Mediocre films reveal their mediocrity – mainly, a parochial worldview – even in the most innocuous moments, even when the stakes are conspicuous by being absent. Quite early in Sanjay Gupta’s Kaabil, the film’s leads, Rohan (Hrithik Roshan) and Supriya (Yami Gautam), meet for the first time on a date fixed by a friend. It’s a fairly regular scene, set in a café, featuring two young people looking for love. Gupta films this bit like most directors do, with alternate close-up shots of the two actors. But as the scene gathers steam, you understand what’s really going on. It’s soon clear that the shot on Gautam barely lasts a few seconds, while the camera’s fixated on Roshan, capturing him from different angles. He also gets substantially more lines in this conversation. It’s strange, because Rohan is not different from Supriya. Both are financially independent, single and stay alone; they’re also blind. And yet, this scene favours Rohan. (It’s not difficult to understand why, though; Kaabil is produced by the actor’s father, Rakesh Roshan.)
And there’s more. Soon, Rohan is with Supriya in a mall, persuading her to try a high-heeled sandal, even though she feels uncomfortable wearing one. He keeps making her try various combinations, until he is satisfied with a pair, because, well, he likes its sound. Later, while they’re going out of the mall, he forbids her to use her walking stick. In their first meeting, Supriya says she isn’t looking for marriage. But Rohan is. So things take a natural turn: Supriya agrees to marriage, as if devoid of original thought and memory, in no time. When Rohan gifts her a watch, and Supriya is already wearing one, she smiles a dutiful partner’s smile, saying she will wear two watches from now on. These scenes elicit no other reaction than a terse, “I mean… ?”
I mean, even the Khap dudes could have written better characters.
As if that wasn’t enough, when Supriya is raped by two local ruffians, and the police refuses to file a case citing a lack of evidence, Rohan looks distraught, and he is the one who has to be consoled, because, clearly, he is the one who’s been injured, humiliated and scarred. Kaabil has no space for Gautam; it has an acting portfolio for Roshan. But the most troubling bit, by far, is this: While trying to console Rohan, Supriya says, “I understand that now I’m not the same for you. If you want I can leave this house, and go back to my old job.” Rohan, in stunned silence, keeps looking the other way. How is this even possible, you wonder (in fact, want to shout), that such regressive tripe still gets peddled in the name of a mainstream film? Sure, a film’s allowed to have a regressive lead character, but Kaabil doesn’t see its hero, Rohan, as one; in fact, this entitled prick of a dude is shown as a sensitive, loving husband and his love story and loss (its reasons equally troubling and baffling) a foundation on which this revenge drama exists.
But Roshan’s character is actually a metaphor for Gupta’s film. If you can look through its seemingly sincere front, you’ll find it hides a sordid heart, one that can’t make you empathise but only cringe. Kaabil fails elsewhere, too. Like many Bollywood thrillers, this film doesn’t have characters but cardboard cutouts. Rohan is romantic in the first half, bloodthirsty in the second. How does Rohan, a dubbing artist hitherto living a normal life, takes to violence so easily and so naturally is never explained.
But that’s one of the many questions hovering over Kaabil. Several key scenes in the film defy and defile logic; things simply happen in Kaabil. Rohan gets phone numbers of his antagonists, at will; he has no problem locating addresses; the warehouses and dens are always unlocked; no one cross checks anything dubious; a landline call from a friend or an accomplice, in this age of cellphones, raises no suspicions – Kaabil’s inanity knows no bounds.
I’m not sure what’s more infuriating about this film – whether it’s regressive or stupid. Or whether it’s regressive and stupid and joyless and monotonous and silly and pointless. In fact, let’s call Kaabil for what it is: a B-movie with well-known actors. Worse, it’s exacerbated by shoddy CG, fake earnestness and a needless item number. But here’s the thing about art (be it on screen, page or canvas): It doesn’t let you hide. Gupta, likewise, revels in his own mediocrity, embarrasses himself and gets caught. This hasn’t been his first time, and, something says, this won’t be his last, either.