Kabir Singh Movie Review: Shahid Kapoor holds together a stifling remake
Sandeep Reddy Vanga's Hindi remake of his Telugu hit is cluttered and confusing, with few new flourishes
There’s no forgetting an original performance, a sentiment this story coasts rather lazily on. Vijay Deverakonda’s morality-bending act in and as Arjun Reddy remains untoppable, two years and one remake down. Shahid Kapoor, who slips into the character in the Hindi version, Kabir Singh, is sincere but never sensational. He is the striving second lover after the natural first one. “Kya arranged marriage mein love hota hai kya?” Kabir asks his friend. “Depends on the individual,” comes the answer.
Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Kiara Advani
Director: Sandeep Vanga
Yet, let’s not claim to speak for entire fandoms — at the Chennai theatre I was watching, the hoots arrived exactly where you’d expect them. Pushing forty and father of two, Shahid looks convincing as the campus jerk on a sputtering bike, an entitled prick averse to ashtrays and human sensitivity. In interviews, the actor has insisted that Arjun and Kabir are different people. The dissimilarities, it turns out, are situational: Arjun takes up admission at a Mangalore medical college to stay closer to the sea, Kabir stays back in Delhi because he loves the ‘thand’. Kabir is Punjabi, with shorter hair, and says ‘caste’ like he’s in a debate. There is some attempted sublimation (‘healthy chicks’, not ‘fat chicks’), but overall this character remains as pampered, aggressive, and forcibly masculine as his screen cousin. As for the girl, she still speaks in half-sentences. It’s a pity.
Even a decade on, director Sandeep Reddy Vanga stands visibly awestruck by Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D (Arjun Reddy packed a clever easter-egg for fans of the 2009 film; missing here). But where Devendra Dhillon was little more than a joke to his maker — a fool in a dark comedy, distanced by a sardonic soundtrack — Sandeep genuinely wants us to care for Kabir. The dissonance is frustrating and brutal. In one scene, as Kabir suffers on in his Mumbai bachelor pad, having taken up a surgical job, wrecked by addiction and heartbreak, his brother pays him a visit. Upon finding a filtration device in the cupboard, the brother (an effective Arjan Bajwa) first feigns a look of cutesy frustration — I give up on this hapless fiend — and then breaks into a strong-willed sermon — I must persevere because he's the hero and needs to be restored to civility.
These two conflicting tones, of jazzing up the hero’s hedonism but also creating ground for his salvation, dooms the film. You’d expect the love story, suitably updated with Hindi love tracks, to alleviate the confusion, help us look beyond the wrong. No dice there. Kabir’s relationship with Preeti (Kiara Advani) is anything but earnest — he expects her orthodox father to not mind their kissing, but calculably intructs her to fix her pallu. Informed that his girlfriend has been harassed, Kabir badgers the reporter for inciting details. “Where all did he touch her?” he exhorts, fuelling his disgust. Such an ultraspecific need for masculine provocation is contradicted by Kabir’s perpetually hot head (chasing down the housemaid for breaking a glass). This film could have been a fascinating study in male hypocrisy, were it not such an indolent celebration of it.
Shahid Kapoor is shown housing with a dog, though he’s the one barking. The actor visibly spits into people’s faces, and puts on his surgical gloves like he's prepping for a cage match. There is a lot of English, but nothing incomprehensible. There are some fine cameos, and a few smartly penned comebacks. It’s also nice to see Suresh Oberoi as an indulging, excusing father. (God knows where he gets that from.)
Anger consumes all, even films on anger. “I don’t like your interrogative tone,” Kabir tells his lawyer, promptly shutting down the man. It’s a warning that extends to all, even the director pretending to cut him up. No one intrudes on Kabir Singh, least of all a film camera, the most incisive scalpel in the world. Some patients just cannot be saved.