When asked about what they would change in regard to their films, most filmmakers say, "I'd still be stuck in a dark room with my editor ironing out scenes again and again and again till I get them right. The only reason the film is being released now is that there is a pre-set release date." The opportunity afforded to writer/director Sandeep Reddy Vanga when helming Kabir Singh is one in a million. He was given a chance to comb through Arjun Reddy, identify its strengths and shortcomings, and make his retelling of that story, better. The million-dollar question now is, "Did he do it?"
For those unfamiliar with Arjun Reddy
/ Kabir Singh / Dev D
, the story goes something like this: Boy (Kabir Singh played by Shahid Kapoor) meets Girl (Preeti played by Kiara Advani). Boy likes Girl. Girl is coerced into liking Boy. Girl's family does not like Boy. Boy leaves Girl. Boy likes alcohol / tobacco / drugs now. A more vibrant girl (actress Jia Sharma played by Nikita Dutta) likes Boy. But Boy likes self-destruction more. A lot of moping ensues. The Good Lord acknowledges all this suffering, mercifully blesses us with an ending, and we go home to more real-world suffering.
That light-hearted rendition of the plot is a thinly-veiled attempt to mask the horrors of this story. We will spare the morality lesson most of you may have heard from a million other sources, and pose two relatively simple conundrums instead.
Numero Uno: Kabir Singh's initial lashing out is a direct consequence of Preeti's parents' disapproval. For the first time in his life, his will has been opposed. He reacts by threatening her sister, calling her worthless, and physically assaulting her. Now imagine a scenario where Preeti says NO to him during one of their initial exchanges - what do you think our "hero" would have done to her?
Numero Deux: During the film's opening credits, Kabir's grandmother tells us a story of a doll he loved as a child. A doll draped in a white gown. Preeti is dressed in white when we are introduced to her. Kabir sets his eyes on her, likes her and refuses to let go. The character of Preeti lacks agency of any sort. She is at the mercy of the men in her life throughout the course of the film. Now, we ask you to draw a distinction between Preeti and Kabir's doll.
While we let you marinate in those troubling questions, let us break this film down, as a film and not much else.
After sitting through Kabir Singh, we rewatched key scenes from Sandeep Reddy Vanga's original to decipher an answer to the aforementioned million dollar question. In simple terms, our findings led us to a conclusion that had us favouring the original more than the remake.
For starters, in Kabir Singh, Sandeep Vanga takes over editorial duties from Shashank Mali and does away with some crucial scenes which added a layer of humanity to the title character's madness. Gone is the scene where Arjun brought a sexist NRI down to Earth which in turn helped us see the growth in him, gone are the tears of vulnerability Arjun's eyes welled up with as he pummelled his rival after the latter misbehaved with his lady love, and gone is the confrontation with his friend Kamal, a short scene that told us so much about Arjun's obsession using just so few lines.
With those three key scenes lopped off, Kabir Singh feels more like a story of a child throwing his toys out of his pram as a result of a hissy fit rather than the story of a man consumed his inherent toxicity.
Then again, all is not lost. Sandeep Reddy Vanga's rage-fuelled identity is unmistakably evident throughout this film. This story is wholly and solely from his perspective, and can only be told by him. Any person that has borne witness to the Tamil remake's trailer will say as much. The kinetic energy flowing through the movie is akin to the gallons of alcohol coursing through the young master Singh's veins. The film refuses to stop, refuses to apologise, and refuses to take prisoners just like its lead character. It is an alcohol-soaked masterclass in self-loathing that is easy to like or hate but hard to ignore.
Another thing that is hard to ignore is how tailor-made Vijay Devarakonda was to Arjun Reddy and how Shahid Kapoor's performance, while competent, fails to match up when compared with the original. That gleam of wonder Devarakonda's rendition of the character had in his eyes after losing his virginity to Preeti, that latent sense of self-aware joy tucked behind his blatant self-destruction and that display of uber-masculinity are lost in Kapoor's rendition. He is good but not memorable. He is watchable but not arresting. And because of that, the flaws in his film are that much harder to ignore.
The actors around him essay their roles satisfactorily as well. Kiara Advani, Suresh Oberoi and Sohum Majumdar are all serviceable as the agency-free Preeti, the eternally powerless father and the doting yet one-line-spouting friend respectively. Arjan Bajwa, however, rises above his underwritten role and delivers a solid cameo as Kabir's brother Karan.
Also rising above the norm are the film's distinct colour scheme, its exquisite shot structure, and that pulse-pounding background score by Harshvardhan Rameshwar (who also scored the original). When working in tandem with the chartbusting soundtrack, these filmmaking elements try to make a problematic tale palatable.
Simply put, Kabir Singh, the movie and the character, are akin to Kabir Singh's motorcycle of choice, The Royal Enfield. It is a gas-guzzling, hard-to-handle, needlessly heavy, inherently noisy and exorbitantly expensive piece of work that has been loved by the masses because of its glossy marketing. It is a MAN's bike DAMN IT! And we will love it even if it takes us and the planet to hell in a handbasket.
Kabir Singh / Arjun Reddy are alcohol-guzzling, hard-to-manage, needlessly violent, inherently loud and exorbitantly horny pieces of work who are loved by the masses because they are MEN, DAMN IT! Even if implementing their choices and attitude gets us to hell faster, we will look so "edgy" and "cool" doing it when riding on our Royal Enfield with Bekhayali playing in the background.