'Kabir Singh' review: Shahid Kapoor is outstanding in a film that glorifies toxic masculinity

Kiara Advani and Shahid Kapoor in a still from 'Kabir Singh'. (Image via Youtube grab) Photograph:( Others )

WION Web Team New Delhi, Delhi, India Jun 21, 2019, 08.46 AM (IST) Written By: Shomini Sen

In the opening scene of ‘Kabir Singh’, a very intoxicated Shah Kapoor calls up a girl for casual sex. Minutes later, as the two hurriedly take their clothes off, the girl’s fiance comes knocking at their door. The girl pushes Kabir away but he is in no mood to listen and wants to do it anyway. As the girl flares up and pushes him away, he grabs a knife lying on the counter next to them and threatens her to have sex. The two stare at each other, until better sense prevails, and Kabir leaves the house. A poignant moment in the film that defines how Kabir is – an impulsive, short-tempered man-child who wants everything to go his way, always.

Writer-director Sandeep Vanga Reddy remakes his Telugu debut 'Arjun Reddy' in Hindi and keeps the story and screenplay more or less the same. Dr Kabir Singh ( Shahid Kapoor), who states he is ‘not a rebel without a cause’ unabashedly, falls in love with college junior Preeti Sikka (Kiara Advani). Kabir is a college bully and in more ways than one – lets the entire campus know that Preeti is his girl and no one is allowed to even speak to her without his permission. He takes extra interest in her, makes her his student, takes classes outside the classroom for her and eventually a meek, almost-mute Preeti falls for him. Thinks are picture perfect even when Kabir graduates and moves to Mussoorie for masters.

It's only when the two complete their college and want to get married, does the problem start. Preeti belongs to a conservative family who is in no mood to get her married to a brash, short-tempered boy. She gets married off and he finds solace in addiction. The film thus explores Kabir’s journey towards self-destruction, where dejected in love, he becomes more reckless and remains constantly intoxicated- hoping to forget Preeti and the pain of separation.

Reddy delivers a detailed screenplay and Shahid Kapoor, as the rebellious, womaniser Kabir Singh delivers a stupefying performance. Over the years, Shahid has proved time and again that given a good script- he can deliver. He brings naivety and brashness in equal amount to his character. You hate him for being such an ill-mannered, abusive man who refuses to move on but at the same time smile at his naivety, his vulnerability and feel bad for what has happened to him. You hate his Kabir Singh, you are infuriated even and that's how powerful Shahid’s performance is. He plays a character 10 years younger to his actual age- but Shahid seamlessly fits in making his act stand out. This undoubtedly is his best performance since ‘Haider’.

Kiara Advani too impresses as the vulnerable Preeti who may appear meek and shy in the beginning, but eventually turns out to be quite a rebel herself! The actress brings an innocence to her character and with limited lines, emotes through eyes. It took us a while to notice Kiara’s talent, she made her debut in 2014 in 'Fugly' but it was only after ‘Lust Stories’ in 2018 that people took notice of her. ‘Kabir Singh’ reiterates the fact that she is a good performer and can manage to hold her own.

Another actor who stands out is Soham Majumdar who plays Shiva, Kabir’s best friend who stays by Kabir’s side even when his own family turns their back towards him. Shiva is the friend that everyone needs and Majumdar plays the role with utmost dedication.

While the film has incredible performances from its actors, the story remains a major problem. It is 2019, a time when so much has been discussed in terms of women rights, yet filmmakers find it okay to glorify toxic masculinity in a three-hour long film.

Romanticising the pain of heartbreak has been a favourite theme for filmmakers since time immemorial. But at a time when the world is witnessing #MeToo movement, how is it okay to show a leading man who openly fat shames, hits women at the drop of a hat, and abuses anyone and everyone? The film celebrates toxic masculinity in the garb of portraying realism. It is a story from a man’s perspective where everyone is nonchalant about how wrong he is. ‘Yes, he is a flawed character. So what?’ seems to be the argument always.

The unbalanced characterisation of Kabir and Preeti aggravates the issues a lot more. Had they shown Preeti’s character arc in as much detail as Kabir’s, I would have still been okay. But its a 174 minutes long ordeal to watch Kabir destroying his world all in the name of heartbreak. In the second half, the film is overstretched with Kabir inflicting pain on himself again and again. He is hurt and angry- we get it. No point stretching it.

The film has some incredible music by a gamut of composers who enable the narrative to a great extent. Some great cameos by Kamini Kaushal, Suresh Oberoi, Arjan Bajwa, and Adil Hussain- makes the film more impactful.

In ‘Kabir Singh’, Shahid Kapoor shines. He plays the central character with utmost conviction and makes you loathe and love him at the same time. But the story itself is problematic. It somehow justifies, celebrates brash behaviour – such emotions should not be glorified, they need to be shunned.

Story highlights

In ‘Kabir Singh’, Shahid Kapoor shines. He plays the central character with utmost conviction and makes you loathe and love him at the same time.