It is difficult to watch “Kabir Singh” as a standalone film if you’ve watched “Arjun Reddy.” Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s new film is a scene-by-scene remake of his 2017 Telugu-language blockbuster, and much like his protagonist, its flaws are obvious to everyone but himself.
In the new film, Shahid Kapoor takes on the formidable challenge of playing a role indelibly associated with the previous film’s star, Vijay Deverakonda — an angst-ridden young man of stunning talent yet perpetually at war with himself and the world.
In one of the film’s early scenes, Singh’s professor lists his achievements: he is a brilliant medical student, an accomplished athlete and has a bright future as a surgeon. These talents, the professor warns, are of no use because Singh cannot control his anger.
Foreshadowing aside, the film spends 174 minutes fawning over the protagonist, and handling his misogyny, violent behaviour and self-destructive acts like an indulgent parent allowing their toddler to wreak havoc in public.
There isn’t much he can’t get away with, including forcing a woman to sleep with him at knife-point. He’s wrong, but the boy can’t help it, poor Kabir Singh. As for the women in this film, they try to soothe him with sympathy and adoration.
In a flashback, Singh chooses Preeti (Kiara Advani), a junior medical student, as the object of his affection. He decides where she can sit in class, what clothes she can wear and how she should study. He chooses her friends. Fat girls are preferable, he says. Preeti appears to be too spellbound by his aura to object.
Their relationship is full of passion and lust, with Singh in the driver’s seat. When Preeti’s family find out about the couple, they marry her to another man. Kabir spirals into depression, fueled by alcohol, drug abuse and more self-destructive acts.
For all its heat and fire, “Kabir Singh” is likely to leave you cold. Kapoor does his best to channel the tortured alpha male who can’t fathom why the world doesn’t work the way he wants. But his efforts fall short – partly because Vijay Deverakonda’s performance as Arjun Reddy looms over this film. Deverakonda, who is closer in age to Arjun Reddy than Kapoor is to Kabir Singh, plays the strapping, angry hero better than Kapoor does.
Advani is appropriately demure and fresh-faced as Preeti, but like the other characters in this film, she is an accessory used to prop up the god-like status of the lead. “Kabir Singh” would have been a better film had it knocked its protagonist off his pedestal and examined him for the flawed person that he is.
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(Editing by Robert MacMillan and Blassy Boben)