Synopsis – Kabir Singh is a remake of a Telugu movie Arjun Reddy (2017), where a short-tempered house surgeon gets used to drugs and drinks when his girlfriend is forced to marry another person.
My Take – Right from the 1920s, Indian filmmakers have been obsessed with romanticizing the pain of heartbreak. These dark love stories are often not easy to watch and for many filmmakers quite an uphill task to make without offending anyone.
Such is the case of this Sandeep Reddy Vanga directed film which happens to be an official Hindi remake of his own 2017 Telugu blockbuster, Arjun Reddy, a film that turned its lead actors Vijay Deverakonda and Shalini Pandey into breakout stars overnight.
But unlike Reddy, this film has received widespread criticism from certain sectors for glamorizing misogyny, toxic masculinity, and a very possessive attitude. The film has also been shunned by many women stating that the film shows a very negative attitude towards women and portrays strong male chauvinism.
True, in a time when the world is finally openly addressing such issues through the #MeToo movement, it is certainly not right to portray a leading man who openly fat shames, hits women at the drop of a hat, and abuses anyone and everyone, not matter the gender or age.
Yes, the film also struggles in maintaining a balance between celebrating toxic masculinity in the garb of portraying realism, but, without offending anyone, I do understand what writer-director Vanga is going for. Here, he has subverted the ‘cool’ Devdas archetype by juxtaposing it in modern times, and made his protagonist even more complex, with a mix of aggression, ambition and anger.
And if you can generally accept the fact that human beings can be flawed, sometimes deeply flawed, you will be able to stomach this rebellious story of love with extreme madness, often lacking rationale and reason, but still keeping you hooked to the screen till the end.
Here, through his protagonist, director Vanga bets all his cards on the leading man, the always underrated Shahid Kapoor, to provide a spell bounding performance that makes sure that whether you love him or hate him, you just don’t ignore him.
The story follows Kabir Singh (Shahid Kapoor), a medical college topper belonging to an affluent family. Known for his bad temper, Kabir and his gang of close friends, manage to hold a big control over the general functioning of the college. However on his way to resign from the college due to being called out for his behavior by the college dean, Kabir comes cross Preeti Sikka (Kiara Advani), a fresher, and instantly falls in love with her.
Being the well reputed bully, he lets the entire campus know that Preeti is his girl and no one is allowed to even speak to her without his permission. Using his situation to an advantage, Kabir also begins to use his interest in her to take her outside the classroom, all in the name of helping her with her studies.
While Preeti is quite opposite in nature, she too falls for him soon, and despite Kabir graduating and moving to Mussoorie for masters, they continue to maintain their relationship quite healthily. However, the problems arise when the two decide to get married and hope to seek Preeti’s parents’ permission first.
But belonging to a conservative family, her family is in no mood to get her married to a brash, short-tempered boy, putting Preeti into a difficult situation of choosing between her love and her family. And the moment she is married off to another man, Kabir, who is now an exceptional surgeon, turns to alcohol and drugs to find solace from his heartbreak, sending him down a path of self-destruction.
Here, director Vanga offers a realistic spin on the Devdas myth and delivers with the same gusto and gumption as his original film. Yes, apart from dropping of a few expendable scenes and the replacement of songs on the soundtrack, the 172-minute remake is a resounding echo of the Telugu film. Yet it works mainly due to its titular protagonist’s characterization.
This isn’t the kind of Bollywood romantic story where the hero is a picture perfect handsome man who will marry his love without doing anything wrong, here, he is wrong for most parts of the film. Yes, the film does represent a very cynical take on handling broken relations. It shows the suffering of a single person who loved someone to his deepest core.
The film does show violence as Kabir has anger management issues, but that’s how the character is, Kabir is an extremist and he can go to any length when it comes to his love. The character’s reactions and presence feel like a ticking time bomb that is waiting to explode. The moments of sheer unpredictability arises out of these situations.
It’s only in the second half where Kabir faces the consequences of his actions. We get to see him struggle, and as his alpha-male presence waters down as he gulps his poison. The film takes a slower turn in the second half due to this. One of the fine moments in the second half involves the scene where Kabir fights with his brother in his house. The fight feels more like a childish quarrel between two siblings.
Also, he is a tad more humane than Arjun Reddy while being equally intense. He always shows up looking dapper, even in the direst conditions. So it isn’t a surprise that the prettiest girls, including an actress called Jia (Nikita Dutta), falls for his unabashed charm. Undoubtedly the film also has some incredible music by a gamut of composers who enable the narrative to a great extent.
Also carried over to the remake is the quality of indulgence, which leads to a bloated run-time of nearly three hours. There are far too many scenes of Kabir knocking it back from a bottle, and the film slides into near parody in moments when he shows up sloshed at work or lectures his friends on the meaning of true love. The epic length reduces the impact of individual scenes; the unwillingness to improve on them in the remake is a lost opportunity.
Sure, the film re-imagines the Indian hero archetype in interesting ways, but only if director Vanga had considered the fact that the flaws in its leading man’s romantic outlook is its undoing, the character could have come out looking more sincere and real.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the film is Shahid Kapoor has certainly delivered one of his best performances here. Over the years, Shahid has proved time and again that given a good script- he can deliver. Here, he pulls off all the varied emotions of anger, love, sorrow, regret, passion with absolute precision. For some, his actions and recklessness might seem problematic, but that is evidently his character sketch, and Shahid plays it with brutal honesty. He completely surrenders himself to the extremism of Kabir Singh.
The powerhouse performer plays each and every shade of Kabir with such passion and perfection that his conviction makes you root for him, even when he is far stretched from being the picture perfect lover boy. This undoubtedly is his best performance since Haider (2014).
Kiara Advani in a de-glam role adds good value to the plot. Despite being left to use silence as her only tool for performance, she manages to leave her mark. Soham Majumdar as Kabir’s best friend Shiva stands out by not only adding humor but also deep emotions to the film.
While in supporting roles, Arjan Bajwa, Suresh Oberoi, Kamini Kaushal and Nikita Dutta also manage to leave a mark. On the whole, ‘Kabir Singh’ is a faithful and engaging remake which despite its misplaced ideology is worth a trip for Shahid Kapoor’s knock-out performance.
Directed – Sandeep Reddy Vanga
Rated – R
Run Time – 173 minutes