Kabir Singh is a Hindi film that was released across cinemas in 2019. The film starred Shahid Kapoor and Kiara Advani as Kabir and Preeti respectively. Although the film was a big box office success, it is not wrong to say that the film itself is one of the most problematic desi media products to have been showcased as part of the Bollywood cinema.
The male lead, Kabir, is shown to be a medical student in his senior year. The film starts off with Kabir projecting his anger issues during a football match that he is playing to represent his college. These anger issues remain a highlighted aspect of Kabir’s character, and later in the film also seep down into all dimensions of his personal as well as professional life. The film takes a turn when Preeti starts college at the same place as Kabir. Kabir, who is an intelligent but hostile man, starts referring to Preeti as ‘his own.’ When Kabir and Preeti meet for the very first time during the film, Kabir ends the conversation by kissing Preeti without even asking for any sort of consent. This is also the scene after which the rest of the film proves to be an extremely triggering and uncomfortable watch.
Throughout the entirety of the film, Kabir continues to treat Preeti as akin to property, or rather, somebody he owns. The first fifty minutes of the movie are based off of Kabir instructing everyone to stay away from Preeti, and simultaneously also dictating Preeti on what to do at college. For example, there is this scene where Kabir enters Preeti’s classroom, disrupts the entire class, and then instructs Preeti to sit with a ‘healthy’ girl, stating that a conventionally pretty girl like Preeti should befriend someone exactly opposite, someone healthy. There are two very evident problems with this representation: first, it equates being healthy to being the opposite of pretty, which tends to reinforce the same conventional south Asian standards of beauty that have long been gatekept by so many generations; and second, it is also reinforcement of the fact that women are never in positions of power or capable enough to make their own decisions for themselves. It is also surprising that while Preeti was shown to be a medical student herself, she was also portrayed as someone who absolutely needed Kabir to get through college. Preeti’s character hardly had any prominent dialogues in the first half of the film, which again, shows how the writers and directors simply sidelined her character, placing Kabir in the spotlight throughout.
Not only did the film absolutely misrepresent the definition of love, but it also deceived the audiences into believing that Kabir Singh was a hero. To simply break it down, neither was Kabir in love, and nor was he a hero. He was simply somebody who had extreme anger issues, could not handle his rage, could not take no for an answer, was abusive, dismissive, an alcoholic, and someone who had no regard for women around him.
During the second half of the film, when Preeti’s father learns about Kabir and Preeti’s relationship and refuses to give his daughter’s hand in marriage to Kabir, the apparent ‘hero’ is seen not only abusing Preeti, but her entire family as well. He threatens to harm both Preeti’s father and sister, and gives her an ultimatum of six hours, where she should choose to marry him. Here, the protagonist goes one step further and also slaps Preeti out of rage. During another instance in the film, Kabir pulls out a knife on a woman who refuses to sleep with him. Towards the end of the movie, the creators had normalized the protagonist’s violent traits and attributes to an extent where they wanted to showcase that it was no longer a problem.
When asked about his film’s problematic stance on love and romantic relationships, director Sandeep Vanga responded by saying: “If you can’t slap, if you can’t touch a woman wherever you want, if you can’t kiss, can’t use cuss words, I don’t see emotion there.” For us as viewers, it is extremely important to understand that casting off screen is just as important as casting on screen. While reading the director’s stance on the entire situation, I felt that the way the movie was executed started to make sense. What is most troubling about Kabir Singh is not just the flawed representation itself, but also the fact that the entire team of the movie, including the director, writer, and the cast, got away with it with applaud and appreciation, without realizing the impact that they had left on the audience or the society as a whole. I think it is high time that we, as audiences, stop uplifting media content that tends to normalize or glorify toxic masculinity, misogyny, and abuse as legitimate forms of courtship. Such films and shows are extremely detrimental to the society at large, and leave a long lasting impact for the future generations to consume as well.