Wahiyat Wednesday: Kabir Singh is a thappad on cinema

ver since the trailer of Thappad dropped, the internet has been calling it a thappad on Kabir Singh. Taapsee Pannu, who plays the lead role of Amrita in the movie, Pavail Gulati, who plays Taapsee’s husband and director Anubhav Sinha vehemently deny that Thappad has anything to do with Kabir Singh.

But given that one epitomised misogyny and toxic masculinity, and the other had the courage – and even at the risk of defying biology – the balls to stand up to it, the comparisons are legitimate.

Nonetheless, it gives us an opportunity to remember Kabir Singh, released in 2019, starring Shahid Kapoor and Kiara Advani in the lead, directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga, as one of the most wahiyat films ever made in Indian cinema. And then, come to think of it, there are three versions of the same film available in the realm already Kabir Singh (Hindi), Arjun Reddy (Telugu) and Adhitya Varma (Tamil).

Now, if there is a single person reading this article who hasn’t watched either Arjun Reddy or Kabir Singh, take a bow for you’ve managed to escape this blot on cinema. To them, here is a little bit of context:

Kabir Singh is a meritorious medical student, a senior in college, but has anger management issues and that’s putting it very lightly. He gets into brawls at football matches, beating up his opponent black and blue. When Preeti walks into the college premises, a fresher, Kabir brands her as yeh meri hai’ as soon as he lays eyes on her. Preeti is never asked, she is told. Kabir even hijacks classes to announce ‘woh meri hai’. He walks up to Preeti and instructs her to be friends with the ‘fat girl’ in the class because, among other things, that will make her look prettier in comparison. And then there is the brief episode of molestation at the college Holi celebration which Kabir deals with simply by saying, If you hurt her, you hurt me.

Was Kabir’s love for Preeti so conditional that he needed to see her with a fat girl’ so she could look prettier? Was Kabir’s hurt-factor and need to protect Preeti of more consequence than how Preeti felt after being violated? Sandeep Reddy doesn’t justify any of these. He does justify the slap scene, though. “When you are deeply connected with a woman or vice versa, there is a lot of honesty in it. If you don’t have that physical demonstration of…if you don’t have that liberty of slapping each other, then I don’t see anything there,” he had said in an interview. We love you, Sandeep, can we…?

Sandeep Reddy Vanga with Shahid Kapoor during the shooting of Kabir Singh.
Kabir’s college life is shown through flashbacks. Present-day Kabir is an alcoholic and a sex addict, over and above his anger issues. All because Preeti’s father did not accept their relationship, there was a brief mention of caste, and Kabir walked out never to return. Today, he grabs women and forces them to undress at knifepoint, makes out with anything that walks in a skirt, but doesn’t want to commit, so long as his carnal needs are met. And when they’re not, he shoves ice into his pants to kill the urge’.

In a particular scene, Shahid Kapoor proudly proclaims to his college professor that he is not a rebel without a cause. But by the end of the film, his rebel comes across as nothing more than a hormone-induced teenager-like acting out. Except, as an adult, it is detrimental, especially when Kabir’s actions directly affect Preeti.

Now, we’ve had some really questionable men walk away with the girl at the end of a Hindi film Raj in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge stands out as a prime example. But Kabir sees Raj’s douchebaggery, raises it several notches, and still walks away with the girl. The lack of retribution and we’re talking full-blown, not just internal is so jarring that it ought to haunt you longer than any horror flick ever did. Except, Sandeep wasn’t making a horror film, it was supposed to be a love story.

Of course, everything that could be said about the character of Kabir Singh has been said several times over in the past year. He is certainly not the boyfriend any of us would like to have. But even as a flawed central male character remains an orgasmic trope of world literature (Othello to Fitzwilliam Darcy to Edward Fairfax Rochester to John James ‘Mr Big’ Preston), who’ve been responsible for their own downfall at times and have been historically remembered with endearment despite it, a Kabir Singh has no place in this world.