Shahid Kapoor on Kabir Singh: No one should be allowed to tell adults which film to watch or not watch
Actor Shahid Kapoor comes out with his most candid critique of the critics who slammed his recent blockbuster Kabir Singh as misogynistic and toxic.
Shahid Kapoor talks in fewer words than most others. That he still manages to make plenty of sense in them sets the 38-year-old actor apart. One would think that the incredible commercial success of his latest release, Kabir Singh, (Rs 275 crore in five weeks and counting) would make the reticent star open up a bit more. Measured, sensible and logical he stays, in fewer words, but with sincerity.
Kabir Singh has crossed all your previous box office milestones. Has the success sunk in?
What has happened in the last five weeks is unreal. It’s too much to absorb and assimilate. There’s too much to think about. A lot to feel.
A lot to defend also, considering that while the film became a super hit, it also got wide criticism for glorifying misogyny through your character.
The fun of being an actor is when you get to play someone who is far removed from your real self. In real life, I could never be like Kabir Singh in any possible way. The challenge therefore was to find those grey strands in the personality, take a magnifying glass to enlarge them and bring them to life on screen. Those elements were also in the original Telugu film, Arjun Reddy, and that’s why I insisted that the same director be retained for the Hindi remake. I’ve never been afraid of playing characters that would be disliked. My drug addict character of Tommy Singh in Udta Punjab was also quite deplorable. I feel that people should walk out of the hall loving a performance, not the character. One needs to, therefore, make bold choices. For a star who is otherwise liked and loved, it’s a big thing if people watch a character on screen and wonder what the hell he is doing. It’s a huge compliment for me if people disliked Kabir Singh. To be able to lead people into a willing suspension of belief is the biggest victory for a film.
Were there also concerns that since you were remaking Arjun Reddy that had already been super hit in the South, that there’ll be comparisons, and the same misogyny debate that it had to face?
The fears were to do with the fact that we were making Kabir Singh for a much wider audience than Arjun Reddy had. The challenge was to rediscover and recreate the magic without losing the soul. Because unlike remakes which are story driven or plot driven, this remake was character driven. It was led and fronted by the performance of Kabir Singh’s character, and the challenge was to make him come alive. And when I saw the original, I loved it and didn’t feel like changing the soul of the character. Why fix it when it ain’t broke? But I still wanted to bring the elements of my originality to them. So it was a struggle every day.
Your film’s director Sandeep Vanga Reddy’s statement that it’s okay for people in love to slap each other went too far when it comes to defending a film, don’t you think?
It’s healthy that people disagree in society. It’s healthy for people to have strong points of view. Cinema is a platform to make conversations happen, for society to reflect upon itself, for people to be able to say that I don’t agree with you. The fact that people reacted so strongly to Sandeep’s statement is actually a testimony that the product, the film was so potent. That people actually started to feel that Kabir and Preeti (played by Kiara Advani) is a real couple who behave like this with each other. It’s a big compliment. I’m totally okay that people have issues with Kabir. I have issues with Kabir. I would never want to behave like he did. But then I am the actor who has to play the part.
The critics of the film were offended to the extent of telling viewers that whoever watches Kabir Singh is a supporter of toxic masculinity. Your thoughts?
See, when Kabir Singh was made, it wasn’t with any propaganda in mind. We were not trying to propagate something. It was a reflection of things that happen. Of people that exist. Of behavior that’s common human behavior. You see these things actually happen around you. The intent was to show it how it is. The prerogative to watch, not watch, like, dislike lies with the viewer. It takes a lot of courage to do something like what we did. I recently saw a High Court ruling that told the Certification Board that your task is certification, and not trying to censor. You’ve given ‘Adult’ rating to our film. This means that people who will watch it would be people who can vote, who can get a driving license, who can decide things for themselves. So I don’t think anyone can be in a privileged position to tell an adult what they can watch and what they can’t – what they must watch and what they mustn’t. That’s like putting yourself on a pedestal. I don’t think anyone – be it actors, filmmakers, reviewers, journalists – should be allowed to take that kind of a privileged mantle for themselves. People must decide for themselves.
Does the fact then that the film is doing record business, seem like a vindication of sorts?
You can’t take a simplistic view of a very complex character like Kabir. There are many layers to him. Some layers are deplorable and terrible. And some layers are actually beautiful. The layer of unconditional love, of love in which you are ready to destroy yourself was actually a very beautiful layer. The layer of violence – and I never saw this as misogyny- because Kabir Singh’s violent streak was not towards any particular sex. His aggression was inherent in his personality, it was not gender related. If people view the film in totality and not get stuck with two-three scenes, they’d see that his aggressive behaviour was across the board. So I frankly felt that the criticism was a bit misplaced. There have been films in the recent past which had characters exhibiting similar traits but no one really picked on them this way. To be candid, Sanju had a scene where the guy is sitting in front of his wife and saying he has slept with over 300 women. No one picked on it the way they went after Kabir Singh. And this is not to say that I didn’t enjoy Sanju. I thoroughly did, because I didn’t watch it to see how people should be, I watched it to see how that character’s life is. The fact that people loved Kabir Singh has just told me that people watch the film for what it is. We were always honest, right from the very first promo of the film that it’s a fictional account of a very flawed character. There is no protagonist or antagonist in the film. Kabir is the protagonist, he is the antagonist. So all the issues lie within him. We were never trying to be politically correct. It was always a straight-up account of a person’s life. It might be refreshing for people to want to watch a film that’s raw and bare. Why shouldn’t a film like that be made?
What about the fear that the success of the film could start a trend of negative shades in the hero, and for some other filmmaker to not be able to handle it sensibly?
If you start thinking like that, you can’t ever be a creative person. It’s like a situation where one person goes for a driving license test, performs great and the authority gives him the license. It doesn’t mean that on another day, that person can’t have an accident and crash his car. You can’t take responsibility of how others will behave. You can only speak for yourself.
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