No, Sandeep Reddy Vanga, Being in Love Does Not Mean Freedom to Hit Your Partner
Are we really denigrating issues like violence against women and harassment and disguising them as "love" to sell an age old wine that has been repackaged for the nth time?
A still from 'Mere Sohneya' song from Kabir Singh, featuring Shahid Kapoor and Kiara Advani
Thought Kabir Singh was the worst example of toxic masculinity you had seen onscreen in a while? Well, its real-life maker Sandeep Reddy Vanga is now giving the fictional character a run for his money with his latest interview with Film Companion's Anupama Chopra.
In a 35-minute chat, the filmmaker went on to justify the film and essentially quash all those arguing that the character was "flawed" and meant to be watched with that filter.
The man was on his guard from the start, defensively dismissing the outrage against his film as "bizarre". What one would have hoped the maker would offer was an explanation for the film; why the character was the way it was, what was the maker's intention in basing a film on a protagonist that has so clearly managed to offend sections of women and men with his violence and misogyny.
But over the course of the interview, Reddy offered no such solace. Instead, he flatly refused to even consider any of the criticism as valid and instead blamed the audience for perceiving the film in a negative manner. And to support his point, he viciously attacked everyone who had criticised his film.
He started off his rant with blaming critics, calling them "parasites", accusing them of doing more harm to filmmakers than even those indulging in privacy. If the absurdity of this statement was not clear in one go, think about what he is saying again — that a film critic by doing their JOB is actually harming a filmmaker more than those indulging in CRIME. And this was the least offensive of all the points that will be further highlighted in the following passages.
Reddy roundly refused to acknowledge that there was anything wrong or even questionable about the portrayal of Kabir and Preeti's relationship. He showed no disdain for the violence or sexual assault and, in fact, failed to acknowledge them thus,
The crowning moment came when a persistent Chopra nudged him on by telling him how some women had told her they felt uncomfortable watching scenes such as the one in which Kabir slaps Preeti with men in the audience cheering for Kabir. Instead of addressing a serious issue — the depiction of violence against women on screen and its impact on the audience's psyche — Sandeep Reddy instead slammed the WOMEN, accusing them of never having been in love.
Because according to Reddy, being in love with someone means having the freedom to assault each other. He said so in as many words. When Chopra tried to reason that being able to hit and in return get hit by one's companion may not be everyone's idea of love, Reddy seemed not to believe that such people were real. I mean, if women (or men for that matter) did not spend every hour of their day in mortal fear of their paramour, are they even in love?
It's hard to not get personal when people in creative positions who get to command large audiences and essentially get to model behaviour for aspirational masses choose to denigrate issues like violence against women and harassment and disguise them as "love" to sell an age old wine that has been repackaged for the nth time, only in the same colours of vapid misogyny.
If only there were a way for millions of women (the author included) to tell people like Sandeep Reddy that it is films like these that made sure harassment was normalised as wooing and force a sign of manly-ness. And that if scenes of Kabir Singh needlessly perpetuating violence against a docile Preeti who seemingly has no problem were trigerring, it was only because for many, the violence is only too real and relatable, sans the romantic undertones.
A survey in 2018 revealed that one in three women in India faced abuse and violence at home. According to the data, 27 per cent of women have experienced physical violence since the age 15. This experience of physical violence among women is more common in rural areas than among women in urban areas. Domestic violence cases, where women reported physical abuse in rural and urban areas, were at 29 per cent and 23 percent, respectively.
In light of these numbers, films like Kabir Singh and their makers' justifications cease to be harmless banter but rather become dogmatic examples of ideal behaviour. And in a country like India, one need not look twice to see the cultural impact of cinema.
If only women and men could tell these people that no, they did not want love to be defined by the parameters of force, or in fact, to be defined at all. And to tell them that one need not stylize brutality and male chauvinism to tell a story about a conflicted man. Many filmmakers have attempted to make films about protagonists with flawed or grey characters. One of the greatest that comes to mind is Alfred Hitchcock's classic Psycho, a film about a sexually depraved man who turns to murder and deception to feed his fantasies.
The film not only manages to tell the tale without offending half of its audience, it tells it so well that one ends up feeling almost sorry for the depraved while at the same time feeling a deep sense of revulsion. With a film like Kabir Singh, one gets no pathos or depth but only polarisation. You either like him, or you don't, therefore you either like the film or you don't.
And the vicious personal attacks Reddy led on certain critics by not only dismissing their work but also making snide comments about their body, Reddy proved that he may know how to make a hit film in India but to seek sensitivity or a third dimension in it (or him) would be a fool's endeavor.
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