Though it’s a bit late in the day, here are my thoughts on Kabir Singh, the movie, which has been trashed by feminists as utterly vile and sickening for the sheer misogyny of its lead character played by Shahid Kapoor. A few critics have argued that Kabir Singh, the character, is so misogynistic that he couldn’t possibly exist in the universe we live in. Right from his violation of consent while kissing his love interest played by Kiara Advani, to his treatment of women in general, Kabir Singh many argue couldn’t belong to the world we live in. They say, it’s impossible and I wonder why. Isn’t this the world where men rape women with rods and rape babies when they are as young as two. I have even heard that some of them don’t even spare lesser than mortal animals in their animalistic quest for sexual gratification. I haven’t heard anyone scream over these reports and say that these men couldn’t be from our world. They are in our world and we accept this with great horror and disgust. Kabir Singh needs this acceptance too, an imperfect, deeply misogynistic man tugging at our feminist hearts as a curse only to be condemned.
Yes, life and reality of it can be very difficult to swallow. For someone who feels very strongly about sexism, I hate to be saying this but Kabir Singh is NOT from an alternate universe. I hear you when you insist he is. What you mean, really, is that he couldn’t be belonging to this world. Yes, he couldn’t be, with his ugliness and imperfections but world, as it exists, can be very ugly. Not accepting ugliness as part of your world, I think, is a mostly urban and utterly myopic view of the world, acutely unaware of the small town cultural and social landscape, especially in the Hindi belt of our country.
In a very real world where girls haven’t been raised to be independent individuals, men step in to behave like Kabir Singh, and are welcomed to behave like one. They could be our fathers, boyfriends, and husbands. They could be in our families, or outside of it, but their existence isn’t unreal. I have heard the noise on the male protagonist in the movie not caring about consent to kiss women, or make out with them, but for decades, we have had women allowing men to usurp what’s been theirs, willingly or unwillingly, and it’s this universe (not alternate) that the film portrays. This explains why the struggle for women’s rights_right from a Shah Bano to the pending legislation on marital rape remains a difficult one.
To get back to the film, since when do we label reality as an alternate universe, say it doesn’t exist? That’s like being in a place of privilege and making judgments about a reality that may not be yours. And do I need to say that without placing difficult truths where they belong, we (feminists) could never win any battle? Without accepting what the problem is and why, one couldn’t really address the problem. And that brings me to what I thought the problem is that truly needs to be discussed.
What made me very anxious about the movie was the character of Kiara Advani. Haven’t I seen many of her ilk in the town I grew up in and did they not travel with me when I moved to a global city for my global education? Many landed in the city with their boyfriends hailing cabs, carrying their suitcases to their rooms, showing them the path from college to hostel and suggesting, sounding very concerned, safe ways to navigate in the foreign city and keep themselves surrounded by people (especially Indian friends) all the time. This protective girl gang partied together and ate together and slept together, shutting themselves in the process to the multicultural world they found themselves transported to for their education.
I saw them needing boyfriends or brothers or mothers for security, protection and every day adjustments in life as if they could always have the luxury to live life joined to the hips with those they love and trust. Nothing wrong with this, after all, India is great for the support system that covers in its broad sweep friends and families who are utterly protective and giving. Perfectly fine, but this may be why the spirit to venture out and live life independently dies early in some girls. and they are not to be blamed. We are in a country where a majority of girls are still raised to get married and start a family. I am not talking in thin air, maybe this UN Women report I wrote about yesterday will give you a sense of the problem.
If you aren’t one of them, I must tell you that you (and I too) are in minority. You are lucky you aren’t told to continue in a tasteless, abusive marriage because marriages are forever. You are bright and you deserve it, but those conditioned to act like they would die without a Kabir Singh don’t need your shock and condescension, for Kabir Singh is just the kind of man they may be stuck with for life. What would really help is your acceptance that such men exist just as they do, the rapists and dacoits and murderers do, and then LOUDLY say, cinema reflects life and life is sad. Life is sad, yes. At times. Girls like Kiara Advani’s character exist. They are in a prison cell, the lock to the prison door is missing and yet, they stay.
Why are they staying? Often times, they don’t have the support of parents who say, girl, we are with you, don’t take anyone’s shit. Sometimes, they don’t even know that they should walk out or if it’s okay to walk out. Sometimes, they know but they still won’t. Sometimes, they just can’t. Let us please not forget the real issues, then. The real issues we (feminists) need to be raging about are our unfair inheritance laws, son preference in Indian society, female foeticide, social structures that don’t favor strong and independent girls, cultural underpinnings that wouldn’t allow men to help out women in domestic chores, women sacrificing careers to make way for obligations in a marriage, inequality in families that hinders or limits their access to education, jobs, a career, their rights to property, equal pay …… the list is endless. Don’t say these don’t exist. Next time, you think of Kabir Singh, say this aloud: Kabir Singh is a product of the inequalities women face. Then, be very angry about these inequalities and make this into a chorus. This anger will do justice to Kiara Advanis across India you wouldn’t want to let down.