“When you question their belief system, people get angry,” these are the words of film Kabir Singh’s director Sandeep Reddy Vanga. Calling the criticism coming his and his film’s way unhealthy and “pseudo”, Vanga said in an interview to Film Companion that those who are can’t understand Kabir and Preeti slapping each other in the film, have possibly never experience love the right way. “When you are deeply in love, when you are deeply connected with a woman, or vice versa, there is a lot of honesty in it, and if you don’t have that physical demonstration, if you don’t have that liberty of slapping each other, then I don’t see anything in there. These women who have been talking about (criticising the film) have never been in love, probably they have never experienced it in the right way.”

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Kabir Singh director says if you don’t have the liberty to slap each other in a relationship then it’s not love.
  • Not being in love never sounded so appealing.
  • Love doesn’t have to be toxic or destructive to be true.
  • Does Vanga realise that his statement in a way normalises intimate partner violence?

Vanga just made not being in love sound really amazing. A lot of people may be praying that they never fall for a person who associates love with physical violence.

However in all this conversation, where Vanga honestly tries to justify his film and approach, the mention of one word was conspicuously absent – consent. With millions of women and men being victims of domestic violence, which often spurs from emotions like passion and jealousy, can we say that hitting your partner is an expression of true love and a deep bonding? While Vanga alleges that people get angry when their belief system gets questioned, shouldn’t he apply the same logic on himself? Why is he so offended when women and a lot of men have questioned his definition of love?

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But the Arjun Reddy director refused to reconsider his stance. Further into his interview with film critic Anupama Chopra he defends his male lead’s intimidating attitude. “Intimidation has its own charm. If you can’t slap, if you can’t touch your woman wherever you want, you can’t kiss, you can’t use cuss words then I don’t see emotions in there. Then it’s all margins and papers and red pen, blue pen all that. There is nothing unconditional about it, it is all conditions.”

Even when you strip this statement of any gender, this seems like more of a commentary on ownership than love. The margins that Vanga abhors are what often help women and men see a toxic relationship for what it is. In all the talks of touching, kissing or slapping your partner, the director never once mentions words like agency or consent. If your partner doesn’t want you to touch them and you still proceed to do so, assuming it as a right that your true love grants, you are still crossing the boundaries of someone’s consent and no amount of sugar-coating the act as passion or love will make that right.

Seems like Vanga has confused love with ownership. In all his defense for slapping your partner or touching them when you want to, there is no mention of consent or a person’s agency.

There is no harm in talking about passionate love, but there is indeed harm in not talking about personal boundaries. About assuming that the audience knows how to separate love from harassment and passion from violence because in this country it doesn’t and yes, films do reflect and affect impressionable minds. Vanga says he did not go on to become a gangster after watching films like Ram Lakhan or Parinda. Good for him, but how can he guarantee that no person might go on to assume that toxic relationships are normal after watching his movies? That it is your right to slap the person you love?

Vanga feels that the critics never talked about any of his craft, or other aspects of his film like sound design or cinematography, etc. There is another way of looking at it. Perhaps his commentary was so disturbing that it overshadowed other good aspects of his film for many people. There is no personal hatred, at least from my perspective, towards Vanga’s films. They are unsettling, because as a woman, mother and sister, having spent my life hearing of incidences of passion gone violent (even a slap is violence) you can’t help but take his work in context of the society we live in.

In an ideal or progressive or an equal world, perhaps it would have been possible for people to take Kabir Singh for what it is- just a film. But we don’t live in an ideal world, thus film-makers must acknowledge that they have a moral responsibility towards their audience, whether they like it or not.

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

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