Finally comes a popular Bollywood movie that captures the cries and pains of the falling patriarchal structure of society. As Confucius once said, “A seed grows with no sound but a tree falls with huge noise. Destruction has noise but creation is quiet.”
With women now demanding, and making, their rightful place in mainstream social life and coming into their own in sports, education and politics, patriarchy has been feeling the jitters. The rise of women has mostly been slow, and quiet, but the diminishing of male dominance has led to some amount of wailing. And, Kabir Singh is a perfect example of that. The utter impatience, obduracy, drugs, alcohol, cigarette smoking — not one but two at one go — over-possessiveness, insecurity, violence and self-destruction of the film’s central character typify the desperation of men who want to hold on to their patriarchal privileges. Since women have become more confident and assertive about their own rights and space, cinema is a place where men can fantasise about the benefits they used to once draw from patriarchy.
Director Sandeep Vanga Reddy showcases a loud and violent man who is paired with a silent woman; the execution of unequal authority thus becomes easy. Just wildly wondering, what if the movie had Kabir Singh and Mary Kom as the leading pair? But that would not have earned Rs 200 crore. Alas. But then, Bollywood scripts hardly have the finesse that can make a female-driven narrative enter the Rs100-crore club.
Cinema’s another significant function is to record, preserve and portray history. And, Kabir Singh did a good job in recording this story of male dominance in reel life. Perhaps later, the film can be used as a documentary to show our next generation, living in a much equal and fairer world, “hey, this is how stupid patriarchy was”.
Vanga Reddy’s choice of Shahid Kapoor as Kabir Singh was perfect. An actor who delivered stellar performances while essaying cynical characters in Udta Punjab and Haider, Kapoor was brilliant as the character who typifies male dominance and demands meekness from women. Yes, Kabir Singh is actually the villain of the movie. He is no hero. Combine high-octane music, loud mannerisms, high-action drama and the overdose of drugs and alcohol with a Bollywood star and a beautiful heroine, and voila, a villain becomes a hero in the eyes of the audience. Shahid Kapoor has himself admitted that this flawed character has become an adorable one for the audience.
Kabir Singh is unabashedly brute and rash. But dig a little deeper, the film actually shows that all is not well with women’s empowerment — even within educational institutions that are considered safe for women. The increase in violence against women in the “modern and progressive” centres in a city, schools and colleges, is a telling reminder that the regressive forces in society do not want women to build their own individuality and space.
Today, exploiters do not come in the form of village patriarchs who pass judgments about the lives of women. These neo-exploiters seem to be cultured, educated, English-speaking, with upmarket degrees — Kabir Singh is a surgeon — and drive luxurious cars and bikes. And a large number of women do forgive and forget. So, girls and parents, Kabir Singh is a warning — the film shines a spotlight on such neo-exploiters.
Cinema carries such an immense impact on the viewers that after the end of the movie someone from the audience remarked apprehensively, “Now everyone will be Kabir Singh”. I smirked and retorted, “But not everybody will be Preeti Sikka”.
This article first appeared in the print edition on July 25, 2019 under the title ‘Clinging to patriarchy’. The writer is assistant professor, Department of Political Science, Maitreyi College, University of Delhi.