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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Arjan Bajwa on Kabir Singh: “We’re Not Trying to Create a Social Message. It’s Just a Film”

Arjan Bajwa is the talented, handsome hunk who made his debut in South-Indian cinema and slowly built his way in becoming a known-face in Hindi cinema.

As such, the actor has proceeded to play the antagonist in hit films like Guru and Rustom… Whilst playing the male lead opposite Priyanka Chopra in Fashion also got him the 

He was also a part of 2012’s highest-grossing film, Son of Sardaar.

But of recent, he impressed us with his performance as the supporting elder brother to a self-destructive surgeon in Shahid Kapoor starrer Kabir Singh.

Recently, it has gone on to become one of 2019’s highest-grossing Bollywood films, despite facing brash criticism by critics and some audience members.

In a special interview with Filme Shilmy, we speak to Arjan regarding his experience and perspective on Kabir Singh.

Congratulations on the success of Kabir Singh. Did you expect the film to be received so well by the audience?

We were expecting it to do well because this has been a cult success Telugu.

Whilst it was being remade in Hindi, you kind of realise that things are going to riot at some point because of the way it is shot and the product comes out, it gives a sense of going in the right direction.

But while I say that, we didn’t expect it to do this kind of business and people to go as crazy as they have for every aspect of the film.

We are humbled by the reactions of the people.

You being the responsible one in reality, how close-to-home was it to playing Karan – the elder brother?

When I saw the original film, the guy who played the elder brother played it mildly. His approach was docile with the way he enacted his scenes and everything.

I wanted to have my own take on it and then I thought that if I played myself – how I would react.

Given that we both are from Punjabi families, I just wondered how my reactions would be if my younger brother was like Kabir.

Whatever I did in the film was not pretentious at all, it was very close to who I am in reality.

Since this was your first time working with Shahid Kapoor in a feature film, what was that experience like for you?

I’ve known Shahid for many years, we’ve known each other socially. But I guess that does play a role in whatever you’re doing because then there’s automatic camaraderie on-set.

The first day itself we hit it off. He knew what I was doing and vice-versa.

Sandeep Reddy Vanga was very happy with the way things were shaping and how we were complimenting each other in scenes.

It turned out to be really good. For instance, there is a scene where I go to Kabir’s house and I figure out that he is going completely crazy and we end up having this scuffle.

In that scene, we manhandle each other. This was all done in one take and everybody on set clapped which gave us the confidence that what we are doing is in the right direction.

Everything just fell into place.

The film revolves around alcoholism, anger management and self-harm. Has there ever been a phase in your life where you’ve felt self-destructive?

Not really, to be honest. Whilst we’ve all had a drink or two sometimes, but luckily I’ve never been in this type of a scenario where I’ve hit rock bottom.

I’ve always strived to maintain a certain balance, be more responsible about who I am, where I come from especially bearing in mind my family background.

Those things play on your mind, which strongly it did.

I wouldn’t say anger-management, the thing is that’s a certain age which we depicted in the film.

At the age of Kabir Singh, you do have very strong reactions. So at that stage, we feel like we’re going to win over the world.

It’s not really about anger management, it’s probably about trying to prove yourself right sometimes.

Maybe it’s the aggression of age and what we do. It’s the aggression that comes with that kind of scenario and age.

Kabir Singh has been heavily criticised for its toxic masculinity, abusing power, sexual harassment and misogyny. What is your take on it?

The ‘backlash’ is only with certain people and they are bound to have their point of view. I’m not saying that they’re wrong.

But to straight away typecast the film as ‘misogynistic’, ‘toxic’ or ‘sexually aggressive’ I don’t think these are the right words which should be used.

It’s a simple story of a guy who is going through some kind of issues. We’re not trying to promote his actions. His issues are a part of the story.

Let’s not take it too deeply into social issues of the words that have been used for the film.

It is a film, I don’t really understand why people commented so strongly.

Tomorrow if you see a gangster film, you enjoy it but don’t become that or start banning it.

You watch it as a movie. There are films where people literally get killed, shot and stabbed – people don’t have an objection to that?

If an objection was raised on a movie like this, it wouldn’t have been loved by so many people and taken to such great heights of success.

Today’s audience will speak out.

The main issue is that Kabir, whose premise and characterisation is deplorable, is glorified as a ‘hero’. Do you not find this problematic as well?

We are not ‘glorifying’ Kabir Singh or his antics. We are showing that he was a professional who fell in love with a girl, but then imagine what goes wrong with a guy.

In a way, we are showing the negative side of whatever he’s doing. It exhibits that this can happen if you don’t control your mind.

Whilst we see him as a person who is proud/good at his job as a surgeon but imagine he gets his license taken away, his father throws him out of the house… So they have shown the other side as well.

In a way its a lesson, that if you do things like this, you will badly go down in life and he does.

We’re not showing him as a hero after whatever he does.

Whilst cinema mirrors society and vice-versa, I understand that. But we’re not trying to create a social message.

It’s an aggressive love story with so many aspects/fascets to a character who goes completely berserk and goes down the drain.

Eventually, he is apologetic about everything he has done and people do go through that in their lives.

In the end, we don’t show him out to be a messiah or anything of that sort.

But what about the scene where Kabir is aggressive towards Preeti and even slaps her… People were laughing and cheering that?

One of my favourite films this year, Gully Boy is beautiful.

But in there, a scene where Alia Bhatt’s character finds out that another girl is messaging Ranveer (her boyfriend in the film), she goes to the factory and bashes her up.

The second time she finds out that Ranveer is with Kalki Koechlin’s character, she takes a bottle and breaks her head.

So let’s put it the other way. At that, people laughed and cheered. No one saw this as toxic. We just saw it as a film, as a character.

If we start learning so much from the movies, society will be a different place altogether. It’s equally and bad and good.

There are so many films where you show so many things which are good but do people take that home? no, they don’t.

Just because people love The Godfather, it doesn’t mean everyone has turned gangsters.

There are so many characters like Kabir in our society. We encounter such personalities on a daily basis.

We are aware of people who cannot control their alcohol and aggressive.

Self-destruction and negative tropes are not being advocated but showing the bad-side to humans.

In that case, why do you feel there’s been a bigger backlash at Kabir Singh… Do you feel the ‘feminism wave’ in Indian cinema has gone out of hand?

Why there is a bigger backlash for the film is something we are trying to figure out. We can only give our perspective of clarifying it.

Maybe people haven’t seen this intense love story for a long time. But I don’t know why there is such strong criticism.

But having said that, everyone has their own opinion and we can’t stop people from that.

Nonetheless, if there was such a big problem like the way some have criticised – the audience wouldn’t have given the response that we have received.

The ‘feminism wave’ in Indian cinema has not gone out of hand. No, not at all.

I have so many who filmmaker friends who are completely against any unjustified feminism… It’s got to be in place.

It is something which we are on the side of, nothing to do with feminism here because there are so many male critics who disliked the film.

Every character has their way of dealing with the situation in the film. Someone even wrote to me saying “If you were such a good brother, why didn’t you explain to him?”

People don’t need to justify so much, it’s just a film story.

If you had a brother like Kabir, you (or anybody) would try and protect as well as counsel him.

I’ve even had messages on social media where people have watched the film multiple times… Who would do that for a ‘toxic’, ‘sexually aggressive’ and ‘misogynistic’ movie?

It shouldn’t be looked in so many socially relevant ways. It’s just cinema. 

The movie marked your return to Hindi cinema after a gap of three years. What kept you waiting all this time?

People have a certain way of casting… At one point they thought I’d be good for the role and then they didn’t at the next, so that has happened.

At the same time, the kind of films I’ve been wanting to do I have done quality work always. Not really concentrated on quantity as such. 

So, fortunately, with the grace of God, whatever work I do, it always hits the bullseye, which is more important for me as an actor – rather than just being a part of every single film. 

Even after you do stuff after some time, it’s got to be good and memorable – something which you can reflect over and be proud of.

Thankfully, out of the 12/13 films I’ve done in Hindi, five of them are pretty big successful films. Luck has been on my side.

So post the success of this film, what’s next for you?

I’m reading a couple of scripts and currently shooting a Tamil film called Bigil. 

I have a feeling it’s going to be the second-biggest film in Tamil history because it’s made on a huge budget.

It also marks my debut in Tamil cinema.

Apart from that, there is such brilliant content being made on the web. There are a few web-shows that I’m in talks with and just reading the scripts.

There’s a lot going on!

Here’s wishing Arjan all the very best for future projects.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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