In a country where 52% of women say it’s ok to be beaten by a husband and one in three experience violence at the hands of a partner, the views of Kabir Singh director, Sandeep Reddy Vanga that physical violence is a sign of true love are dangerous, I write in my Hindustan Times column.
In a country where 52% of women believe it is okay to be beaten by their husbands, the views of Sandeep Reddy Vanga, director Kabir Singh, apparently endorsing physical violence as a sign of love, are deeply disturbing.
“When you are deeply in love … if you don’t have the liberty of slapping each other, then I don’t see anything there,” Vanga told Anupama Chopra in an interview.
I am not sure the one in three married women who have experienced physical violence – slapping, choking, punching and burning — by their husbands, according to the National Family Health Survey 4, would agree. In the first 10 years since the Domestic Violence Act came into force in 2006, over 10 lakh cases of domestic violence have been registered. And, yet, domestic violence remains vastly underreported primarily because of the victim’s relationship with a husband or a partner.
Mainstream Hindi cinema has not been known for its affirmative messages of women’s empowerment. A 2017 study on gender stereotyping by Nishtha Madaan and others shows that the percentage of female-centric films has gone up only marginally since the 1970s and remains in the low teens. Certainly, Kabir Singh’s female lead played by Kiara Advani is no more vacuous than the character played by Sonakshi Sinha who says in Dabangg: “Thappad se darr nahin lagta saab, pyaar se lagta hai.” (I’m not scared of your slap, but of your love).
Those in the film business often argue for the need to separate art from the artist. With his interview, Vanga breaks this barrier. Kabir Singh is not formulaic cinema made for the box office but a belief, as expressed in his interview: True love includes the right to violence. In the film we see this violence, not just by the lead actors but also by the heroine’s father and adolescent brother.
It’s a violence that is reflected in social reality. The daughter of a BJP MLA, Rajesh Mishra, makes a video asking her father to call off his goons who have been harassing the man she has recently married. Adolescent girls, finds IndiaSpend, are lured into trafficking by boyfriends who profess to love them and convince them to ‘elope’. And in Ahmedabad district, a Dalit man is hacked to death by his upper caste in-laws when he goes to pick up his wife who is two months pregnant.
There is a global struggle to eliminate violence against women — not easy in a society that has internalised, even normalised, it. “Showing how pervasive gender-based violence is, runs the risk of normalising it,” states the Economic Survey 2018-19 that calls for a gender campaign that uses positive role models.
Vanga has a right to his creative license but to justify this nonsense as ‘true love’ is dangerous.
Mercifully, not everyone is buying his message. I watched on the big screen as my co-watcher, a woman scientist in her 30s, remarked: “Kabir Singh is a psycho. The heroine should run away from him as fast as she can.”
This column was first published in the Hindustan Times on July 13, 2019