I must really be in a Bollywood rut, because yet again, I’ve walked out of the theater completely unsure of how I should feel. My latest culprit: Kabir Singh.
The official remake of the Telugu film, Arjun Reddy (2017), Kabir Singh is centered around its ill-tempered namesake, played by Shahid Kapoor, a senior-level medical student who falls in love at first sight with a meek junior named Preeti (Kiara Advani). Ultimately, the two are forced apart by their caste conflicts and by Kabir’s erratic nature, driving him into a deep spiral of drug and alcohol addictions, abuse and neglect of medical responsibilities, and seclusion from all those around him. Though the backbone of the story is not one we’re unfamiliar with, this is certainly far from the conventional Bollywood love story we’ve been conditioned to enjoy over the years.
Kabir Singh was not free of flaws, but I must say, the one thing that kept my eyes glued to the screen was the sheer rawness of Shahid Kapoor’s acting. His thoughtfully layered portrayal of Kabir was reminiscent of a similarly intoxicated Tommy Singh from Udta Punjab, but while the two were alike in their vices, the nuances of Kabir’s character is a testament to Shahid’s ever-seasoned abilities as an actor. You truly can’t help but feel all the emotions for Kabir: disgust and disapproval for quite obvious reasons, but unexpectedly, I found myself feeling shockingly sorry for him at times. You can’t watch him through his struggles, and yet, you still can’t stop watching the screen to see how he’ll act out next. While Shahid’s depiction of Kabir Singh elicits emotions across the spectrum, I do believe more could have been done to reveal why Kabir had such anger management issues, and why he was a “rebel with a cause”. I spent the movie expecting to finally learn the cause that shaped his short-tempered persona, but was left with many unanswered questions about Kabir’s past and personality by the end of the movie: a miss on the part of the writers in my opinion. Nevertheless, Shahid shines through the shortcomings, as Kabir is a character you can’t seem to fully hate or love, leaving the audience in an ambiguous middle-ground of morality.
On the other hand, I was unfortunately underwhelmed by Kiara Advani’s performance in the movie, and not necessarily because of her own abilities as an actress, but rather because of what she was given to work with. While much of the movie focused on Kabir’s downfall, very little to no time was devoted to developing Preeti’s character outside of her relationship with Kabir. Her character transforms from a timid schoolgirl to a fearless, shameless woman in love with no transition, to the point where her evolution as a character lacks credibility. The only saving grace here in my mind is the undeniable chemistry between Kabir and Preeti that makes you want to root for them despite the fact that you don’t know much about either of them as individuals.
Which brings me to my final qualm about Kabir Singh: the choppy editing made it difficult to follow the development of Kabir and Preeti’s relationship and even the story as a whole. I believe that the success of an on-screen couple depends partially on the actual story and partially on the chemistry that the actors emote themselves. The very beginning of Kabir and Preeti’s romance was underdeveloped to the point where the audience, including myself, was audibly confused about what had just happened. Even the climax of the movie that leads to the characters separation was simply grazed upon and not delved into like a true roadblock in the movie. Just like we never learn when or how Preeti begins reciprocating Kabir’s love, we never see how the caste differences emerge in the story and drive the two characters apart. Had it not been for Shahid Kapoor and Kiara Advani’s on-screen chemistry, there would have been no reason to want their characters to end up together in the end.
Take a walk through my brain! Here are some other thoughts I had while watching Kabir Singh:
- This is the best soundtrack I’ve heard in quite a long time. Each song is so different from one another, and had relevance to the point in the story they were presented in. Definitely a strength of the movie!
- Shout-out to the casting crew! The supporting actors shone throughout the movie, especially Soham Mujamdar, who plays Kabir’s unconditionally loyal best friend. Some of the best scenes of the movie were held up by the supporting cast, a refreshing surprise from movies that focus all of the screen-time and content on its main stars.
- The writing in this movie was witty and provided periodic moments of comedic relief in an otherwise hard-to-digest movie. A win for the film in my opinion!
While I still struggle to determine whether or not I actually enjoyed the movie, I believe Kabir Singh has enough redeemable qualities between the acting, songs and writing to warrant at least 3/5 stars. But don’t let me be the judge for you - let us know what you thought of the movie in the comments below!