Sunday, May 26, 2024

Why films like Kabir Singh send a wrong message

Ankita Naskar

Films have immense power to influence societal attitudes and normalise certain behaviours. As passionate cinephiles, we look to Hindi films not just for entertainment but also to understand different perspectives. However, some depictions promote harmful ideas that should not be glamorised. Kabir Singh is a beautifully made film, with strong performances from Shahid Kapoor and Kiara Advani. Yet beneath its technical polish lies a celebration of toxic masculinity through its romanticization of misogyny, obsession, and lack of consent in the lead relationship.

While films need not offer strict morality lessons, they should avoid outright glorifying problematic conduct. Kabir Singh does just that through its depiction of the title character, sending the wrong message to viewers. The way it normalises aggression and takes away a woman’s agency is extremely troubling. Let us examine why through some key scenes.

Objectification And Control

One early scene depicts Kabir fixated on Preeti from afar in the lecture hall. Swept up in the romantic music, we see only her from his perspective. However, his subsequent actions go too far. He barges into her classroom unannounced and demands she sit in the front, dictating who she socialises with under the guise of helping her studies. Later, he pulls her away from class without permission for supposed “tutoring.”

While Preeti appears flattered on screen, in reality, no woman deserves to experience such overbearing behaviour and a lack of autonomy. To have one’s choices continuously undermined and boundaries disrespected would understandably feel demeaning. Glorifying a man exerting this level of unwarranted control and disregard for consent promotes the unacceptable idea that a woman is merely an object for a man to possess rather than an equal partner deserving of respect. Glorifying such conduct encourages real misogyny.

Toxic Masculinity On Display

Within the first half hour of the movie, we learn Kabir is a desirable bachelor who freely womanises but threatens violence if refused. He performs surgeries drunk, yet he is a talented doctor. On the field, he violently assaults opponents, facing no consequences. This establishes Kabir’s “masculinity” through aggression, control, and entitlement—traits that comprise toxic masculinity. Rather than criticise this, the film seems to admire it.

As young male viewers consider emulating such a protagonist, they risk subconsciously normalising aggression against women who reject their advances. Even understanding gender biases, we find it disturbing how the film champions Kabir’s assumption of decision-making power over Preeti. Scenes where he controls her living situation and intensely interrogates her whereabouts promote the misogynistic idea that women require male “protection” and guidance. This reinforces the belief that relationships thrive through dominance rather than equality.

Stripping Away Agency

Around the halfway mark, Preeti suffers a bad cut on her foot. Without discussion, Kabir takes it upon himself to decide she needs to move into his dorm to recuperate. Ostensibly, this is to help with her studies, but it primarily serves to increase intimacy between them.

Kabir proceeds to make choice after choice for Preeti, portraying this as romantic leadership. But in reality, it severely undermines her autonomy. The implication is that, as a man, he knows best for his partner and must shelter her from risk, whether or not she consents.

This toxic view strips away a woman’s right to self-determination. It promotes the regressive idea that females are somehow incapable or incompetent without a male making decisions. Relationships thrive on mutual understanding and support between equals, not one dominating the other.

The film suggests Kabir’s controlling behaviour exemplifies masculine responsibility and care. Yet, in truth, it denies Preeti any agency over her own self and future. No person, regardless of gender, has the right to dictate another’s choices or boundaries without ongoing consent. The film suggests Kabir’s actions as romantic and how a “real man” behaves, which is extremely problematic.

Obsession And Glorifying Reckless Behaviour

One of the most concerning aspects of Kabir’s character in the movie was how the film glorified his self-destructive behaviour arising from toxic masculinity. When Preeti exits his life, he tries to harm himself through intoxication and gives up on everything rather than dealing with his emotions in a healthy manner.

After placing the unreasonable six-hour ultimatum on Preeti, Kabir proceeds to get blacked out on alcohol and consume dangerous drugs like morphine. This leaves him completely unavailable to Preeti when she tries to contact him. Yet incredibly, the film depicts him having a valid reason to be angry with her later.

Perhaps most worryingly, Kabir is shown to perform a surgery while intoxicated and lose his medical career, endangering lives. Rather than unanimously condemning these reckless actions, the film appears to romanticise his descent into alcoholism. This glamorises self-destruction as a coping mechanism and normalises putting others at serious risk of harm.

A truly responsible film would depict Kabir’s downward spiral in an unambiguously negative light as a warning of how unaddressed mental health issues can manifest in dangerous toxic masculinity if left unresolved.

Normalising The Unacceptable

Through its glamorous leading man and feel-good soundtrack, Kabir Singh legitimises misogynistic, abusive, and obsessive behaviour as romantic. But there is nothing romantic about controlling a partner, deciding things for them without consent, or getting physically violent with them if perspectives mismatch. By depicting this as acceptable masculine behaviour and earning blockbuster success, it moves society in the wrong direction by normalising the unacceptable.

As much as we wanted to enjoy Kabir Singh for its artistry, we simply cannot overlook how its message promotes harm. Films need to consider the impact of their ideas, especially those concerning gender, which already face ingrained societal biases. Instead of advancing equality, Kabir Singh entrenches rigid, toxic notions of masculinity that have no place in today’s world. We must support content that uplifts, not endangers, by moving cultural attitudes in a progressive direction.

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