Kabir Singh director Sandeep Vanga's problematic views on love and intimacy are worse than his films

Sonali Kokra

Jul 08, 2019 12:36:21 IST

Sandeep Reddy Vanga believes he’s made great films in Arjun Reddy and Kabir Singh. He believes people are angry and upset because they’re “pseudo” and because he’s created a piece of art that goes “beyond their belief system”.

He believes that he, a man, understands rape better than women do, because once upon a lifetime ago, he used to work in a hospital and encountered rape victims. He believes a stranger man — even if he might be someone you have a crush on — grabbing your hand and declaring to his cohorts that “yeh meri bandi hai” is the same thing as a wedding. He believes that “intimidation has its own charm”, and that unless a couple has the freedom to kiss, cuss, slap or touch each other anywhere, the love is not pure or unconditional.

 Kabir Singh director Sandeep Vangas problematic views on love and intimacy are worse than his films

Sandeep Vanga, director of Kabir Singh and Arjun Reddy.

Vanga manages to say all of this and more, largely unchallenged by Anupama Chopra, his interviewer, in a recent interview held by Film Companion. I’d even go so far as to say that on several occasions, she mollycoddled him, and chuckled benevolently at some of his vile pronouncements. Perhaps it was her own discomfort at what was un-ravelling, but the few feeble objections she did put up were mostly couched as “I read this” and “I heard that”. She also abandons what were anyway massively underwhelming attempts at contradicting him the second he offers up a cockamamie explanation for his beliefs.

It took me over an hour to get through the 35-minute-long cringeworthy interview, and I’m not sure who perturbs me more, Vanga or Chopra. Male entitlement isn’t exactly new or shocking. It pulsates and echoes through our cultural ecosystem like a palpable, undeniable force. Every day, we lose infants, toddlers, girls, women, and even men to it. Vanga is not the first man to believe that love means never having to behave like a civilised, non-violent, baseline decent member of the human species, and he is unlikely to be the last. We are, after all, a country where a chilling 27 percent of women between 15 to 49 face some form of physical violence. And that’s just those who admit it. There’s no telling how many more endure it silently, trapped in violent relationships and shielding their abusers, because family izzat trumps personal safety, especially when it comes to women.

But by all means, let’s throw a medal around Vanga’s neck because he was able to refrain from violence in his own life — at least that’s what he claims. Although, I am curious to know: when you believe, truly believe, that real love gives you an all-access pass to violate each other physically, how do you restrain yourself in situations that tempt you to use that get-out-of-jail-free card? I’m not for one second implying that Vanga runs around slapping his partners — I don’t and can’t possibly know if he does — but when you think something is okay and acceptable to do, what stops you from doing it? And if unconditional love is impossible unless you’re willing to be debased by your partner, what exactly is Vanga trying to tell all the women who spend years in court, trying to get justice? Go home, you’re a “pseudo” (a favourite word of his), misguided idiot for demanding to be treated with respect and the dignity? But these are just some of the questions Vanga is never asked by his interviewer.

As problematic as both Arjun Reddy and Kabir Singh are, they’re nowhere near as unnerving as the director’s views on intimacy and love.

At one point in the interview, Vanga claims that the filmmaker’s intellect is directly proportional to the crowd. I imagine that what he means is that a filmmaker’s success is directly proportional to how closely his work product aligns with mass assumptions on the topic.

So, despite the teeth-gnashing and dejection that people like me feel when movies like Arjun Reddy and Kabir Singh rake in obscene amounts of money in collections, the twin successes can at least be understood, even expected. The chasm between how the majority of the country thinks and feels, and what the intelligentsia wishes the majority would concern itself with is reflected in our politics, our pop culture, and the breakdown of our channels of communication.

It would have almost been a relief if Vanga had simply said what so many filmmakers before him have said and gone on to have spectacularly successful careers making terrible films — it’s just entertainment, yaar.

But to have someone justify intimate partner violence from a place of moral or intellectual superiority is like a slap in the face. Or a sign of unconditional love, in Vanga-speak. He seems to think that a slap is just a slap. But slaps don’t exist in vacuum, and they don’t stay suspended at that level. As someone who has been at the receiving end of such a slap, I can attest to that. Is Vanga going to call me a “pseudo” who has no idea what she’s talking about and has never experienced true love? Probably. But I know what absolute and utter bullshit that is, and so should all the women he’s successfully gaslighted with that interview.

Shahid Kapoor (left) and Kiara Advani in a still from Kabir Singh.

Shahid Kapoor (left) and Kiara Advani in a still from Kabir Singh.

Today’s slappers become tomorrow’s bone-breakers. Today’s forceful kissers become tomorrow’s stalkers and day after’s rapists. The first time I was slapped, I made every excuse in the book for him: it was a momentary lapse of judgement, it was never going to happen again, there was no way I was in an abusive relationship. But in reality, it wasn’t, it did, and I was. Every time after that, no matter how silly or insignificant our argument, I was haunted by the fear of when the next slap would come. And no matter how hard I tried to convince myself otherwise, deep down, I knew that he knew he could slap me. And someday again, he would. It was not a matter of if, it was a matter of when. The next time, it was my head being shoved in the wall. The time after that, it was having a knife being held against my body.

A slap or a kiss or the freedom to touch your lover anywhere, as Vanga calls them, might sound benign in the larger scheme of things, but it never, ever, ever stays at that. Not that a slap or a forced kiss or an unwanted touch aren’t reason enough to run far away from the person, but I just want to know what Vanga thinks should be the line in the sand for women. If slapping is okay, what’s not okay? A punch? A broken skull? Being thrown down the stairs? Paralysis? But those are just some more of the questions Vanga’s interviewer never asked him.

I’d love to know, as would many of the women who have lived through the humiliating, soul-shattering experience that being hit by your partner is, if Vanga would care to answer. He doesn’t have to remember my name, since he claims to be so bad at “nomenclature”, I’m just one of the millions that make up India’s bashed up 27 percent.

Updated Date: Jul 08, 2019 12:36:21 IST