By Pankaj Sachdeva

By now everybody knows about Sandeep Vanga’s Kabir Singh. I watched it about two-three weeks ago and was wondering if I should write about it. I don’t write about films where I feel I have nothing to contribute but after watching the film, I felt there were some aspects of the film where I could try to elaborate in a post. Kabir Singh is the story of the eponymous character Kabir Rajdheer Singh (Shahid Kapoor), a brilliant surgeon with anger management issues, who undergoes pain and suffering after his girlfriend Preeti (Kiara Advani) gets married to someone else. His is the story of the modern-day Devdas, unable to move on in life and following the path to self-destruction.

Kabir Singh is the story of a man where his personal world collides with the one outside. All through the film, Kabir keeps mentioning about protecting his ‘personal’ and ‘private’ space. While complaining to Shiva (Soham Majumdar) about Preeti’s friend Shruti (Geetika Mehendru), Kabir says, “I hate it when someone interferes in my personal space.” After the altercation with Preeti’s father, Kabir explains the messy situation to his own father and says, “We were in our private space. Unko laga kuch galat ho raha hai.” He thought we were doing something wrong. Kabir’s grandmother, his Dadi, also explains to him the real meaning of private space. When his brother comes to take him back home after months, Kabir refuses and says that he needs space. It is again his wise grandmother who really understands the turmoil faced by Kabir due to Preeti’s wedding and reinforces the theme of ‘personal space’ in the film. She says, in life, it is not easy to forget the people who leave us and the pain of leaving cannot be shared and has to be only borne by the person experiencing it. “Suffering is very personal. Let him suffer”, she adds, giving a profound explanation of life in few words.

For Kabir, Preeti is also part of his personal space. After he sees Preeti, he announces in the entire college that she is meri bandi. She is his doll and others cannot touch her. He has demarcated her in his personal space so that no one else can claim her. While explaining the concept of football to his college dean, he again brings space where he says that infiltrating the opponent’s space and stopping the opponent from scoring a goal are the only rules he believes in. At a later stage, he even separates some fish into different glass jars because he cannot stand them making noises together. It also noteworthy that the film opens and ends with Kabir and Preeti lying in a bed on a beach surrounded by white sheets. There is no one else around except the two of them. This is again their ideal private space which these two flawed characters imagine for themselves. This is almost like the scene in Rockstar where Heer and Jordan put a white bed sheet over themselves, and Heer says, “Yeh hamari duniya hai.” This is their world, away from everyone. There is nothing to stop them in this world, there are no limits and no bondages. It was the world they wanted to build for themselves, away from all the right and the wrong.

The film’s focus on personal space is further shown in different ways. When others start interfering in the fight between Kabir and her father, Preeti tries to ward off everyone by saying, “Yeh mera personal matter hai.” It is my personal matter. After Kabir is accused of medical negligence, his senior friend says, “Bhai ki shaadi me jo morphine vala kaand kiya woh personal tha, yeh professional hai.” That morphine episode at his brother’s wedding was personal. But this is professional. The impact of Kabir’s actions were impacting the lives of others, not just his personal space. There is also a weird recurring motif in the film related to another private space of a man—the penis. Kabir is shown peeing many times in the film; at one point, he pees in his pants after he overdoses on a drug concoction. He often puts ice cubes in his groin area. At another stage, he tells Shiva he is hurting and he needs love and care the same way that women need love and care during periods. Moments later, he shaves the penis area and starts bleeding mirroring his own words that he said to his friend (as if he is on periods and needs care). Other characters also talk about something similar. A patient before a surgery asks Kabir as to why was his penis area shaven when the surgery is not going to take place there. After the football fight, Shiva also asks his other friend to protect his privates.

As Kabir’s personal space is sacrosanct for him, he also refuses to compromise with his personal beliefs. Early in the film, Preeti’s father asks him if his father knows about his habit of smoking. He replies that his father does not but will not lie to him if he asks. During the in-house court proceedings, Kabir again refuses to lie risking his career, the only thing he was proud of in his life. Earlier, he was willing to get permanently suspended from college because he refused to write an apology letter. A college worker advised him that it was just a letter but he was adamant. It is only because he saw Preeti, he changed his mind to not leave college, a decision which eventually changed his life. In addition, at least twice, Kabir’s senior friend chides him for not shaving because doctors are not supposed to look haggard as the outside world judges them based on appearance but Kabir refused to shave and dress properly. In Bekhayali, he says, “Ye nakaam pyar mein, khush hai yeh haar mein, in jaisa kyun banoon.” They have failed in love. Yet they are happy in their defeat. Why I should be like them. He refuses to become of them.

Early in the film, Dadi narrates a story about Kabir in which she reveals that when he was a kid, he once lost a doll and cried for days. He neither ate nor slept. It seems he never came out of that mode. He loses his doll Preeti as she was married to someone else and then just could not get over her. He is still a kid, like when he overdoses on drugs and does not wake up for two days, they make him wear a diaper. He names his dog after Preeti and takes her everywhere with him. Kabir has anger management issues but the film does not give insights on the reasons for the same. Some people are naturally indisposed to anger, and Kabir is one of those people. His college professor warns Kabir about his anger but he does not pay heed. He refuses to take help. This was seen in the case when Preeti gets injured in the foot. He is angry that his doctor friend performed a suture. He believes her injury would have healed on its own. He asks her that there will be pain and bear it like he does in his life. The only time he asks for help is when he asks the actress to help him physically. He says that he is not a rebel without a cause but it seems he is exactly like that.

Kabir does things the way he wants at the spur of the moment. He asks his brother as to when he is going to have a kid, who replies that he will plan after some time. Kabir tells him that one cannot plan these things which makes his brother wonder if that is indeed true for some moments. Kabir believed that if he and Preeti were together, they would have had a kid by now. It becomes true when it is revealed that he was the father of Preeti’s baby. His grandmother also says something similar at the beginning of the film when she explains the couplet by Saint Kabir. Life is unpredictable and plans are bound to fail, she says. Kabir also scoffs at the idea of arranged marriages because as per him, love cannot be planned and arranged.

There is also a kind of contrast that the film shows between Kabir and Preeti. The film is primarily about Kabir and his perspective but, at times, it shows both of them in similar situations. When Kabir fights with Preeti, he comments, “Kaun hai tu?” Who are you? He believes that she has no identity of her own without him. When he comes back to Preeti in the end, she asks him the same question that why she should take him back when he did not listen to her earlier, “Tum ho kaun?” Who are you? At some other stage, Kabir kisses her in front of the entire college. Later, she goes to his post-graduate college where she demands that he kisses her in front of everyone. The slapping scenes between them are also repeated. There is also a similarity in the way they both suffered during the time when they were separated. As the wonderful Margaret Redlich puts it in her fantastic review, “While Shahid was killing himself with alcohol, Kiara was suffering through pregnancy. He vomits, she was vomiting. He had one faithful support (his friend), she had one faithful support (the old woman in her lodgings who cared for her). They were the same, beginning to end, and both their hurts were doubled because they were feeling the hurt of the other.
Like it happens in Devdas, a death takes Kabir back home. His grandmother had passed away. He comforts his father by saying that to be born, to fall in love, and to die are the three most crucial occurrences of life. The rest are just reactions to that. During the funeral, he plays his grandmother’s favorite song Mawa Te Dhiyan. It took me to the funeral in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Guzaarish where Ethan (Hrithik Roshan) sings his mother’s favorite song What A Wonderful World. In fact, in Arjun Reddy, Arjun played the same song at his grandmother’s funeral but in Kabir Singh, Kabir changes the song.

The film opens with Amir Khusrau’s verse, “Khusrau darya prem ka, ulti wa ki dhaar, jo utra so doob gaya, jo dooba so paar.” Love is like an ocean, it is deep and profound. One cannot conquer it, you can only feel its intensity. This is the second Shahid Kapoor film after Padmaavat that has this couplet. It describes the vastness of love and says that only when one is immersed in love, one can truly experience it. To me, it also means that one cannot move on from love because it is too deep like an ocean. And this is what the film also showed by depicting the inability of Kabir to move on in life. He cannot just get over Preeti because his love is too deep and he cannot come out of it.

In the end, it is revealed that Kabir was the father of Preeti’s baby. I had imagined that the child would not be his and given Kabir’s nature, he would have had no issues in accepting the child because to him, the baby was Preeti’s flesh and blood. But the film took an easier route in this aspect.

One of the other noteworthy scenes in the film was the way the interval was shown. Kabir takes a drug concoction and passes out. He pees in his pants and then everything turns upside down, just as his own life has taken an altogether new turn. Also, instead of the interval, his name appears and mirrors the dampness in his pants. It is a competently made film with good performances from the cast members. Shahid Kapoor is great. Sohum Majumdar is splendid but I was irritated by the character of Shiva as to why does he do this much for Kabir who treats him so badly. Shiva is willing to go to any extent for Kabir, even asking his sister to marry him, despite knowing that Kabir won’t be able to love any other woman. It was another form of selfless love that Kabir does not see. Kabir really had all the best people around to care for him. And, it is always a pleasure to see Kamini Kaushal on screen and she played the wisest character in the film. Kiara Advani was dull which was more a consequence of the way her role was written.

Enough has already been written on Kabir’s issues, especially, related to his lack of understanding of consent. There were five scenes in the first half that made even me uncomfortable watching them. But there are some other scenes that don’t seem to fully work in terms of story structure. For instance, when Kabir and his friend come to threaten students to not look at Preeti, they take the teacher’s permission to speak in Punjabi. It feels out of place for a college in Delhi. The fight scenes during Holi were also quite bizarre. The film has a quite generic first half but I felt there were some interesting things to write about the film in its second half.

Whenever I watch movies based on passionate love, I wonder if this kind of love exists or not. Itna pyaar hota bhi hai kya or koi kaise kar sakta hai. Kabir is not the kind of person I could relate with or would be friends with. Instead, I often think about Abhi of Meri Pyaari Bindu who was also unable to move on from Bindu. In my post on the film, I had written that I was glad to see that Abhi makes other girlfriends. He does not become a Devdas and goes on to do the things that he always wanted to do. There is heartbreak for Abhi, but at the same time, it feels that he will be fine. We saw what eventually happened to both Kabir and Abhi. Kabir ends up with the person he loved, while Abhi was left alone. Even his film flopped. Maybe Abhi was not passionate enough to fight for his love. Or maybe, the saying that nice guys finish last is actually true. But it is fine. Life might not give everybody what they want but there are enough things to be happy about. Like the beautiful ending of Meri Pyaari Bindu which I am now going to start again, and smile and cry all by myself while watching it for the umpteenth time.

[Read more of the author’s work on his blog here]