Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Kabir Misogyny Singh: A Review

I woke up at 7:00 A.M. to go and watch Kabir Singh, spoiler alert, I regretted the decision a few minutes into the movie.

Although having been warned by the internet about the misogynistic nature of the movie, I had a few motivations to watch it anyway; a portion of the movie was shot in my college, the music of the movie is beautiful, I have had a certain amount of fondness of Shahid Kapoor's acting given his previous movies (not this movie, more on this later), and because I thought that I could deal with the misogyny of the movie because aren't all Bollywood movies streaked with the same.

But this movie left me with an unprecedented amount of discomfort and disgust.

Kabir Misogyny Singh

One of the scenes, less than 10 minutes into the movie features Kabir Singh cutting a woman's clothes with a knife, he acts extremely aggressively and then threatens her at knifepoint to undress, while she clearly says  "I don't want this right now." A blatant breach of consent and clear sexual assault. The audience found this comical and the movie itself provides for comic relief in the form of the woman's fiance singing outside as Kabir Singh walks out shirtless as though he is some baller guy for having harassed a woman. Kabir Singh is then seen putting ice into his crotch publicly.

A scene that is widely spoken about online is the one wherein Kabir runs after his domestic help for having broken a glass. The aggression with which he runs with the clear intent of endangering her, had me squirming in my seat with actual fear. The audience laughs at this to no end, the filmmakers too evidently meant for the scene to be comical.

The problem with the above two scenes, apart from the clear problems of sexual assault and the intent of hurting and threatening, is the comedy attached. This has two lines of issues; one; the audience laughed, which made me suddenly very aware of the thought process of the people I was sharing this dark and closed space with; two; the movie-makers meant for it to be comic relief equating the oppression of women to something that is supposedly funny.

A scene wherein I almost dared to hope was the scene with the backdrop of Holi, a set of men with a personal vendetta against Kabir sexually harass the female protagonist (really though? was she the protagonist?) Preeti. Kabir sits on the front seat of a bike with Preeti in the back seat holding a bat. Although I do not condone violence and a lot of things are problematic even with this idea, I was almost excited that maybe he will enable her to beat the guy up, especially since she seemed like a non-confrontational character (I use the term ‘seemed’ because we really don't know much about Preeti). Instead, Kabir goes out there, punches the guy, lights the guy's cigarette and asks him to 'promise' that it won't happen again. If this doesn't make you frown hard enough to give you a headache, Kabir proceeds to make her sexual assault about himself, he rants about how any harm coming to Preeti 'affects' him the most, (uh, sorry, I think maybe, just maybe, it affects Preeti the most but okay) he goes on to talk about how much he likes her. With this, he negates her trauma and makes her sexual assault about himself, because of course Kabir Misogyny Singh must take centre stage at all times and everyone's lives are made to just cater to him and his toxic masculinity. This is something we see throughout the movie.

Imagine being a fresher in a college and suddenly being singled out in class by your seniors, being treated differently by your peers because one random senior claimed that you are ‘his’. On that point, Kabir Singh's "Woh meri hai" (she is mine) is an extremely scary form of obsession and possessiveness, it has a very bad precedent. I know a lot of women, including myself who have been prey to random men claiming us to be theirs and then acting scary enough for us to feel literal danger to our lives. Preeti is called out of her class on numerous occasions where Kabir takes her and ‘teaches’ her the topic of the day. He assigns her a "fat chick" as a friend and hostel roommate. He compares the two girls is an extremely problematic manner, referring to her new friend as a ‘teddy bear’. Kabir kisses Preeti without her consent, let alone consent to be honest, she has not even said hi properly to him yet.

The Toxicity Report was not the only toxic element

Needless to say, their relationship was very toxic. Kabir controlled every bit of Preeti’s life, from who she hung out with to where she sat in classes. Preeti has to beg him to let her stay for a couple of days in Delhi. Kabir orders Preeti around and yells at her. Both of them physically assaulted one another in the movie. Although physical abuse in a relationship is not acceptable at all, one might cut slack when the individuals are in an agitated headlock physically with pulling and pushing. This makes their acts of slapping each other more problematic as they both slap one another almost five seconds post their arguments, wherein they then were making a conscious decision to hit the other. Their relationship has barely any conversation to the extent that Preeti says practically nothing to him at all in the beginning of the movie.

Kabir has a casual relationship with Jia, an actress. He is shown to be extremely angry at her for no reason in some instances. He breaks up with her in a very crude manner when she tells him she loves him while they're making out and he abruptly walks out of the car they were in and begins shouting at her.

Kabir’s Toxic masculinity will/is lead/ing to the poisoning of the minds of young people. Kabir is constantly rude to everyone in the movie. He shows that being aggressive is the new cool and revels in the fear that everyone has of him. Kabir constantly exploits the power dynamics of all of his relationships including as a senior in college, manipulating Preeti. The power dynamic is clearly stated when the entire class stands up on multiple occasions seeing him enter. He also exploits his position of power when after sexually harassing a woman, he calls a girl and tells her to come over to his place for a ‘seminar’ that she missed. Young men have already started aggressively defending his character. This comes from the lack of an explicit counter-narrative within the movie. The movie glorifies the character and hence cannot get away with shirking the burden off by saying “It is just a character” or “It is just a movie”, a simple move of proof of glorification is the fact that the movie said ‘KABIR SINGH’ instead of interval in the interval.

Movies do not exist in a vacuum, everything Kabir does on the screen will influence what young men do in real life. Shahid Kapoor has a lot of social capital as an actor, a lot of people relate to him and look up to him, this role taken up by him then endorses the behaviour of Kabir, as the movie in itself provides for no counter-narrative or introspection of how wrong his ways have been and the fact that Shahid Kapoor has been extremely quick and eager to defend the character in the face of criticism.

Arjun Reddy is apparently a "critically acclaimed" film. A lot of people claim the same for Kabir Singh, they ask 'pseudo-liberal feminists' (hysterical, because if you like this movie, you don't know a thing about feminism and in turn have no right to term anything as pseudo-feminism), to view the movie as a movie and the character as just a character. Even if you're someone who isn't a feminist, sexual harassment and slapping people is something any sane person would see as wrong but okay.

Yet, I shall take the advice of all of these lovely people, and view the movie as a movie.
What follows is a critical analysis of the film apart from its undertones and narratives.

One of my incentives, as listed earlier, was the music of the film. Sachet Tandon and Parampara Thakur with their song 'Bekhayali' absolutely won my heart, moulding Irshad Kamil's beautiful words into an amazing song. I can say the same for most of the songs of the movie. Yet, I can't help but feel that these songs were wasted on this movie.' Bekhayali' as a song is absolutely heart-wrenching, yet when the song was broken into pieces by the movie into three different scenes, I almost did not notice the song. The song speaks volumes of heartbreak whereas I could not help but blame Kabir for his situation. As Bollywood always does, the movie just has a mention of the caste issue as opposed to it being an actual social hurdle in their love for each other. So the only probable reason for them not being together is her father being mad for catching them in a compromising position, although Kabir is calm in the first few tries of convincing Preeti's family, he is very quick to lose his anger and withdraw his support for Preeti, instead of standing by her he shouts at everyone, insults her father, aggressively picks up a plant pot to throw at her sister, kisses her brother, asks Preeti to shut up a million times in one breath while she begs him not to leave and then slaps her and ‘curses' her to marry her father's choice. When Preeti tries to come into contact with Kabir by showing up at his house, he has already drunk himself silly and injected morphine, wow what a great boyfriend, totally does not disappear in time of crisis. Now I associate these beautiful songs with an abusive boyfriend and a toxic relationship with obsessive tendencies instead of love.

Another beautiful song wasted, ‘Kaise Hua’ (How did this happen?) is kind of apt though as one actually wonders how did it happen because Preeti has literally not spoken at all to Kabir yet here he is all in love.

Apart from the discography. The background music, especially the track that plays when Kabir is 'angst' is such a baller soundtrack. It is the kind of film score that I imagine in the background of a badass character but Kabir Singh is just a bad character and an ass. The film score also plays at odd moments, for instance when Kabir slaps Preeti, a peppy song begins playing, I understand it was to fade into the next scene but uh no.

Kabir Singh as a movie is so messed up in terms of its storytelling and plot in general.  In one of the scenes Kabir says "I am not a rebel without a cause sir" but, he kinda is. Most of Kabir's reasoning for anything is his anger. Why is this very economically privileged guy, with tonnes of entitlement, who is also in a good college so angry? Why is it that everyone around him has to control variables to ensure he keeps his calm. He is a rebel without a cause. Even before his supposed heartbreak, he is mean to everyone and is also disrespectful. Kabir has no accountability, no prerogatives, no introspection or depth at all as a character. He misses his brother's entire wedding, no one holds him accountable. What is he even rebelling against? His college telling him not to get into fist fights? He sneaks in a girl into his college hostel and is not held responsible at all for it. Kabir and Preeti’s relationship is only ‘cute’ when they're in a long distance (perhaps their lack of proximity made me feel safer about both of their safeties). They barely talk to one another, Kabir suddenly out of the blue falls in ‘love’ with her and remarks that he likes the way she breathes, well who can blame him, the dialogue writer more or less forgot to write Preeti’s line for a major chunk of the movie.

Preeti says literally less than a paragraph of words throughout the movie. 560 words to be precise, yes I counted. Preeti’s entire script could fit on one A4 sized sheet with Times New Roman, Size 12. We know nothing about her apart from the fact that her name is Preeti Sikka and she is a doctor. What are her aspirations? We don't know. Does she have any hobbies? We don't know.  We don't know anything about her and it is very likely that Kabir doesn't either.

Jia and Kabir have more chemistry than Kabir and Preeti. Jia is also not a character that is explored much, although we know more about her than we know about Preeti.

Kabir's brother's character description in the script must have been 'supportive brother' and that is literally as far as his character went. No depth. He shows no anger at his brother missing out on his wedding and going to the extent of even spoiling it. Just like Preeti, we know nothing about the brother except for that he is Kabir’s brother.

His mom is almost a tokenistic character in the film, so are most of his friends except for Shiva. Shiva is literally the only character with any depth and portrayal because he actually shows characteristics and has a developed personality.

The ending of the film, with Preeti being pregnant with Kabir’s child and both of them getting married is so unrealistic and almost cringe worthy.

Most of the dialogue in the movie has no substance. They're either repetitions or paraphrasing of things that have already been said (Example: Preeti saying “Kabir kabir kabir please please please baby baby baby” for major part of their arguments) This movie could have been a three hour long monologue with Kabir being the only one in the entire movie and no one would have noticed a difference.  

No No Tommy Singh

Honestly, Kabir Singh isn't anything in front of Tommy Singh. I am really annoyed at the fact that people can even begin to compare them. Apart from the obvious vibe of glorifying Kabir Singh and not so much with Tommy Singh, since the movie (Udta Punjab) revolves around explaining the problems with drug addiction. When Tommy Singh reaches rock bottom (wherein he accidentally shoots his uncle and also pisses on the crowd during a concert) he introspects and understands the problematic nature of his behaviour and addiction. Tommy Singh is very shaken by what addiction has done to him. He was a person before his addiction, his lowest point made him realise he wasn't being true to himself or his music because of substance abuse and so goes on to reform his ways. Tommy Singh has an origin and motivations, a young musician who got fame that has now driven him to a breaking point, one who is not creating the type of music he wanted but is doing okay. Tommy Singh is also extremely affected by the impact he has had on young kids in terms of pushing them to drugs and making it seem cool, unlike Kabir Singh or even the people behind Kabir Singh who refuse to accept the impact their character would have on young minds, it is almost like Tommy Singh has more depth than real life people.

Kabir Singh's rock bottom has little introspection and seems so unrealistic in a way that it barely seems to shake him. Kabir Singh isn't only a misogynistic character but also a very badly written character in terms of both writing, direction, and also portrayal. Kabir Singh was an awful person even before his addiction, so his rock bottom of showing up drunk for surgery is something that makes him realise that his addiction is messing up his career but is not a betrayal of himself as a person, because his awfulness was a constant element pre and post addiction. Although admittedly, Kabir’s grandmother passing away does push him to introspect, this introspection is hidden from the audience and so it doesn't become explicitly clear that Kabir realised the problems with his anger issues.

In terms of the depth of the characters and the way they are written and portrayed, their dialogue, and the motivations behind both of their respective actions, Tommy Singh is a beautiful character, Kabir Singh has literally no mind or care or incentive or prerogatives of anything.

Putting the movie to the Test(s)

We have come so far as society, this movie has single-handedly pulled us back ages. We have been making strides in dismantling the norms surrounding the subjugation of women and have been destroying the patriarchy one brick at a time. With actresses in Bollywood trying hard to expand the way Bollywood sees female characters, this movie is a huge disappointment.

Parts of this movie were shot in my college. My college is an enabling and safe space for me, seeing such problematic scenes play out in the walls that I call home makes my insides hurt.

The movie fails the Bechdel Test monumentally, which has a very simple requirement of a film featuring at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Not once does this happen in the movie. Throughout three hours of footage.

It also fails the Mako Mori Test which requires at least one female character who gets her own narrative arc which is not about supporting a man’s story.

I'm tempted to say that this movie fails the Sexy Lamp Test too, which measures how relevant a female character is to the plot and whether you can take out the character and replace her with a sexy lamp, because then Kabir Singh would be a movie about Kabir and his obsession with a sexy lamp, which wouldn't be too tough as he already objectifies his love interest enough. But maybe that is taking it too far so I shall let this test be.

In closing, I am sad I gave this movie revenue.