The stage was already set for Kabir Singh before its release, thanks to its super successful original Arjun Reddy. The Hindi remake brought in unprecedented success for Shahid Kapoor, just as the Telugu film had for Deverakonda when it released in 2017. But alongwith the huge box office success of Kabir Singh came the uproar about the film's depiction of toxic masculinity.
While Shahid and the film's makers enjoyed the massive moolah the film raked in (Rs 276 crore in India), they were equally riddled by criticism for portraying an extremely problematic male protagonist. So much so, that the debate is yet to die down, even after 6 months of its release.
Very recently, at Rajeev Masand's The Actresses Roundtable 2019, Taapsee Pannu said, "After I saw Arjun Reddy, and what I saw of it, I didn't watch Kabir Singh."
Actress filmmaker Nandita Das said in November that Kabir Singh's success was a celebration of misogyny. She said in an interview with Huffington Post, "Cinema is also a reflection of society. If such a film is being made and it does well, what does that say about us?"
Both Shahid Kapoor and Vijay Deverakonda have had to face questions about the abusive and sexist traits in their onscreen characters. Months after staunchly defending the criticism surrounding Kabir Singh, Shahid finally said that he doesn't promote anything his character of an aggressive surgeon did in the film.
He said a few days back, "I don't think we have justified anything in Kabir Singh. Kabir is a very messed up character and he does a lot of things that good people should not do. We have never said that Kabir Singh is a good human being and he does good stuff. But he has a heart. And, I think it's important to acknowledge the fact that we've all got both light and dark inside us, otherwise films will become candy floss, the things that really don't exist."
Kiara Advani, who played the role of the demure Preeti Sikka in Kabir Singh, faced criticism for choosing a character who's submissive and silent throughout the movie. In a recent interview the actress admitted that she was uncomfortable with a few scenes in the movie.
"Personally, I may not agree with certain scenes and they may make me uncomfortable. But those things were there to also make you uncomfortable as his character was flawed. I didn't look at him like a hero," she said, adding, "It's good that it was debated upon and I leave it at that. I looked at it as a film and a fictional story, wherein nobody is telling you to be like any of them. I have moved on now."
Vijay Deverakonda has had to defend Arjun Reddy in multiple interviews in the recent past. Most recently, he was part of a group discussion of actors with Film Companion, where actress Parvathy Thiruvothu said, "When a man is being misogynistic and abusive, and you show that in a way that incites applause in the audience, then that's glorification... I can feel lustful towards a character and not make it vulgar and dispensable. With respect bhi ho sakta hai. I'm definitely against such films which glorify such characters."
Vijay, in his response, pointed out that it was possible for a couple to be in love but give each other "little hits and they completely understand and they're still in love". It was a reflection of something the director of both the films, Sandeep Reddy Vanga, had said in an interview to Anupama Chopra.
Talking about the negative reviews, he had said, "The criticism was a little bizarre because I always believed people get angry when you question their belief system. It was very pseudo criticism. When you are deeply in love and connected with a women, there's a lot of honesty in it and if you don't have the liberty of slapping each other, I don't see anything there. The female critics who felt uncomfortable when the male critics behind them clapped on Kabir slapping Preeti may not have experienced love in their lives. It's new to them." More backlash followed.
Last week, Google released data for 2019, detailing the trends and the most searched topics of the year. Despite having released only in June, Kabir Singh bagged the top spot among films in just half a year.
For any filmmaker or actor, it's a huge achievement to have made a film that is being talked about even after 6 months of its release. But I'm not sure this is the kind of conversation any maker would like his film to attract. Nevertheless, besides being a box office hit, Kabir Singh has achieved two other things – getting a debate going about sexism in films, and becoming the most talked about film of the year. Let's hope all the talk leads to more aware filmmaking in India.
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