Arjun Reddy and Kabir Singh: The curious case of bad vs superbad

Anvita Singh
Vijay Deverakonda and Shahid Kapoor in a still from Arjun Reddy and Kabir Singh, respectively.

Who, in this day and age, makes a three-hour long movie? Hardly anyone. Or maybe someone who wants to say something new, or maybe they want to repeat what has been said, but a little differently? That is the thought that had first occurred to me prior to watching Arjun Reddy.

Last Friday, Kabir Singh, the Hindi version of the Sandeep Reddy Vanga directorial, hit theaters. It is just as long, flippant and painful as Arjun Reddy. Basically, Arjun Reddy and Kabir Singh are the same movies helmed by the same filmmaker comprising a different cast. Of course, Vijay Deverakonda starrer Arjun Reddy was misogynistic as well. So why was it applauded?

Because it introduced a ‘new’ kind of cinema to the Telugu audience. The one that was unafraid to speak its mind and do whatever it wanted. That was perhaps one of the more positive things about the film. People had raised questions about the glorification of toxic masculinity post the release of Arjun Reddy as well, as they are doing now after Kabir Singh.

However, Arjun Reddy, despite being essentially the same film, had escaped major backlash because it was in Telugu, a language not spoken as widely as Hindi, obviously. And because Vijay Deverakonda had a fresh screen appeal. People had not watched the actor gesture obscenely, play a heartbroken lover and drink himself to death before. They were intrigued, and to Vijay’s credit, the actor managed to hold my attention for as long as he was on screen. You were interested in him the first time around.

In the Bollywood remake Kabir Singh, Shahid essays the same role as Vijay’s. But Shahid has played the angry college boy, heartbroken lover, the main man who seeks our attention, before. So many times, and for so many years. What was new in Kabir Singh which was not revealed in Arjun Reddy? Hardly anything. Every shot looked stale, a nightmare played in loop.

Sequences that were perhaps lost in translation and didn’t have the desired effect were better this time. I could understand what the director was trying to tell me with minimal effort. That he worshipped his hero Arjun Reddy/Kabir Singh. A selfish character whose only motive is to get what he wants. For that, he is mean to his family, his best friend and even to Preeti, the woman he claims to love.

The plotline of Kabir Singh is simple. Kabir is a brilliant surgeon who is always angry for no good reason and yet claims at one point in the movie that he is "not a rebel without a cause." One day, he chances upon a sweet, demure-to-the-point-of-mute woman with no agency of her own called Preeti (Kiara Advani) and they fall in love. But because she is too quiet and he is too wrung up, there is constant miscommunication and things fall apart as they do in these dramas.

The hero is allowed to slap, chase and threaten women as and when he feels. A house help breaks a glass, he runs after her till she is breathless with fear. A woman refuses to have sex with him, he threatens her with a knife. And when things hit a rough patch with him and his lover, he slaps her across the face, leaving her crying. The man is unrelenting in the worst way possible. And the woman is basically a mannequin who offers herself to him without any questions, opinions or even a few words. These things were present in Arjun Reddy, but the second time, it hit me as a viewer with an impact that was even worse.

Kabir Singh is being lapped up by the audience and it is doing well at the box office. Two days since its release and it has already minted Rs 42.92 crore. It is also the biggest opener of Shahid’s career.

You could have done better, Shahid.