The film reminded me of my former house-help’s story. She worked to pay off her son’s loan, while he spent the day drinking and picking fights. ‘I wish I had raised him better,’ she told me once, ‘I ignored all his bad behavior as I thought boys will be boys.’
The film reminded me of her. Our protagonist Kabir Singh, which the film tries to glorify at every opportunity, gets suspended from medical college, misbehaves with women (in one of the film’s most disturbing scenes, he takes a knife and commands a girl to “Open It” pointing to her clothes.Yes, you read that right!), performs surgeries drunk, and is a general nuisance to everyone from co-workers to family.
You’d think such a person would be put in therapy by concerned family. In the film, when Kabir inform his father about the suspension, his father nods pleasantly. Boys will be boys. When he slaps his girlfriend, gives instructions on where she’s supposed to sit in class and who she should befriend (he chooses a “healthy” girl), fights with his brother, embarrasses his family, insults his friends, and screams at co-workers, guess what they all do. They smile and put up with the crap, because you know…’boys will be boys’.
This attitude is all around us, so there’s no point being angry with one film glorifying it. In a way, this film is a representation of the darker side of our society. Families upon families are destroyed by such boys who grown up to be weak, toxic men.The men who could have really done something in life, but are never taught how to take care of themselves, forget about caring for others.
It’s alright to show a hero with grey-shades, but with a tinge of reality. The film could have shown him getting treatment for his alcoholism and therapy for his anger management issues.
Instead, what do we have? We have family and friends ready to bail him out of the next mess. We have beautiful intelligent women falling for him despite crass wooing (“can you help me out physically”). In short, despite the problematic behavior that should attract punishment or lessons learnt, the film rewards him, even giving him a (spoiler alert) fairytale ending.
Looking at the impressionable young men in the theatre, it was terrifying to wonder what kind of messages they had they absorbed. What about the young women—what did the film tell them through the submissive love interest Preeti (Kiara Advani) always in white in the first half, married and pregnant at 19 years of age? What happens now of her MBBS degree; is she even ambitious?
It’s not like the film is all drab. I laughed a couple of times too, at the unintentional comedy. Like when Kabir’s troubled behavior is described as having an ‘unconventional mindset’ and being ‘free-spirited’.
The film unabashedly glorifies Kabir’s character, trying to turn him into a cool, inspirational role-model. Take the highly stylized introduction for example— smoking (as he does incessantly through the film) to the tune of song ‘Meri umar ke naujawanon’. He loves telling women what to do – ‘No lipstick in OT’ ‘Put your dupatta properly’ etc., and the women always do what he says. A fantasy for the patriarchal mind, where men can be weak and toxic and women act as rehabilitation centers. In another one of the film’s unintentionally funny scenes, his friend offers his sister in marriage, to save him from his downward spiral!
In the post #MeToo era, this film is especially repugnant and inappropriate! But it’s also understandable that it came at this time. Change is frightening for everyone, and as a whole, we tend to resist. In my eyes, this film is the worst form of resistance to a change that’s thankfully inevitable.
I know some people will be drawn to the film. Women, who are running away from their own power and agency, for example. I remember a college friend telling me she stopped wearing sleeveless tops and jeans as her boyfriend is “possessive”. The film will also be liked by men, who are unwilling to become their better selves, which makes them uncomfortable around women with agency. For the rest of us, men and women, who have evolved through time, seen the world a bit, and understood how to pick healthy relationships over toxic ones, this film is as fun as chewing pebbles.
Sonia Chopra is a critic, columnist and screenwriter with over 15 years of experience. She tweets on @soniachopra2