Shahid Kapoor: It’s a huge compliment for me if people disliked Kabir Singh
Kabir Singh felt record-breaking box office love, earning Rs 270 crore so far. But that doesn’t mean the Shahid Kapoor blockbuster was immune to scrutiny. The actor finally addressed the mountain of criticism surrounding his film.
Kabir Singh, the Hindi remake of the Telugu hit film Arjun Reddy, didn’t fare well with critics, who blasted the entire plot of the movie itself, saying it was guilty of normalising abuse in a relationship. The movie boasted one of the biggest stars in Bollywood, actor Shahid Kapoor, cast alongside actress Kiara Advani, who made her Hindi film debut with M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story in 2016. Kabir Singh has gifted Shahid his first solo Rs 200-crore plus movie. According to the latest Box Office India report, the film collected a total of Rs 75 lakh on Day 33, grossing Rs 270.43 crore at the box office so far, since its release on June 21.
But is Kabir Singh’s blockbuster status an excuse for the perpetuation of sexist ideology? Critics like to think it’s not.
Despite its box office triumph, Kabir Singh’s reception has been savage, with almost every critic calling out its misogynistic plot as wildly misjudged. A few critics of the film went so far as to suggest that Shahid’s real-life persona was essentially used as the buffer for his creepy character’s aggressive behaviour and actions. The audience knows Shahid Kapoor as an actor in a loving relationship with his wife, Mira Rajput Kapoor, in real life. Movie critics and moviegoers, as well as a few Bollywood stars, like actors Taapsee Pannu, Kubbra Sait and Renuka Shahane argued that though Kabir Singh was intended to be a love story, it was also a story of a man engaging in stalker-like behaviour, manipulating a woman, and depriving her of her agency by creating a condition in which she must become dependent upon him.
It begs the question of why Shahid Kapoor (and Kiara Advani) would agree to star in this film. For the first time, in a series of recent interviews, Shahid had a chance to reflect. Spoiler alert for anyone who’s never seen a blockbuster Hindi film about a turbulent college romance: Shahid Kapoor’s Kabir Singh and Kiara Advani’s Preeti Sikka fall in love and it is a 'happy ending' after all; which means they get married and even have a child together. In the film, Kabir, a senior medical student with a passion for motorcycles and football, is left heartbroken when his girlfriend is forced to marry another man. Already struggling with anger issues, he falls into a self-destructive spiral. Though Shahid said he’s proud of the film, he agreed with those critical of Kabir Singh’s character, which borrows liberally from actor Vijay Deverakonda’s Arjun Reddy.
“I’m totally okay that people have issues with Kabir. I have issues with Kabir. I would never want to behave like he did. But then I am the actor who has to play the part,” Shahid Kapoor told Hindustan Times in an interview on Wednesday. “I’ve never been afraid of playing characters that would be disliked. My drug addict character of Tommy Singh in Udta Punjab was also quite deplorable. I feel that people should walk out of the hall loving a performance, not the character. One needs to, therefore, make bold choices. For a star who is otherwise liked and loved, it’s a big thing if people watch a character on screen and wonder what the hell he is doing. It’s a huge compliment for me if people disliked Kabir Singh,” he added.
Kabir Singh is a variety of the archetypal ‘nice guy’: he’ll do anything for his lady love, Preeti. So should she really doubt him or his actions? At its core, the film trades in the ‘love conquers all’ myth. Even though, of course, it doesn’t. Love is great, but so is respect for other people.
A recent study indicated that women who watch films that portray aggressive, persistent male behavior – stalking, in other words – are more amenable to similar behaviour in the real world. In other words, for the sake of dramatic tension, cinema sometimes normalises abuse, recasting it as romantic. Not surprisingly then, the Shahid Kapoor film seems to want us to believe that the woman’s feelings are as uncomplicated as possible. How fortunate she is that he is classically handsome and kind (at least to her); how different the film would be if Kabir Singh was played by, say, a man less easy on the eyes than Shahid.
What rubs salt in the wound is the fact that despite all the criticism, the filmmakers didn’t seem to realize just how creepy this film was for many. Kabir Singh director Sandeep Reddy Vanga has been widely criticised for "glorifying" toxic masculinity and "normalising" violence against women in the movie. The director later justified the violence in the film. In an interview with journalist and film critic Anupama Chopra, Sandeep brushed away the criticism his film received for glorifying toxic masculinity as "pseudo".
"I feel it's pseudo because… you know… when you're deeply in love, deeply connected with a woman and vice versa, there's a lot of honesty in it. And if you don't have that physical demonstration of...if you don't have the liberty of slapping each other, then I don't see anything there," he'd said. He'd further gone on to say, "If you can't slap, if you can't touch your woman wherever you want, and if you can't slap, you can't kiss, you can't use cuss words, I don't see emotion there."
In an interview with Bollywood Hungama on Wednesday, unlike Sandeep Reddy Vanga, Shahid Kapoor said he didn't want to blame critics for not liking Kabir Singh, but was surprised by its bad reviews. He shared his reaction to the backlash of him playing a deranged, thwarted, relentless-lover, saying, “Heroes and villains used to be a thing of the past. It is all about the protagonist and antagonist in the current generation. In Kabir Singh, the antagonist is Kabir Singh himself. He is his own problem. The one problem he has is anger management. When he gets angry, he messes everything up. Whether it is his girlfriend, family, career, bai (maid), dog or himself, he messes it all up when he loses his temper. It is interesting that the film shows that one thing in extreme can take you down to zero. That’s what the protagonist’s father says in the first line of the film too that ‘your brother is as good as zero’! That’s where the film starts from.”
He added, “So do you think besides slapping Preeti (Kiara Advani) in the film, everything else that Kabir Singh did is acceptable? If it is yes, then let me tell you that, that’s what we want! We want people to think that it is unacceptable and that they do not agree with Kabir Singh. That’s why the entire second half is all about his downfall.”