It’s 2019 and Kabir Singh believes in slap-happy love
When characters like Kabir Singh, but when such cinematic characters become ideals, there is something rotten in the state of Indian masculinityUpdated: Jul 07, 2019 00:46 IST
“Intimidation has its own charm,” director Sandeep Reddy Vanga told critic Anupama Chopra on the YouTube channel, Film Companion. Vanga is the director of the Telugu film Arjun Reddy and its Hindi remake, Kabir Singh.
The latter has made ₹200 crore at the box office, much to Vanga’s satisfaction. This makes sense. When a film with a regressive plot, insipid acting and unremarkable filmmaking becomes a blockbuster, it must feel good.
Kabir Singh took a lot of people by surprise. That in 2019, a man declaring a woman his possession (“Meri bandi hai woh”, Kabir says of the heroine early in the film. Incidentally, bandi translates to captive) and slapping her around could qualify as a romantic ideal; that forcing a woman to strip at knifepoint could be considered charming, seemed bizarre.
Public service announcement: Boys, do not try any of this at home. In fact, do not try this anywhere unless your partner specifies that they’d like to be dominated. Why this ‘double standard’? Because in the latter scenario, you have their consent as opposed to the partner being a mute bandi who gets kissed, slapped, abandoned, retrieved etc. There are umbrellas that have been treated with more love and consideration than Kabir shows Preeti.
From the way Vanga attacked those who criticised Kabir Singh, it’s evident that Vanga is hurting. “So I feel these women [critics] who are talking about this [toxic masculinity], I feel that they were never in love,” he said. Later, he elaborated, “If you can’t slap, can’t touch a woman wherever you want, can’t kiss or use cuss words, I don’t see emotions there.” What one also can’t see in there is consent. He doesn’t clarify if, in the name of love, women are also free to slap and touch men wherever they want.
For anyone who has seen Vanga’s films, these sentiments are not surprising. Which begs the question: Why give him a platform to insult the critics he doesn’t like and champion toxic masculinity? You may argue that Vanga hangs himself with his words, but the uncomfortable truth is that he’s been given – in addition to his blockbuster film – yet another opportunity and platform to put forward his opinion. He isn’t taken to task when he attempts to body shame a (male) critic or makes ridiculous statements like claiming mainstream entertainment doesn’t influence audiences.
Critics (whom Vanga dismisses as “parasites”) could point out that there was briefly a period in the early 2000s when popular Hindi cinema woke up to the 21st century and flirted with the idea of vulnerable men and complex women as leads. Popular Telugu cinema is yet to see such a phase. While Hollywood films have been winning over multiplex audiences, the Hindi film industry’s reaction has been to woo a different demographic and Telugu cinema has helped to that end.
Ever since 2011, when Ready (another remake of a Telugu film) became a blockbuster and reintroduced the over-the-top male as hero, Bollywood seems to take one step forward and then two steps back as far as gender dynamics is concerned. To argue these films don’t impact how masculinity is constructed in our societies is naive. We can only say that it’s too early to tell for sure.
On June 29, a teenaged boy threw a teenaged girl off the eighth floor of a building in Mumbai, allegedly because she had rejected him. The last words she heard were the boy saying, “Meri nahin toh kisi aur ki bhi nahi.” On July 2, two boys, 10 and 11 years old, allegedly raped a five-year-old girl in Delhi. The three were friends and used to play together. The sexual violence that is becoming a regular feature of our news is born of myriad factors. One of these is an increasingly visual culture filled with images depicting a certain kind of sexuality, violence and gender dynamic. We could argue that cases like the above are outliers, but the reports of horrifying sexual violence keep coming.
Films like Kabir Singh don’t cause these crimes, but they do inform the imagination. It might feel like a slap on the face of men who see themselves in Kabir Singh, but when such cinematic characters become ideals, there is something rotten in the state of Indian masculinity.