January 25, 2017
Hrithik Roshan, Yami Gautam, Rohit Roy, Ronit Roy, Narendra Jha, Suresh Menon, Girish Kulkarni. Guest appearance: Urvashi Rautela
It is a fascinating idea: the perfect crime committed by a blind man whose other senses are so sharp that he can do things a seeing person could not. To expand that outline into a full-length feature though would require an investment of thought. Sanjay Gupta’s Kaabil lacks thought and much else.
The Internet tells me Kaabil’s budget was Rs 50 crore-plus. I am flummoxed by where that money went since the film’s production quality and special effects are so abysmal that I suspect there may be talented software engineers who have pulled off better student assignments. The sets look unintentionally stagey, Mumbai’s familiar external locations look plastic (as if the stars were super-imposed on existing footage), and scenes that are completely CGI-dependent – such as a fire caused by a blast in a godown – are poorly done.
(Spoilers ahead for those who have not seen the trailer)
All this mediocrity is wrapped around Rohan and Supriya Bhatnagar, he a dubbing artist, she an NGO employee. Both are blind. When Supriya is raped, the police look away because her rapists are well connected. Rohan decides to avenge her, knowing that investigators would find it hard to imagine a blind man being capable (kaabil) of meticulous planning and physically demanding execution. The bulk of the film is devoted to the manner in which Rohan gets back at the men who got after his wife.
(Spoiler alert ends)
First, for a film that is meant to be a thriller, I can think of only one OMG moment – and that one has nothing to do with Rohan’s schemes. It comes when a significant detail of the crime is revealed to Rohan by the rapist’s powerful politician brother. Rohan’s revenge is far less gasp-inducing than way better cinematic works we have already seen about persons with disabilities (PwDs) who possess phenomenal abilities.
(Another spoiler alert) The Mumbai Police should feel deeply insulted by a film in which a criminal does not bother to wear gloves but is not found out because cops do not lift fingerprints off the crime scenes. Nope, it does not occur to anyone to do so, not even that seemingly intelligent senior officer (Narendra Jha) to whom the chap had given advance intimation of his intent to commit those crimes.
Likewise, a woman commits suicide but the police do not do even a cursory check of her room, which would have led them to discover her suicide note. I know, I know, the Indian police are notoriously inefficient (Exhibit No. 1: the Arushi Talwar case), but these celluloid police are worse than anything we know of their real-life counterparts. (Spoiler alert ends)
The absurdly amateurish writing is far less objectionable than the film’s pretence that it cares about women. Kaabil is a perfect illustration of the male gaze. It is purportedly the story of a husband and a wife, the story of a woman who was raped and the man’s vendetta, but what it is in truth is a sympathy fest for the husband while the wife remains an ephemeral figure whose mindset and trauma the film barely explores.
Supriya is not a being unto herself. She exists in Kaabil solely so that the hero can fall in love with her and then display his machismo by punishing those who wronged her.
It is also terribly jarring to see an ‘item’ song in which the camera lasciviously examines a near-naked woman’s body in the middle of a film claiming to object to sexual violence against women. Such insensitivity can only come from a filmmaker feigning concern. For the record, my position on objectification is not as black and white as anti-feminists may lazily assume. For more on that, please read this article which is among the many I have written on the subject: The Naked Truth. Context matters.
Finesse in thriller writing and technical polish may not matter as much to some viewers as Hrithik Roshan does. Kaabil is a letdown on that front too. The thing about Roshan is that when he is good, he can be very very good, when he is bad, he can be Yaadein-level bad. The best that can be said about his performance as Rohan in Kaabil is that he has, in the past, been worse.
If you have not suffered Yaadein, FYI that is one of the films that marked the beginning of the end of Subhash Ghai. Roshan hammed his way through it. This beautiful-looking star needs a meticulous director to control him as an actor. His father Rakesh Roshan, Ashutosh Gowariker with Jodhaa Akbar and a couple of others have managed him well so far. He needs to seek out more like them. It is hard to understand how Roshan Senior, as the producer of Kaabil, tolerated this averageness.
It does not help Roshan Junior that Yami Gautam delivers a far more controlled performance as Supriya. There is a marked contrast between her work and his distractingly laboured effort at playing blind. Gautam needs to be commended for doing a fair job with her role despite the limited writing of her character.
The word “kaabil” is used with two meanings in this film: “worthy” and “capable”. The first is articulated in the title song “Main tere kaabil hoon, ya tere kaabil nahin” which here translates into, “Am I worthy of you or am I not?”
The film’s primary preoccupation is the other meaning though: Is he “capable” of ‘protecting’ his woman? Sanjay Gupta may argue that he is turning stereotypes of PwDs on their head with his portrayal of an extraordinarily able blind man, but his definition of kaabil when placed in the context of disability simply perpetuates patriarchal notions of manhood, masculinity and what it means to be an ‘asli mard’. Read: physically strong, physically flawless.
It is disappointing that this film should come from the producer who directed and co-wrote Koi… Mil Gaya, which starred Hrithik Roshan. C’mon Messrs Roshan, you are better than this.
The kindest review I could give Kaabil is to say it is not unbearable. What it is is commonplace, unremarkable, unthinking and shoddy.
Rating (out of five stars): *
CBFC Rating (India):
Poster courtesy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaabil