Kabir Mehra, The Rare Underdog Who Brought Out Ranveer Singh’s Best

Dil Dhadakne Do anoints Kabir as the unwilling centre of the film’s cynical universe, but the way he goes about his business reflects his childlike being
Kabir Mehra, The Rare Underdog Who Brought Out Ranveer Singh’s Best

Hindi films have had a love-hate relationship with their portrayal of rich people. They are either spoilt brats (when placed as antagonists) who are tamed or defeated by the end of the film, or they are invincibly focused people who rebel against all societal barriers to achieve their goals. Very rarely do we see on Hindi celluloid a rich underdog, one who has all the affluence but none of the mettle that sets him apart like a traditional hero.

Kabir Mehra from Zoya Akhtar's Dil Dhadakne Do is one such underdog protagonist we don't celebrate enough – and there couldn't have been a better role for Ranveer Singh to prove his versatility, and his ability to walk the thin rope between a star and a team-playing performer.

The son of wealthy industrialist Kamal Mehra (Anil Kapoor) and Neelam Mehra (Shefali Shah), Kabir lives the life of an unconfident prince. Having just turned 25 but not yet clear on what to do with his life, Kabir has been conditioned to believe that his destiny is preordained for him, in carrying forward his father's business. Kabir seems to have accepted it, while still seeming unsure about it.

He rarely acknowledges his rebellious thoughts, though, let alone voicing them. Kabir lives in a state of ennui, hoping for things to change somehow while making small attempts to steer clear of complete adulthood, continuing to live like a child – free of any major decisions or responsibilities. No wonder as the narrative progresses, while we see Kamal navigate an impending bankruptcy and his elder sister Ayesha (Priyanka Chopra) deal with her rocky marriage, Kabir is often observed in a resigned state of his own – oblivious of problems around him, spending his time playing with his dog Pluto or hanging out with his teenage cousin. Even when he is around Ayesha, Kabir behaves like a kid, stealing ice-cream from her bowl, craving her parent-like affection and chiding. It only makes sense that later, during a night hangout session with friends, when one of them pukes on someone's shoes, Kabir's response is to make vomit puns.

Ironically, Dil Dhadakne Do anoints Kabir as the unwilling centre of the film's cynical universe, where the future of his father's business empire turns out to depend on Kabir's marriage alliance with another business tycoon capable of salvaging Kamal and his insolvency. Meanwhile, Kabir's instinct is to hide and sneak around like a child, to get and retain what he wants (a plane) – and he spends the film's entire first half fooling around, unencumbered by responsibilities. We can clearly see Kabir finds true solace in flying a plane, but the way he goes about fulfilling his desire to own a plane reflects his childlike being, lacking any awareness of the possibly more important things in life that he needs to get a hold on.

And yet, Kabir is self-aware enough to casually admit to his mother his apprehensions about running their business. Even in the business meetings that he attends in his father's presence, he looks like a misfit, unable to face counter-questioning from clients.

It's not surprising, then, that Kabir finds himself drawn to Farah (Anushka Sharma), a cruise performer whom he meets onboard – who, as Kabir figures out, has built her life on her own, fearlessly believing in herself. Farah is clearly the very opposite of him; Kabir loves her, but more importantly, he is in awe of her.

It's in a scene with Farah that we first get to know what Kabir thinks about a lot of things (including his views on video games and democracy), and it's around Farah that we first see Kabir burst open and be really happy when he surprises her with a visit and does an impromptu dance. The visuals of Kabir and Farah being happy around each other in the song 'Pehli Baar' are some of the most infectious moments on screen, in a film that is otherwise rife with ineffective communication and dysfunctionality. We see Kabir be true to himself in presence of another adult, and it's his first baby-step towards taking charge of his life and happiness.

The big door of self-reflection opens much later in the second half, when Kabir tries to talk to his father about his hostility towards Ayesha and her marital woes but instead finds himself face-to-face with the most uncomfortable truth – that he is nothing without his father's backing. Through Kabir's trajectory, we stay on board with the film's narrative as well.

In the film's most memorable scene, Kabir ensures a much-needed confrontation amongst his family members, comes out with the truth, rambles on with a no-holds-barred approach, and refuses to leave the room even when Neelam, who has clearly felt attacked and humiliated by his remarks, asks him to.

Kabir's internal journey also reflects in the two family conversations around Ayesha's marriage that he is a part of. In the first meeting where Ayesha voices her doubts about her marriage, we see Kabir's father Kamal take charge of the conversation while Kabir silently sits in the background. However, by the time we reach their next talk, we see Kabir make sarcastic suggestions to Ayesha's mother-in-law, unable to repress his hostility anymore.

And of course, like any protagonist in a well-structured drama, Kabir's moment of heroism arrives when all seems lost: when Farah gets off the ship after being fired on account of his mistake. Kabir decides to take charge of his story as he takes a plunge, literally and metaphorically, to pursue what he truly wants in life – Farah's presence. And while the writers, Akhtar and Reema Kagti, do a great job at helping us walk along and empathise with all its leading characters as they arrive at epiphanies of their own, it is Kabir's journey that feels the most heartfelt – for it is he who truly needed to come of age.

Dil Dhadakne Do stands out in Ranveer Singh's filmography because it's perhaps the only film where Singh is truly an equal part of an ensemble, without having to carry the attention or baggage that comes with being at the centre of a film's universe, which became quite frequent later in his career with films like Gully Boy, Bajirao Mastani and Padmaavat.

It also stands out because of an uncharacteristic restraint in his approach to his role: he truly imbibes the subdued quiet required to play an underdog like Kabir, without getting overpowered by other stellar performers in the process. Ranveer holds his own in the quieter scenes, against actors senior to him, and blossoms in the moments that require his manic energy and star-like aura. In short, Dil Dhadakne Do brings out the best of both worlds that Ranveer Singh as a performer has always carried within himself.

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