Substance abuse is the least toxic thing about this sickening film, the most misogynistic Indian film in a long time. This is a film about a bully, an abuser of women, an alcoholic surgeon, an insensitive lout, and a foulmouthed hothead — and that’s just the so-called hero. At some point, Kabir loses ‘his’ girl — played simperingly by Keira Advani, who it’s hard not to feel sorry for — but Vanga continues to project him as hero, turning him into a ‘genius’ surgeon who operates only when drunk. Kapoor is solid even as Kabir acts more repulsive by the scene, but other characters thinking he’s wrong doesn’t help when the creators don’t agree. A cautionary tale can’t end with the villain getting what he wants, while Kabir Singh rewards his sins with a happy freeze-frame.
This is absolutely the same film as Arjun Reddy and has nothing new to offer. Kabir Singh has obviously inherited all the ills of the earlier film. Emancipation for the heroine here means her jumping into bed with the hero at every available opportunity and then preening over the number of times that the two have had pre-marital sex. This approach to gender assertion comes from a caveman philosophy that one thought India's filmmakers have put behind them for good. But no, Kabir Singh and its makers are too firmly stuck in the past to notice that the world has moved on. Shahid Kapoor stretches himself very thin indeed in trying to convince us that Kabir Singh is a present-day incarnation of Devdas that we should shed tears for. But the man he portrays does not suffer quite as irreversibly as the classic tragic hero did. But he raves and rants through his ordeal and would have us believe that he is more sinned against than sinning. Sorry, we aren't buying that.
Kabir Singh makes an interesting point about love. It exists to prove that, whether we like it or not, abusive love doesn’t necessarily conform to our personal perception of modern gender politics. That such stories can have mutual happily ever afters, too. We may not like their power dynamic, but that doesn’t make them less real. It’s not wrong to acknowledge them. If only the filmmakers today understood that these couples are in fact resounding tragedies…especially because they end up together. They are fairy cautionary tales. Maybe it’s no coincidence that the only moving part of this film is a brief montage of the two in a four-year long-distance relationship. She weeps, he struggles. Deep inside, perhaps it was reassuring to see them far apart.
Kabir Singh exists in a parallel world: one where people aren’t held accountable for their actions, where there’s no introspection, no contrition, no reckoning of self. This could have been so much more – its portrayal of misplaced, exaggerated machismo could have functioned as a mirror where we – the men – would have seen our fractured, vicious selves and taken a step back, to think, to realise. But no such luck here, for this is a movie that is proud of, and even in love with, its hero, escalating and endorsing his misogyny at every turn.