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Philosophical Lessons Learnt from Kabir Singh

Kabir Singh is a 2019 Hindi film directed by Sandeep Vanga. It is a remake of his own Telugu film Arjun Reddy (2017). Starring Shahid Kapoor and Kiara Advani it has made a worldwide boxoffice collection of 360 crore in a month’s time. Statistics aside, this article is about the lessons to be learnt from the vivid and extremely well-portrayed movie Kabir Singh.

To summarise in short, Kabir Raj Singh is an alcoholic surgeon who goes into self-destruction after his girlfriend of long time is forced to marry someone else. Yes it is a love story, but not a story without substance of many other emotions. It is a satire. It is a reflection of the evils in our society. Not the “evils” outside of ourselves and our life, but the banes within ourselves and our loved ones. There is a thin line between finding meaning in actualizing one’s ideology and letting the pursuit of actualizing that ideology drive one to self or others’ destruction. The movie plays with this line and for a viewer who is reflective enough, his/her takeaway will be an introspection of his own line when trying to follow the life principles he has made for himself.

Rendering oneself vulnerable to express extreme emotions is a sign that society and social norms do not have full control on us. In my opinion, it is a brave thing that takes courage. One who always plays the cool, unaffected, ignorant persona is a slave to his own policing according to a rigid self-perception. On the other hand, when one starts feeling and expressing all emotions strongly and fully, to a point where he stops taking social cues of feedback from society, it can be dangerous for one’s own mental well being. This not to pass a moral judgment on not living by the norms. This is to say that to label oneself “rebel” in one’s own eyes is making anarchy also a stereotype and ideology.

Kabir is a passionate boy in his twenties. He is passionate about his medical career, he is deeply invested in his patients and the people he interacts with. He thinks too deep beneath the surface and ponders on each stimulus he encounters in daily mundane life. He has the tendency to not just feel each emotion to the extreme but to express and act on each emotion in an extreme manner. From the first scene of his extreme anger and beating up a fellow student on the football field, to taking the extreme decision of quitting college for not wanting to write an apology letter for his brawl, he is shown as stubborn and not willing to second-guess his ideology. Don’t get me wrong, Kabir is a very likeable character. He is the college topper. He is the captain of the football team. Albeit from a rich family, he is self-made. He has high standards of ethics and humanity. The movie is about his suffering and how someone like Kabir, who finds moderation and neutrality so repugnant, deals with his extreme emotions.

After watching the movie, albeit the movie ends on a happy note for the characters, I walked out with fear of the potentialities of self-destruction when we invest ourselves so deeply in one emotion that we are not able to extricate ourselves and our identity apart from the memories associated with that emotion. That emotion is love. Kabir Singh is a very realistic portrayal of the challenges after falling in love, both self-imposed mental challenges and societal coercions alike. If there is any fraction of the movie that can be criticized for being unrealistic, it is the process of Kabir falling in love with Preeti. There is no process. He sees her walking in a white salwar kameez as a fresher in his college and the very next second he changes his mind about quitting college. If the journey of their relationship over 8 years of courtship is full of emotional intricacies of navigating what they call “love”, the start of their courtship and process of establishing the love is rather abrupt and unrealistic.

In tandem with Kabir Singh’s tendency to internalize ideology quickly, he doesn’t hesitate a second to label Preeti as his own in college before she even knows his name. A viewer would judge him at the outset as an eve teaser. Then he redeems himself by respecting Preeti’s consent even while he obsessively tries to be her caretaker. After this abrupt beginning of their relationship, the challenges their relationship goes through are very real and akin to all relationships started in college. The first challenge being of dealing with a long-distance relationship after Kabir shifts to Dehradun for his masters. It is a very real challenge for young couples who spend college life attached to one person and making their world revolve around one person to find happiness in their work and daily life without their partner by their side. This challenge more valid for Preeti than for Kabir.

The real challenge and hinging peg of the movie however starts when Preeti finishes her MBBS and Kabir is finished with his Masters’ course and the two come back to their home city. A government college space is inclusive and diverse. It has people from all class strata, caste backgrounds, religions and regions studying shoulder to shoulder as individuals. But when these individuals are removed from that liberal university space and put back in their families, their personal ideals impinge on the family’s ideals which tend to be more conservative in the sense that family ideals collectivist and are geared towards safeguarding interests of the family and not of individual ambition and desire.

It is tricky urban world for Indian children these days. We have westernized our public, workspaces in an effort to boost our economy and subsequently are exposed to western ideals of freedom of choice, speech and equality of people. These ideals hold true in the Indian workspace for one’s colleagues. But if one wants to marry a colleague, do these western ideals still hold true? The sure shot answer is no. The only exception being if the individual disowns his family to do safeguard his free will in intimate affairs. The pre-independence modernity model of westernizing public affairs and preserving and transmitting “Indian Culture” in the private home domain still exists today even in the most modern households.
So when Kabir comes to meet Preeti’s parents to tell them he wants to marry her, he is beaten up and told to stay away. Preeti, whose confident personality comes out in college and around Kabir, goes back to back to being docile around her family and parents. Kabir’s frustration at Preeti not being assertive to her family leads him to inject morphine and wake up two days later to find out Preeti having been forced to marry her father’s choice.

After that for 8 months they show only Kabir’s story. He is thrown out of his own house by his parents for his substance abuse. He gets a job as a surgeon at a hospital. At the same time his substance abuse crosses all boundaries and so does his impulsive actions. This phase of his life is a portrayal of extreme loss of normative policing on oneself. What happens when one leaves oneself completely free to follow every thought that comes to his mind without thinking about society’s rules? A person loses all benchmarks of societal evaluation. Honestly, even though he is a great surgeon, deeply invested in his patients and practicing his own set of ethics which society does not understand, his lack of the self-preservation instinct in face of the loss of Preeti looks both selfless and scary. You want to like the character for his blind attachment and also detest him for making life so hard for his friends and family for the sake of his “journey” of living out his sadness in his own way. His medical license gets cancelled for operating after being heavily drunk high albeit he manages to save the patient.

It seems like his doleful phase would never end. At this stage another lesson the movie gives the viewers is that when one tragedy consumes your mind, only another tragedy to worry about can help you to stop thinking about your previous sorrow. It is only Kabir’s grandmother’s death which is able to bring him out of his rebel melancholic “phase” and shave and come back home to start on a new page.

There is an unrealistic twist in the ending which I will not spoil for prospective viewers. The question I would like to leave you mulling over is what is that thin line for you that neatly divides sanity and insanity? And is sanity really an ideal worth striving for as society portrays it to be?

Picture Courtesy- DNA India



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