Kabir Singh movie review: The Shahid Kapoor-starrer is all flourish

There’s a credible physicality to their relationship which immediately lifts it above the bloodless, anodyne coupling that Bollywood usually manages to come up with. There’s a redemptive arc, and we are given that as a take-away, and the possibility of a turning-over-a-new-life, which is a great way to end a film. Dr Kabir Singh (Kapoor), an orthopaedic surgeon, has blood on his hands. And nothing on his conscience. He feels too old for this role, and his dissolution never feels as sharply realized as the one he managed so superbly in Udta Punjab. But, and this is crucial, there is a surprising free-spiritedness to Arjun and Preethi’s romance which flourishes, in and out of bed, and which, for a Telugu movie, even in 2017, was quite jaw-dropping. More Explained

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Deverakonda’s undeniable charisma helps his Arjun get past rank bad behavior, but finally he gets to a point where he has to dial back. Here’s a fellow who thinks that going through life yelling and shouting, snorting-and-drinking on the job, assuaging his raging libido with crass directness, basically being a sexist so-and-so, is an acceptable thing. Nothing about the latter rings true, though we keep getting the name of the two cities as reference. Kapoor’s physical resemblance to the Reddy character is startling, the same unkempt hair-and-beard, the same dark glasses, but it is not an internally realized performance. Also Read | Kabir Singh movie review and release LIVE UPDATES
Kapoor takes the movie and tries to run with it. We soon realize that he is a roaring, raving drunk. And that, right there, is the problem: not enough pay off for three hours of pain. Because that’s what Arjun Reddy, the protagonist of the 2017 Telugu film (of which Kabir Singh is a faithful copy) manages: it is a character study of a deeply flawed young man, but one who does, most importantly, have an arc. Showing such a character change can be a marker for change, too. Advertising

Arjun Reddy shows us vulnerability, and that’s the only way he keeps us with him; Kabir Singh is all flourish, mostly surface. And the setting is important too—the rules that govern public display of toxic masculinity, and what it is like to be a man– change if it’s a relatively provincial setting like in the original movie, or the Delhi-Mumbai ones of the Hindi version. Kapoor managed that interiority in Jab We Met in which he was outstanding, and, in parts, in Kaminey. So why do we keep watching, even though so much of what Kabir does is so offensive, so problematic, and sets our teeth on edge? Which is rich, given that that’s all they—Arjun and his male pals– seem to do, but it’s also something that leads you into thinking about sexism and sexist behaviour in a nuanced way: can you amplify centuries of graven-in-stone sexist, misogynist behaviour by showing a character who is living breathing example of those qualities? But he has been a hero at the centre-stage for too long; his responses are too practiced, too familiar. The thing that makes us human. If there was a walking, talking example of a fully dislikeable human with self-destruction as a goal, that would be, yes, our hero. You see him going through the motions, but you never really feel for him. But their coming together feels real, feels like two young people hot for each other doing something about it. His single-minded conquest of a much-younger new student, the pretty Preethi, takes you to the questionable space of ‘putting a stamp of ownership’ on another, and we are taken aback by the complete submissiveness of the mouse-like girl in question. A lot of this has been lost in translation, and the Hindi version, with Shahid Kapoor in the lead, is the poorer for it. I couldn’t spot too many, but the one I remember from the Telugu version is quite striking: a conversation between Arjun and his best pal about a third young man ‘objectfying women’. He makes no distinction in other things he abuses: they could be chemical, or people, especially those who love him, and more especially, the young woman who adores him. We do this because we are led to believe that he has something more to him. We hope to see that something more, the something that will let us see past the ugly walls he’s built for himself. Advertising

To watch a character like Kabir Singh do this thing for nearly three hours plonks the viewer squarely in a place of conflict. Deverakonda lets us in, and is not afraid of breaking the boys-don’t-cry myth (a scene in which he goes after another student with vicious kicks and bloody punches also shows us his wet-eyed heartbreak). Arjun Reddy goes from point A to point B, and his journey is marked by a reluctant progression, where a self-obsessed man-child makes his painful way into a sort of adulthood. Some of that may be put down to individual natures, and also to the established hierarchies of male-female, senior-junior in professional educational institutions, especially in such gendered spaces as medical colleges. Here are some bare-bones details for those coming fresh into the Hindi remake. 0
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The list is long, and as the film slides into a flashback of when the protagonist was a senior student in a medical college where his exemplary academic record is held up at the same time as he faces down his ‘anger management issues’, the film threatens to become a endless paean to Kabir’s behavior. Advertising

Vijay Deverakonda’s playing of Arjun Reddy is fully switched on, and on-point. The director has said that he has made some changes in the Hindi version. In these portions, both Kabir and Preeti display equal passion, which is a good thing, because everywhere else, that dynamic is skewed. His pursuit of Preeti (Advani) shows us even more violent, aggressive behaviour.