her own stunts, and saves the hero (and the world) for once. And that’s where our women empowerment stops, for, isn’t it easy to speak up against something that can easily be perceived as wrong?

Finally, if you have to look to a movie to point out your moral compass, please stop, look at yourself long in the mirror and realize this: We are a nation that has made Salman Khan a superstar. So maybe we do need to ask people to make movies keeping our audience in mind.

And while you chomp on this, let me go watch Kabir Singh, and see how it is misogynistic exactly.(Misogyny: noun -dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.)