Bollywood’s latest offering ‘Kabir Singh’ is a remake of the Telegu film Arjun Reddy.
And, this prompted a critic to express her shock and disbelief at why India needs two movies that are deeply rooted in misogyny.
‘Kabir Singh’ is a study in the numerous ways Bollywood’s movies are casually misogyny.
But, what is heartening is that the movie has generated tremendous backlash, with people from across the political spectrum blasting it for its subject matter and themes.
Let’s consider a few scenes from the movie to better understand the creators’ disdain for women The protagonist Kabir Singh’s domestic help accidentally breaks an object.
Then he chases the hapless woman down the stairs, all the while threatening her with violence. This scene is intended to draw out guffaws from the audience.
In another scene, we see our protagonist arriving at his paramour’s place to get intimate with her. So far so good, but then the woman has cold feet and she wants to pull out.
This enrages Kabir, and out comes a knife with which he threatens the terrified girl. Fortunately for the girl, a radio crackles on and this snaps Kabir out of his rage. He falls in love with a first-year girl.
While that may be natural, what is appalling in this scene is his predatory behaviour. It’s almost as if he marks the woman as his territory when he warns everyone to steer clear of her because HE has his eyes on her.
Then we wade into even murkier territory. We witness a romance of sorts blossoming between Kabir and the female lead. She doesn’t welcome his advances.
But, he is persistent. This odious and obnoxious man trails her about against her will. Plants a kiss on her cheek without seeking her permission.
And, when Kiara Advani’s Preeti Sikka, starts to reciprocate, you can’t help but feel, it is under duress. He even decides for her who she should be friends with.
But, things blow up when Preeti has no option but to marry a man who is not Kabir. This is when Kabir begins to exhibit a downward spiral.
Shahid Kapoor’s portrayal of a demented and unhinged man with severe ego and anger issues has won him accolades. While no one can fault him for his acting chops, criticism has been levelled against him for taking up a role that is so malicious towards women.
Kabir is a man who clearly has no clue about CONSENT. He flouts it willy-nilly. In an era, when India is reeling under sexual crimes against women (many of them aren’t even acknowledged as a crime) and movies are being utilized to sensitize society to the plight of women, this movie actually undoes the hard work other filmmakers are putting in.
Kabir does not respect a woman’s autonomy, does not believe she has a right to the integrity of self. This nauseatingly domineering man insists on foisting his will on women. Should they oppose, we get to see his wild and deranged side. Movies often depict misogynistic men and their reprehensible treatment of women.
But, many of these movies strive to use such stories as cautionary tales, drawing the audience’s attention to the damage they can wreak and the immense harm they can cause to people whose paths cross with his. But ‘Kabir Singh’ glamorizes and romanticizes its supremely misogynistic protagonist.
The director even tries to draw parallels between Kabir and Devdas- the archetype of a lonely, poetic spurned lover who drowns his sorrows with liquor. But, that parallel falls flat because Devdas wasn’t a predator and the audience actually sympathize with his heartache.
So, this movie is a disturbing homage to misogyny and male entitlement. That brings us to a very perplexing question. Why has ‘Kabir Singh’ become a box office hit? It has already raked in INR 200 crore and still going strong. It has been an immense hit all over India.
This is an alarming trend. But, we can hazard a few guesses as to why the audience is lapping it up. Bollywood has a notorious history of churning out movies that denigrate women, through its script, portrayal, song and dance sequences, the relation between female characters of the movie.
But, most importantly, the ‘hero’ who relentlessly chases after the woman who has caught his fancy despite a clear NO from her is the staple of Hindi blockbusters. Numerous songs and sequences that highlight this violation of consent have been engraved in the minds of men and women who have grown up watching these movies.
Not everyone in India is a taker for the high-minded movies with a social message. Nor have they been exposed to movies with content that make you reflect on the evils of society or remind you that crimes are being perpetrated against women and other oppressed classes every day.
This is because such movies are few and far between. Whereas mainstream commercial movies come dime a dozen. So, we may go out on a limb and say that large swathes of the Indian population has not acquired a discerning taste.
And, a simpler explanation to why people like ‘Kabir Singh’ is India’s deeply entrenched idea on gender roles and gender position.
It projects the man as the dominant half of the species and the woman as the subdued, demure half, always at a man’s beck and call. In fact, these are characteristics that endear a woman to a man.
Overriding a woman’s will is a reality in India. And, when a movie reflects it, these same people find nothing wrong with it. India’s deep routed misogyny is the reason why movies like ‘Kabir Singh’ continue to enthrall the audience.
Responsible people need to learn to say no to being a part of a movie that degrades women. Making money should not be the only motive for people in the film industry.
Only then will such deplorable films stop flooding the screens.