While Kabir Singh opens to a strong box office, the film has divided social media’s opinion on its depiction of casual violence against women and romanticisation of misogyny. Movie critics and women are calling it disturbing and misleading, but a lot of men, especially fans of the lead actor Shahid Kapoor, are alleging that they are reading too much into it. That this is just a film, that it should be viewed and then forgotten about. But then is it just a film? Or let me ask, is it the only film which hails misogynist and alpha men as cool heroes? When films repeatedly cater  sexism, female objectification and misplaced machismo to the audience and they lap it up in the name of entertainment, should we be okay with it?

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Film Kabir Singh is receiving criticism for romanticising misogyny and toxic behaviour among men.
  • The film is Hindi remake on an equally problematic Telegu film Arjun Reddy.
  • But this isn’t the first time films have normalised mistreatment of women while the audience applauds.
  • Misogyny and toxic masculinity in films have a deeper connection with reality then we want to concede.   

When films repeatedly cater sexism, female objectification and misplaced machismo to the audience and they lap it up in the name of entertainment, should we be okay with it?

Kabir Singh is the Hindi remake of Telegu film Arjun Reddy which was equally problematic, as I discovered, when I tried to watch it. A brilliant medical student with anger issues becomes a coke snorting, alcohol chugging rockstar surgeon (because no other medical field spells out cool and dramatic. Ever seen a rockstar Paediatrician or Physician or Radiologist in desi films?) Singh/Reddy falls in love with a first-year medical student in his college and marks her ‘meri bandi’ or my girl. No other man is supposed to even so much as gaze at her. And thus begins a cycle of obsession which masquerades as passionate love, physical abuse of not just his girlfriend but of other women and men around him, which we are supposed to overlook because he has a temper.

Break all these traits down and we have seen them is so many films over the decades. But where does this idea of romanticising toxic masculinity and calling misogyny cool come into films? It has a deeper connection with the reality of Indian society than we are willing to admit, and the idea isn’t just contained to men. I wasn’t shocked to see a woman I know write how she was excited about this film and how the character of Kabir or Arjun was so hot. I have seen countless Kabirs and Preetis around me and am sure all of you must have too. Men who mark girls and pop a vein every time another man looks in their direction have many takers. There are girls who find possessive men, who lose their temper if they talk to another guy attractive. There are women who fantasise of finding alpha boyfriends who will punch or get punched for them.

Many girls’ backgrounds see controlling and aggressive boyfriends as their saviours, who’ll fight their battles against patriarchal oppression for them. The Kabirs of this world on the other hand see women as objects.

As in the film, Preetis of the real world come from oppressive patriarchal families, where even sending a girl out to study in a medical college is progressive; something they must pat their backs about. But they dare not speak their mind or question the decisions their families make for them. These women see boyfriends brimming with aggression as their knights in shining armour, who’ll fight their battles against patriarchal oppression for them. But that’s not it, due to centuries of internalisation of stereotyping, many girls with modern sensibilities also find temperamental and sexist men hot. The Kabirs of this world on the other hand see women as objects. Properties which must be owned, protected, manicured to match personal taste, deciding what they’ll wear and whom they’ll befriend. It is a toxic mix brewed in the beaker of gender stereotyping, which conditions men and women to look for specific characteristics in partners. Men must be aggressive and controlling, women must be docile and accommodating.

Isn’t this what massy movies essentially show us? They regurgitate this stereotyping only magnifying it many folds, which only further reinforce these out-dated values. At the end of the day films like Kabir Singh make tons of money, the actors move on to other projects and the audience goes back home applauding an entitled man who even bullies his girlfriend. Who is the loser here? Well, you tell me. I don’t know if Arjun or Kabir get his happy ending, as I couldn’t sit through the first one and can’t dare to watch the remake. What I know for sure is that both in the reel and real world, patriarchy wins. Hurray!

Also Read: Why Brie Larson Sharing Her MTV Award With Stunt Doubles Matters

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are author’s own.

Get the best of SheThePeople delivered to your inbox - subscribe to Our Power Breakfast Newsletter. Follow us on Twitter , Instagram , Facebook and on YouTube, and stay in the know of women who are standing up, speaking out, and leading change.