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Friday, June 2, 2023

Kabir Singh: Exploring Bollywood Representations of Self-Destructive, Alcoholic Male Lovers

The trailer of Shahid Kapoor and Kiara Advani starrer Kabir Singh, a remake of the Telugu hit Arjun Reddy has released.

Like the original, this adaptation is also directed by Sandeep Vanga and the first snippet has received a positive reception.

It exhibits the titular character (played by Shahid) as a ‘stubborn, self-destructive and very angry’ surgeon.

Similar to the original film, this too aims to show how Kabir goes on a self-destructive path after his ex-lover marries someone else.

Besides it being portrayed as a piece of mainstream Hindi cinema, the movie promises to focus on serious topics like anger-management, alcoholism and toxic masculinity.

Alcoholism is a Serious Disorder 

First and foremost, it is important to acknowledge that alcoholism (‘alcohol addiction’) or any sort of substance abuse – is a very serious condition.

According to the NHS, alcohol abuse can cause several of the following:

  • Accidents and injuries requiring hospital treatment, such as a head injury.
  • Violent behaviour and being a victim of violence.
  • Unprotected sex could potentially lead to unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • Loss of personal possessions, such as wallets, keys or mobile phones.
  • Alcohol poisoning – this may lead to vomiting, seizures (fits) and falling unconscious.

This disorder may also lead to several social problems like unemployment, divorce, domestic abuse and homelessness.

Dependent drinking usually impacts a person’s quality of life and relationships, but they may not always find it easy to see or accept this.

Thus, excessive drinking can also lead to several repercussions on a patient’s mental health.

Life-threatening risks also include cancers and disease of various sorts.

Bollywood Representations

Whilst Shahid Kapoor puts his best foot forward as an actor, Kabir Singh trailer seems to highlight Bollywood’s on-going representations of toxic masculine and alcoholic lovers.

Let’s take a look at some of the previous depictions.

Prem Nagar (1974)

Karan Singh (Rajesh Khanna), the younger scion of a wealthy zamindar (hereditary landowners).

He lives an alcoholic, hedonistic life with wine, women and song for companions.

The airline stewardess, Lata (Hema Malini) makes a profound influence on the dissolute young man during a flight.

One day, he rescues her from being sexually harassed and Lata finds herself in the employ of the estate and living in the haveli (palace) of Karan’s family.

Soon their association blossoms into love.

Caught in the web of palace intrigues, Lata is implicated in the theft of a precious necklace… When she is in fact innocent.

As no one believes her, Lata leaves the palace to live a life of humility, only to eventually go back to Karan, who faces a mental upheaval. 

Devdas (2002) 

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum-opus is the most doomed love story in Hindi cinema.

After his wealthy family prohibits him from marrying his childhood sweetheart Paro (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), Devdas Mukherjee (Shah Rukh Khan) excessively consumes alcohol to numb the pain.

He subsequently seeks solace in a famous courtesan Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit), who loves him unconditionally.

Eventually, he gets consumed so much by liquor that it prohibits him to think or act rationally and finds himself in a circle of guilt, self-destruction.

Paro and Chandramukhi’s urge of him to stop drinking fails and there is nothing that can stop him from suffering a tragic consequence.

Rockstar (2011)

Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar is a portrayal of the obsessive, masochistic and intense kind of love.

It cannot get worse when a perfectly normal human being wishes to face pain, only to bring out the inner singer within himself.

Janardhan Jakhar aka Jordan (Ranbir Kapoor) faces true pain after he is left heartbroken after his love Heer (Nargis Fakhri) gets married to another man.

Soon in life, Jordan starts to emerge as a rockstar, but his success drowned in emotions of anger, regret and guilt.

Things spiral more out of control after Heer suffers from a lethal disease… Which leads Jordan in alcohol consumption and a path of destroying himself. 

Aashiqui 2 (2013)

When ego, helplessness and toxic masculinity comes into play, that often leads to disaster and Mohit Suri’s Aashiqui 2 is a testament to this.

Rahul (Aditya Roy Kapur), an alcoholic singing sensation, falls in love with Aarohi (Shraddha Kapoor), a girl who sings in the bar.

He helps her accomplish her dream of becoming a famous singer, but his own shortcomings jeopardise their future.

As arrogance and insecurity corrupt his mind, Rahul delves deeper into a whirlwind of liquor and insecurity, leading to a tragic ending.

Differing Gender Roles in these Representations

In the few examples that we’ve outlined, many of these movies showcase how most of the time a woman has to massage the ego and rescue the self-destructive male.

Rajesh Khanna, Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) and Aditya Roy Kapur’s characters in the films are bravado and rely on the false notion of self-pride.

For instance, in Devdas, SRK’s role can be considered to be as a controlling, irritable, foolish man who simply could not accept that a woman rejected him.

This false masculinity, therefore, might have led him to a path of self-destruction.

Even in Kabir Singh‘s trailer, we see Shahid bash a man for his love interest as well as threaten to destroy himself if he doesn’t get her… These are stereotypical signs of toxic masculinity.

Ranbir Kapoor’s Rockstar role is invariably different.

His character is not driven by ego or machismo, per se. He is, in fact, oblivious, ambitious and naive. 

As such, not every self-destructive, alcoholic male character exudes toxic masculinity.

In fact, there have been examples where there are emotional and alcoholic female characters.

For instance, Kangana Ranaut’s character in Gangster derives from a painful background, with very little happiness and seeks solace in alcohol – which eventually leads her to commit suicide.

In Zero, Katrina Kaif plays a superstar actress, who is heartbroken by her love-interest and becomes an alcoholic. 

Eventually, she is supported by Bauua Singh (SRK) who helps her in breaking all ties with her boyfriend after finding out that he cheats on her.

Final Word

It seems that Bollywood male protagonists often resort to alcoholism and self-destruction due to egos being hurt through failure, love and disrespect. 

Whereas female characters are often subjected to such drastic measures due to constant betrayal and solitude.

Ultimately, one must never forget that alcoholism or the misuse of any substance is something which should always be taken seriously.

Therefore, one hopes that Kabir Singh will tackle such issues with sensitivity and sensibility.

Watch the Kabir Singh Trailer here:

If you or anyone you know is suffering from alcoholism or alcohol misuse, please do consult your local GP or doctor as help is always available.

Helpline numbers include Drinkaware on 0300 123 1110 or Alcoholic Anonymous on 0800 9177 650.

For the full list of charities and support groups, please go on to the NHS Alcohol Support page.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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