Since it's release Kabir Singh has been surrounded by deafening noise made up of both thunderous box office success and uproar against the kind of behaviour its titular character propagates. Director Sandeep Reddy Vanga spoke to Anupama Chopra about the film's success, its controversial lead character, and the wide-ranging criticism.
Edited excerpts :
Sandeep Reddy Vanga: There was criticism against Arjun Reddy as well, but this was a little bizarre. I always believe that people get angry when you question their belief system. I think that's what happened. And it's not even a healthy criticism, it's pseudo.
Anupama Chopra: What do you mean Sandeep, when you say pseudo? Here are some of the things I read: it's the Baahubali of toxic masculinity, there were female critics who told me they felt really uncomfortable during the press screening because the men clapped when Kabir slaps Preeti. Why do you say it's pseudo?
SRV: I feel it's pseudo because, when you are deeply in love, when you're deeply connected with your woman and vice versa, there's a lot of honesty in it and if you don't have that physical demonstration. If you don't have the liberty of slapping each other, then I don't see anything there. I feel these women, whoever are criticising it, I feel they were never in love. They've probably never experienced it in the right way… I can clearly see they've never experienced it and it's new to them.
AC: Perhaps they've never experienced this or they don't see this as an expression of love.
SRV: Yeah that's too personal for them. I've seen the rage of criticism in Telugu.
AC: Why what was the difference?
SRV: The difference is (for the Telugu film) they were criticising the film on many aspects but here, they were only on the feminist side. They didn't speak about anything else. They didn't speak about cinematography, production value, background score, sound design, colour correction. Other than writing, directing and editing, there are 22 crafts, which they never mentioned at any point.
SRV: Rajeev Masand said 'he plucks her out of the classroom and marks his territory and says tu meri bandi hai.' I don't find anything wrong with that. You call 2000 people to your wedding and tie a knot. What are you trying to tell them?
AC: But she says nothing Sandeep. She's like this mute cow.
SRV: See there are a few girls who are like this and don't talk much. That has nothing to do with her intellect. She's not dumb.
AC: No she isn't. As the movie develops you see she has her own mind, and she's doing things. But just that scene as romance, you don't think somewhere it'll give permission to men to say 'it's okay to go and kiss a woman without even asking'… You don't think it can have that sort of implication?
SRV: No. I grew up watching Gyang Leader, Parinda, Ram Lakhan, Tezaab and me and my brother never became gangsters after watching Parinda. Same thing.
AC: Of course, it's not like a direct correlation, but you are sort of normalising that behaviour.
SRV: See it's between Preeti and Kabir. Why it has to be generalised with everybody and what makes these people take a stand on entire women in the world? At least in the country? Because I've seen so many girls, women saying that we need somebody like Arjun Reddy or Kabir Singh in life. You said you bought the love story.
AC: I did. For me, it was like two crazy people who can't live without each other. And I was seduced by it
SRV: See he's a senior in college, she's seen him talk to the dean. And somewhere the parents are related in the workplace. And you're rescued from the ragging just because his name is being used. And you already have a connection with him because you see him talking to the dean like that on the first day. And there is an intimidation. And intimidation doesn't always mean you're looking up to a villain. Intimidation has its own charm. Have you ever felt that Preeti was threatened when they were kissing?
AC: No but it made me feel uncomfortable. It made me very uncomfortable.
SRV: But why didn't she slap him then?
AC: That's what I wondered, why didn't she slap him?
SRV: And she slapped a couple of time without a reason. Kabir has a reason to slap. And if you can't slap, and if you can't touch your woman wherever you want and if you cant slap and you cant kiss and you cant use cuss words, I don't see emotion there. Then it's all margins and papers. There's nothing unconditional about it. It's all conditions. And I don't know where this genuine voice is coming from. All these pseudo guys who are talking about the film. I feel like asking them where do you get this energy from? What school have you been to?
SRV: There are reasons and I can't talk about that. I wanted the length to be a little crisp so I've chopped 12 minutes. When I was making Arjun Reddy, it was made on a script. When I was making Kabir, we were making a film on a film already. So I've deleted 12 minutes but those were hilarious scenes. I've asked the producers to release them on Youtube at least (laughs).
AC: Tell me about the gaze on his crotch. We see him put ice into it. We see him cut himself, we see him wet himself. Why was that important?
SRV: Jab bachpan mein when we are riding a bicycle, sometimes the chain comes out and we try two- three times with all great precision. If it doesn't work, we throw the bicycle and walk. It is that kind of a thing. He tried. Didn't happen. He made a call, didn't happen, called Shiva, didn't happen, so he thought 'let's go to work now'. So he thought putting ice, it'll be highlighted in a way. Because there's a criteria for any screenplay when you write. Because when you open Kabir, we've opened this way because you'll be more interested to know what has happened with this guy in the past.
AC: But you also have the scene where he does cut himself. You have the scene where he injects himself and wets himself.
SRV: So wetting himself is because you lose control on your bladder-
AC: Of course, I get it narratively I just meant cinematically why did we focus so much on his crotch?
SRV: Because I thought that's the beginning of his personal tragedy. A person like Kabir Singh is pissing in his own pants and you never show the hero like that. I thought there's a lot of power in it – showing him slowly going down. You know when you see Kabir like that in the football ground and in the Holi scene, and then you see him pissing in the interval and the title coming there, I felt like this is the beginning of the personal tragedy now, so it'll be nice thing to start in the second half.