In recent times, there has been no other movie more dissected and talked about than the Shahid Kapoor-Kiara Advani starrer Kabir Singh, which has invited polarised reactions from film critics and general audiences alike for its alleged glorification of toxic masculinity under the guise of portraying love that is supposedly unconditional and passionate.
Director Sandeep Reddy Vanga, who helmed the original Arjun Reddy as well, finds himself in the eye of a storm after his attempt to justify his lead character's portrayal in a video interview to film critic Anupama Chopra of Film Companion. The interview went viral and led to protests on social media with women leading the way in coming out with horrid tales of being at the receiving end of domestic violence.
Oddly reminiscent of the now cliched but not out of fashion line, 'Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt', the Kabir Singh director makes a feeble attempt to normalise violent behaviour, which is not only problematic but all the more significant considering the post 'Me Too' era we find ourselves in.
The director begins his rebuttal by dismissing the criticism received by Kabir Singh as not being healthy but "pseudo". Addressing the flak especially from female critics who said they felt uncomfortable with the male audience clapping when Shahid Kapoor's character slaps Kiara Advani's character in Kabir Singh, Vanga says, "When you're deeply in love, deeply connected with a woman and vice versa, there's a lot of honesty in it. And if you don't have that physical demonstration of...if you don't have the liberty of slapping each other, then I don't see anything there."
Not only is Vanga unaware of what's a healthy relationship that involves respect for each other is like, with gay abandon, but also gets personal. "I feel these critics have never been in love. They haven't experienced it the right way," he declares.
He even goes as far as calling film critic Rajeev Masand 'a fat guy who reviewed my film'. "He gave 2 stars. Audience gave Rs 200 crore," he says.
The director also adds for good measure that such critics are more threatening to the film industry than piracy, all the while insisting that 'it's not personal'. During the course of the interview, he also repeatedly 'forgets' the names of the critics despite talking so much about them.
Clearly, Vanga doesn't think much of 'consent' either. When Anupama Chopra asks him if it is problematic to see men kissing women they have hardly met, he replies with an emphatic 'no'!
We further only get whataboutery when he explains that after watching films like Gang Leader, Parinda, Ram Lakhan and Tezaab in his childhood, his brother and he did not turn out to be gangsters.
Consent being free, independent and unequivocal is clearly lost on a lot of our filmmakers. Even the legendary Mani Ratnam is no exception. Remember the scene in Dil Se, where an aggressive Shahrukh Khan pulls close an unwilling Manisha Koirala into a fierce liplock? Never mind if she feels utterly disgusted with the act and we are expected to buy the same as love being 'passionate and obsessive'. But in Dil Se, at least SRK's character understands the woman who has gone through sexual abuse in her early life.
In the interview, Vanga further goes on to say that he has met many women who apparently told him they wanted a boyfriend like Kabir Singh or Arjun Reddy in their life. However, women on social media have a different tale to tell and would beg to differ.
Wait, there are more gems! Soon enough into the interview, Vanga declares: 'Intimidation has its own charm' (!). No, Sir. It doesn't. Contrast this to Fahadh Faasil's character in the acclaimed Malayalam movie Kumbalangi Nights. His intimidation hardly comes across as charming and he's rightly put in his place in the climax.
In trying and deeply frustrating times where even understanding of marital rape is abysmal, Vanga's declaration that, "If you can't slap, if you can't touch your woman wherever you want, and if you can't slap, you can't kiss, you can't use cuss words, I don't see emotion there," trenches deeply into patriarchy that has probably been there since the Methuselah era.
There's not much to take away from the interview but with Kabir Singh crossing Rs 200 crore at the box office, to give the devil its due, we have to concur with the director that, "A filmmaker's intellect is directly proportional to the crowd."
(Views expressed in the article are that of the author's)