KABIR SINGH : MOVIE REVIEW
2.5 STARS / 5 : ABOVE AVERAGE
DIRECTOR : SANDEEP REDDY VANGA
HINDI ( 2019 ) , ENGLISH SUBTITLES AVAILABLE
ANGER, LIES AND STOLEN VIDEOTAPE
There is a particular plague, in a certain breed of films, that has nothing to do with direction, acting or quality of story. It has to do with honesty, or rather the lack of it , when one decides to steal an idea from another film.
For much of ‘Kabir Singh’ I enjoyed it greatly , its superficial overblown starting petals falling away to reveal a raging core of unstoppable romance and out-of-control emotions. South India is the international home of love-failure epics and ‘Kabir Singh’ is a Hindi re-hash of director-writer Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Telugu debut ‘ Arjun Reddy ‘ (2017). Both films have two things in common – they became popular and made a good loot at the box-office by fooling the public, and they both have a crucial core stolen from ‘Flight’ (2012), the John Gattins screenplay piloted by the visionary Robert Zemeckis to make a landing back to greatness after being lost for a decade in CGI wilderness.
‘ Kabir Singh ’, in its basic element, is a love story and it flies this kite superbly. Boy and Girl follow India’s population rule for copious copulation and have already been at it enough times to last hundreds of romances, but hit a fatal snag when it comes to formal consummation. Hell brims over and the mood is red purple black with cataclysmic love failure. Its great going cinematically and I just couldn’t understand why S. Vanga should vandalize everything by stealing a vital sequence from a famous Hollywood film – why do such a risky thing when you already have a terrific story going ? One then realizes that he did not have an original story to begin with. He saw ‘Flight’ and was determined to copy its crucial juncture, and then when thinking of how to make it work in India, a dim bulb went off in the head – make it a love story of course, in fact make it the old love-failure one just to bleed the adoring audience a bit more, and convert the English hero’s alcoholism problem into an anger management theme. As for the lawyer and judge scene at the end, just make sure its surgically cut, lifted and transplanted as virginally pure as possible – this is after all a surgeon’s film ( an orthopaedic surgeon is just as good as a general surgeon, isn’t it?)
Don’t worry at all about people noticing the plagiarism – the audience are duffers. Sandeep Reddy Vanga is absolutely right – on a budget of Rs.60 crores, ‘Kabir Singh’ has finagled Rs.380 crores. If he had copied one more idea , he would well have crossed Rs.500 crores but that’s a thought for his next film.
Pic’s strength, however, lies in its blazing expression of emotion and its sexual honesty. Kabir Singh ( a possessed Shahid Kapoor) is first shown as a house surgeon – a junior doctor preparing to leave medical school. A college topper ( a grim reflection on the rest of his class) , he is equally known for his red-hot rage. He then develops the hots for first year student Preeti Sikka ( Kiara Advani) – and since both parties have an instinctive fondness for each other, love and lust mushroom in the boy’s hostel room. Even during Kabir’s three year post-graduation in a different state, when other lovers would bid their goodbyes and take on different partners, this couple stakes it out through thick and thin, determined to chart a romance for the ages. But her father declares nuclear war against the cock-sure suitor, and Kabir was never built to be the martyr. Semen, blood, hopes, dreams, progeny, coupled eternity - everything ebbs away as the star-crossed lovers are brutally fissioned….
The film’s weakest stages are dispensed with at the start. A football match, with overboiled background music, that is supposed to show Kabir’s deadly rage, is mostly hot air – ten per cent sex with two hundred per cent screaming. The dean scolds Kabir for his uncontrolled anger, and Kabir answers back – the dean must have been as much in love with Kabir as Preeti is, for he is let off pretty lightly, while many real-life deans would have been baying to slaughter this upstart’s career much more. There’s more sophomoric nonsense in the classrooms but things look up when the action moves outside these poorly handled medical college sequences.
Pic’s greatest scenes ensue when Kabir stands outside his lover’s house gate and challenges her to face her father, after the latter has slapped and shamed Kabir for being too bold. Preeti’s father has gone mad with disapproval and has already found another boy for her to marry, while she is beside herself with grief and panic as she tries to beseechingly calm Kabir down. By this stage, he’s had it too, and has launched into an inconsolable world-war stance of his own. The frantic behaviour of these young lovers on the street is agonizingly terrific – tears, persuasion, temper, humiliation swim in suburban dust.
Shahid Kapoor is simply superb as the rage-torn lover and I daresay a better director might have inspired him to give an even more incandescent performance. You see the rage in his face but not in his eyes. Be that as it may, this is Kapoor’s career-best act eclipsing his turns in ‘Haider’ and ‘Udta Punjab’. When his Kabir provocatively challenges his girl to tell the world how she owns him in private, there is no question the boy has been smashed and that the man has arrived. Kiara Advani excellently renders Preeti – an innocent girl subtly evolving into a spunky woman. When emotions explode, Advani ably and strongly holds her dignified own against Shahid.
There is a hare-brained sequence where Kabir taunts his friend who runs a basic doctor’s practice, to become a great surgeon like him. No doubt Kabir fantasizes that a magical surgeon like him can cure all the depression, diabetes, high blood pressure and chronic lung disease in the world. The film generates a good deal of chest puffing from what a prolific and accomplished surgeon Kabir is. The film’s timeline shows him to be only just out of training, at which stage a junior surgeon however great he or she is , would be in a hospital team with senior surgeons. No such grooming for great Kabir who flies solo. Also, you see he is actually an orthopaedic surgeon and not a surgeon in the conventional sense of the term. Sure, orthopaedicians have to handle gruesome and challenging surgery as much as a general surgeon but when one wonders why Kabir is actually cast as a bone-fixer, the answer is traced back to writer-director Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s real life as a graduate in physiotherapy. His time as a physiotherapist would have been exposed him to orthopaedicians more, so why bother to do research about casting a conventional surgeon as a character ?
The story eventually comes full circle, honey-reviving a lost future that re-fashions the acridity of the past – a bitter-sweet Andhra delicacy re-heated into a Hindi thali. The director-writer seems to tell aspiring film-makers – ‘Look and learn, this is how you rock love sex and togetherness, and this is how you earn big bucks’.
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