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With ‘Kabir Singh’, is Bollywood going to continue its tryst with toxic masculinity?

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India is a patriarchal society and it goes without saying that Bollywood is a male-dominated film industry. For years, we have seen films presenting stories that only satisfy the male gaze. Rarely we see the makers of the commercial films make an attempt to deviate from this long-lasting trend, where our heroines are just an eye candy whereas the hero is the centre of the film’s universe.

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Recently, the trailer of Shahid Kapoor starrer ‘Kabir Singh’ (remake of ‘Arjun Reddy’) was unveiled. Going by the film’s synopsis, its story chronicles the downfall of a surgeon who goes on a self-destructive path after his lover is married off to someone else. After watching ‘Kabir Singh‘s trailer, I found some scenes to be problematic on so many levels, like for example the one where Kabir (Shahid) chases down his maid right on to the street after she mistakenly breaks a glass.

I was curious to know how the makers of ‘Arjun Reddy’ have portrayed it’s lead’s extremely aggressive and overtly violent behaviour. Since everyone was praising the original film, I wondered what’s so special about this love story? (as we have already seen several films with a similar set up) So I ended up watching the Vijay Deverakonda starrer. (For those who haven’t watched ‘Arjun Reddy’ or are planning to watch ‘Kabir Singh’ there are spoilers ahead)

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And to be honest, for me, the film totally failed to live up to the hype. I don’t have any issues with the flaws Arjun’s character has, but the way it has been justified is where the problem lies. Arjun is a topper and a very bright student that’s the only good thing about him. But just because you are a bright student, does that absolve you from all the wrongdoings? Arjun’s anger is so uncontrollable, that he doesn’t give a damn about others no matter what the situation is. His only aim in life is to do what pleases him. He is such an attention seeker that he gets irritated when one of his friends invites him to his marriage. His point is- how can his friend marry while he is suffering from a heartbreak? (Really dude?) Throughout the film, his friends are selflessly supporting him while he goes on to insult every one of them for their lack of aspiration (because Arjun himself is an exceptional surgeon) or love life thereof.

The word ‘consent’ doesn’t even exist in Arjun’s dictionary. He kisses his love interest Preethi(though on cheeks) on the very first day of meeting her (this happens when she has not even expressed an iota of interest in him). He goes on to announce in the entire college that since he likes Preethi, no one should even dare to look her way. He casually says that other girls are free for the remaining boys to go behind them. I mean what kind of scene is this? Is she a property who you are claiming to be only yours? And is there a fair going on which has women for sale?

Arjun is a self-centred guy and interestingly no one in the film seems to have a problem with that. His friends only chide him when he refuses to move on in his life despite Preethi being married. And on other times his flaws don’t seem to be visible to them. Another highly problematic thing is that Arjun is an alcoholic and drug addict, but despite that, he is a highly successful surgeon and the nurses of the hospital where he works are his part-time maids. Yes, they serve him alcohol during work hours and even light his cigarette for him! Arjun objectifies women but when someone else does it he gives them a lecture. How badly the makers are trying to justify his behaviour is something that is a point of concern. Showing a drug addict successfully performing surgeries…I seriously wonder what were the makers trying to portray? (He does falter but surprisingly that is only once!)

I also wonder if not the handsome hunk Vijay but someone else (probably a typical Telugu film hero) had played the role of Arjun Reddy, would the audience (especially women) have still loved this film the way it has been showered with so much love?

If being an alcohol and drug addict was not enough, Arjun even turns to having sex with any women available. He even almost forces himself on one girl. He is an abusive lover but the film doesn’t even for once shows the female lead to have any problem with his behaviour. His lover is sweet, submissive and pious (Now that’s a most important quality that all men want in their women. Right?)

Interestingly while being submerged into his grief, the hero sleeps with random women, even openly asks a few of them to “help him physically” but the Heroine has to remain untouched despite being married. Yes, the hero can have multiple partners but the heroine is RESERVED only for him. The lead never admits having a genuine anger problem or even tries to work on it. He always blames the situation or his heartbreak for his flaws. His lover too never tries to address his anger issues or find a solution for it. Unfortunately, everything is normal for them and that’s how the film normalises toxic masculinity.

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As a line in the film states ‘healing is personal’, Preethi heals on her own. After break up, she leaves her family, her husband and doesn’t even have a single friend to console her all this while. And when Arjun is asking women to “help him physically”, Preethi carries his child despite knowing that he is seeing someone else!

Why do men resort to anger, alcohol and rage to heal? Preethi too was heartbroken, but she never did any of that to cope up with her brutal heartbreak. I can go on forever with the flaws of the film. Toxic masculinity is not an alien concept in Bollywood. We have seen several heroes living off their macho image. But what I fail to understand is why filmmakers are not trying to understand the kind of times we are living in?

Every passing day we come across stories of harassment and #MeToo, and then you have a film which normalises male domination, stalking, aggression and idolises the flaws of its hero, how are we going to change the existing scenario?

‘Arjun Reddy’ had several grey areas and going by the trailer of ‘Kabir Singh’ it looks like the film is a loyal remake of the original. I agree that in cinema, portraying real characters are important. But is it important to conform to certain traditional masculine ideas?

If the makers say that they are just trying to warn the audience against taking the route their hero has taken, then I think they have failed miserably in portraying that one simple message in its three hour-long run time.

When ‘Arjun Reddy’ had released, alongwith with praise it has also received flak. I so badly wish that its makers have learned something from all the criticism that it had received and have categorically avoided justifying their lead’s resort to abusive behaviour, objectification of women and anger in the name of nursing a broken heart in ‘Kabir Singh’.

Also Read: Does Bollywood needs to do self-introspection in the wake of ‘Avengers: Endgame’s humongous success?

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