Kabir Singh released to a warm reception from Bollywood. Both ardent fans and celebrities from the film fraternity heaped praises on the portrayal of a young doctor who has anger management issues. Many film folks felt Kabir Singh was the toughest role played by Shahid Kapoor in his 15 year old career studded with classics like Haider, Kaminey and Udta Punjab, in which he astounded people with his method acting.
Interestingly, the Hindi remake of the cult Telugu classic Arjun Reddy received a lot of brickbats from critics in the North, be it online or via print media. Most of the people felt Kabir Singh was misogynistic and projected toxic masculinity. Most of the so called feminist reviewers of Bollywood felt Kabir Singh showed how a girl is picked up from the group by a male, how he overpowers her with complete control over her body, mind and soul. This meek acceptance of the female lead to the virile manliness of the male who coveted her.
However, the reception in the South two years earlier was more forthcoming. Most of the critics, considered the ‘tough nuts’ to crack, gave Arjun Reddy a thumbs up for a refreshing image of a South hero, who is flawed and erroneous in his actions, just for love. The character of Arjun Reddy tries to satiate his sexual appetite by resorting to be with married girls, but cannot do THE thing, as he is haunted by the ‘pure’ unadulterated love for his lady, Preethi.
Where does the fault lie, then? Is it that the South reviewers are more magnanimous in their appraisal of a movie and do so with an open mind, or is it still the North South divide playing its ugly game in Hindi, because such a path breaking movie was created by a South director?
The Kabir Singh Predicament: Questions Answered
The main accusation of the Hindi critics was Kabir Singh portrayed women as toys to be used by the male machismo. The ‘male gaze’ played its part in making the role of Preethi, an ‘offering of sorts’ to the ‘love god’ Kabir Singh to be enjoyed, the critics opined.
It is interesting the same critics were praising the characterisation of Ranbir Kapoor playing a womanising starkid Sanjay Dutt in Sanju. Many critics from Bollywood’s so called elite club, gave Sanju 3 stars and dubbed Ranbir’s performance of a man who does a lot of crimes, both in public and private as a classic. Did they not find Sanju mouthing dialogues like “I do not remember the number of girls I had sex with,” loathful? Was it not a misogynistic portrayal at its height of absurdity? The critics who found it ‘excellent’ found the role of Kabir Singh, who says in one of his interactions with his friend Shiva, “How can you get your sister married to one who objectifies a woman for her colour and physical appearance?” a symbol of toxic masculinity! Moreover, Sandeep Reddy Vanga, the man who successfully translated his vision in not one, but two languages, showed his man Arjun Reddy in a manner which is truly respectful to women, other than the girl with whom he chooses to live forever. Look at the interactions Kabir Singh has with Preethi too, who agrees to sleep with him out of love, but he desists from doing so because she utters the word ‘love.’ Is this a symbolic representation of masculinity at its worst?
The coming of age drama Befikre, which openly celebrated unbridled sex and debauchery was given a raising rating by critics like Anupama Chopra and they find Kabir Singh not even worth a watch? Is it okay to exhibit open ‘friends with benefits’ roles by people in web series like Made In Heaven and Four More Shots Please? They were lauded as high points in upholding liberty and freedom of an individual to do what they want. There were random hookups shown in the series, with women taking the lead for one night stands. Did not the critics find it problematic? Is the hypocrisy raising its ugly head in Bollywood, with double standards while dissecting a Rajkumar Hirani movie and a Sandeep Reddy Vanga movie? If this is the truth, it is unfortunate.
The Constitution of India, in its chapter on fundamental rights, states, one’s freedom of expression cannot be taken back at any cost, till it causes a threat to the other individual or a group. Did Kabir Singh cause such a threat to people’s sentiments or that of women’s?
Well, the audience, be it from the North or the South, are not known to fake their opinions. They are the ultimate deciders of a film’s fate and in the case of Kabir Singh, they loved the movie and Kabir Singh’s character. We hope the critics in the North develop an eclectic view of cinema as a medium which gives one freedom to portray various models of heroism and not to stick to the ‘righteous’ model of a hero. Though there were flawed heroes in the past too, the acceptance of people is what makes one like the movie. Kabir Singh, in this respect, a complete winner, with the audience giving the film a rousing acceptance.
Critics, well, are now left to fend for themselves and should do some soul searching, which will help them in having a relook at their myopic view of the notion of what masculinity stands for and what true feminism means.
In reality, true feminism does not do away with the male, but asks for an equal role in the life and relationship of the pair, which Kabir Singh truly provides.