It may not be possible to create a more loathsome protagonist than the title character in Kabir Singh.
Within the first ten minutes of the film, Kabir (Shahid Kapoor) pulls a knife on a woman who refuses to have sex with him and threatens to hit his maid. In fact, he threatens almost every major female character in the film with violence and actually slaps and shoves the woman he professes to love. He beats up several men as well. He’s never sorry, and he never faces any consequences for his violence.
Instead, violence and intimidation are the means by which Kabir exerts his will over the people around him. Why friends, family members, and romantic interests stay in Kabir’s orbit is not explained. They just need to be there because, without them, Kabir would have no one to abuse.
The film’s clunky narrative jumps between the two key periods in Kabir’s life: the “Preeti Era” and the “Post-Preeti Era.” In the former, Preeti (Kiara Advani) is a new student at the medical college where Kabir is training to become a surgeon. She has no personality and rarely speaks, but Kabir decides he must possess her because he would like to have sex with her. They bone, and thus is born an epic love story for all time.
Not really. The relationship is abusive and predicated on Kabir exploiting his seniority at the school. After all, Kabir never met a power dynamic he couldn’t manipulate to his own ends.
Kabir and Preeti have more sex, he’s mean to a bunch of people, and blah blah blah, Preeti’s dad won’t let them marry. Kabir can’t handle the thought that he might not get his way and overdoses on morphine and booze. Ah, if only he’d died and the movie ended there.
When Kabir wakes up a few days later, Preeti is married to someone else. Thus begins the “Post-Preeti era,” characterized by Kabir’s drug, alcohol, and sex addictions, and a surgical career that flourishes despite them.
Writer-director Sandeep Vanga — who also wrote and directed Arjun Reddy, the Telugu film of which Kabir Singh is a direct remake — treats Kabir’s post-Preeti drug addiction and alcoholism as the tipping point when Kabir becomes a lost soul in need of saving. But Kabir was an awful, entitled bully before that. Losing Preeti just made him perpetually drunk and high, it didn’t give him any more dimensions.
That gets to another of Kabir Singh‘s many flaws: it’s mind-numbingly boring. Because the characters are so thinly drawn, they repeat the same conflicts and conversations. Minor characters like Kabir’s grandmother (Kamini Kaushal) and a college dean played by Adil Hussain (who I hope got paid a lot to appear in this mess) seem like they must exist to play a critical role in Kabir’s character growth, until you realize that Kabir not growing is the point of the film.
Kabir is a manifestation of the desires of frustrated young men who believe that the problems in their lives would be solved if they had Shahid Kapoor’s good looks and a high-status job. Yet, despite having those qualities, Kabir behaves as though he doesn’t. He’s petty and thin-skinned, and he feels compelled to lord his elevated status over those beneath him. He’s the antithesis of the Vince Lombardi quote that ends: “act like you’ve been there before.” Kabir seems like a loser who had a wish granted and woke up the next morning as a handsome surgeon, yet with the same personality as before.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Kabir’s dealings with women. Instead of letting his looks and future earnings potential (his only charms) draw women toward him, he relies on coercion to prey on the vulnerable. He threatens the male students at his school to stay away from Preeti and singles her out publicly in front of her female peers. Even when he dates a famous actress (played by Nikita Dutta), she’s lonely and socially isolated — and his patient. Thanks to the protections afforded by his status, he’s comfortable propositioning her for sex in their first meeting outside of his medical office. He has no interesting in women who are of equal social standing as him, perhaps because none exist in the world of Kabir Singh.