Kabir Mehra: The Battle Within (My Favourite Ranveer Singh Character)

What is most fascinating is how Kabir’s choices show us the comfort of familiarity, even if it’s what is weighing us down
Kabir Mehra: The Battle Within (My Favourite Ranveer Singh Character)

Ranveer Singh has a screen presence most actors would be envious of, probably the best screen presence I have seen since Shah Rukh Khan. The energy and dynamism he brings to a scene can be matched by few. I remember his one-minute scene in Finding Fanny completely changed the pace and mood of the film: he was a livewire of energy. Hence it is no surprise that his most memorable (and successful) characters have been powerful protagonists (or antagonists) like Khilji, Bajirao, Ram and Bittu.

Admittedly I was not a fan of any of these roles. Being a fan of underplay, I preferred the subtlety of Ranbir Kapoor to the dynamism of Ranveer Singh. However, my views changed with the introduction of Zoya Akhtar in Ranveer Singh's career. And while Gully Boy may seem like the obvious pick here, my favourite Ranveer Singh character, without a doubt, is Kabir Mehra from Dil Dhadakne Do.

Dil Dhadakne Do is a movie about pretence and courage. The first one is obvious. It's about an imperfect couple pretending to be in a fulfilling marriage. An unhappy wife pretending to plan on extending her family while she is actually on a birth control pill. And an out-of-place young man who does not know where he belongs. What is he good at? What is his purpose? What are his goals? He is just pretending to progress as the world expects him to progress.

Kabir is the only son of a self-made business man, Kamal, who rose from nothing to build a business empire. His sister, Ayesha, is also a self-made entrepreneur who started a business by selling her jewellery. His mother, Neelam, who may appear to be a simple housewife, actually ran away from her home to marry Kamal. When she realises her husband is considering selling shares of the business to a tricky partner, she knows exactly how to leverage the situation in their favour. Even his childhood friend Sunny (his father's manager's son) got admitted to Yale and became a renowned journalist.

These are alpha characters. People who don't sit back and wait for things to happen. They make things happen. They take charge of life. They understand what a task is and are not afraid of getting their hands dirty. Kabir has grown up in this environment. And the intimidation of such an environment is what defines his life when we are introduced to him. He is too afraid to take on his father's empire, and not bold enough to walk out of it. He doesn't want his father to sell their plane, but can't muster up the courage to voice his feelings. He is a trained pilot, but perhaps the very thought of exploring it as a career option and the toil it would entail scares any action out of him.

Kabir maybe the primary comedy-provider of the film, but this is simply a testament to the character detailing by Akhtar and co-writer Reema Kagti. It is a well-known psychological theory that people with self-esteem issues often use humour as a defence mechanism. They are often the ones who diffuse tension in a room. They are often the ones people tend to share their dirty secrets with, probably because they know they won't risk their head by revealing a secret. Kabir is this person. The best example of this is when Farhan Akhtar and Rahul Bose's characters clash and there is awkward silence after Farhan's final monologue. There is tension in the room. It's a serious conversation that forces people to introspect and take sides. Kabir can't handle it. He has never stood up for anything or anyone, and hence what comes most naturally to him is to diffuse the situation with humour. "Indu yaar…"

What is most fascinating is how Kabir's choices show us the comfort of familiarity, even if it's what is weighing us down. On the cruise, Kabir's parents want him to engage with Noorie. Noorie is a fellow Delhiite from a similar social stratum. She does not seem to have any particular ambition. She is sulking over her fiancé, who left her at the altar. It would seem this is familiar to Kabir; marrying her would not shake up his life and he gets to keep his place. But having grown up around go-getters, he is instinctively drawn to another go-getter, Farah Ali. Farah ran away from home to pursue her dreams of becoming a dancer and is unapologetic about her choices. While Kabir has always been intimidated by such characters, this is also what he understands best.

What makes this character my favourite among other Ranveer characters is the relatability. Kabir could be any of us – people who seemingly have everything on the surface but are deeply disturbed within. Akhtar has often been criticised for making movies only about the affluent, but as Jim Carrey once said, "I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it's not the answer." I feel this is what Akhtar addresses with this movie. We may have everything material but it won't add up till we have something fundamental – courage.

In the modern age, most of us live civilised lives, free of any serious physical danger on a daily basis. We are unlikely to fight in wars or hunt for food. We are law-abiding citizens and unlikely to get into public brawls. We tend to stay away from criminal areas by design and probably won't get into tricky situations. Hence most instances of courage depicted in popular culture are unlikely to happen with us. Courage for us will involve facing our fears on a daily basis – coming clean to our partners, breaking hearts, suffering heartbreaks, admitting our flaws, choosing a path for ourselves, confronting our parents about uncomfortable truths. This is what Dil Dhadakne Do is about. As Kabir finally tells his parents that he is not capable of taking over their business and would like to walk out, he shows courage like never before. The veil of intimidation and humour is finally lifted and for the first time he's naked. When his mother asks him what he will do with his life, he is forced to take a stand and says he will explore a career in flying.

Ranveer plays Kabir with terrific nuance. There is an inherent sadness in all his scenes, guarded by a well-groomed and put-together exterior. Unlike his other roles, where he can easily dominate the screen with minimal dialogues, here he tries to disappear in every scene. You hear what he says, but notice the other characters more easily. Ranveer understands that the character shies away from the spotlight, and gives in completely without hogging any scene. Akhtar and Kagti know how to capture his insecurities without him uttering a word about it. In one scene, when Jamal uncle is complimenting Ayesha in front of Kabir and Kamal for appearing in the Forbes magazine, and Kamal steps in to say that Kabir will soon appear in it as well, he immediately puts on his sunglasses because he can't make eye contact anymore. He knows it's a lie. He knows he will never be as good as his sister or come close to replicating her achievements.

I wonder if Kabir actually found Farah in the end. If he did, would she leave her free-spirited life to go live with him in Delhi as his wife? Would he commit to moving out of India and living with her while pursuing a career as a pilot? Would this spurt of courage last very long? Would Kabir and Farah be compatible beyond a ten-day cruise trip? Perhaps this could be a movie in itself. I would definitely want to see how Kabir treads the road less travelled.

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