Kaabil: That Old Regressive Bollywood Strikes Again

This film review was first published in Huffington Post India.

India, I often say, inhabits multiple centuries at the same time. So does Bollywood. Kaabil, a rape-revenge drama directed by Sanjay Gupta, is a film made with 21st century slickness but a 20th century mindset. As an action film, it has some well-conceived action scenes. But it is a regressive movie for both the way it is made and the premises around which the film is set up.

Hrithik Roshan plays Rohan Bhatnagar, a blind voice-over artist who kind friends hook up with Supriya Sharma, played by Yami Gautam. Even though he has no intentions of getting married, and she expresses the same intent, he falls for her within two minutes of talking to her – love at first listen, as it were. I scratched my head as to what could make him feel this way when she had just spoken a couple of anodyne sentences. She also starts reconsidering her decision when he tells her that he’s impressed by her self-confidence, in a way that I fancy any modern woman would find patronising.

Rohan’s attitude towards Supriya is similarly self-centred throughout their brief relationship. They go shopping for shoes, and he makes her try many shoes till he likes the sound of one, and they buy that. He doesn’t ask if she likes it, or is comfortable in it. Later, when she tells him that this happiness is beyond her wildest dreams, he tells her to dream with abandon (as if she needs his permission), and that he wishes to be kaabil enough to make her dreams come true (as if she can’t do that herself).

Later, after she is raped, he sits sulking at his own hurt pride, instead of looking after her, and she actually comes over to comfort him. Yes, she comes over to comfort him.  It’s all about the man.

If the content of the film is simplistic, so is the way it’s made. It’s slick and immaculately shot and edited, but its storytelling approach is to spoonfeed emotions. There’s appropriate background music telling you how to feel at every point, and the film aims for maximum sentimentality at every point. Also, the dialogues sound like they are written by a 13-year-old who’s just hit puberty. Rohan and Supriya talk about whether two negatives can become a positive. (Groan.) One of the rapists says to another while discussing the couple, “Pyaar andha hai yeh tho suna tha, lekin andho ko bhi pyaar hota hai yeh pehli baar dekha.” Who talks like this?

Out of dozens of such bad lines, there is also one gem that I appreciated. This is when a politician tells the policeman, ”Jitne time se tu khakhi-khakhi khel raha hai, utne hi time se main khaadi-khaadi khel raha hoon.” I suppose if you throw enough clever witticisms at the wall, one might hit the mark.

Hrithik performs well – but since he plays a caricaturish character, I’m not sure this could be called acting. The man possesses decent acting chops, but he tends to overact, and this kind of Bollywood does prefer projection to immersion, so I suppose one can’t blame him for it. This is the game, and he plays it well enough.

The thing is, Bollywood is changing, if ever so slowly. There’s a new generation of actors who care about the craft of acting, and storytellers for whom nuance is a feature and not a bug. Kaabil is the Bollywood that is slowly going out the door. Good riddance to you know what.