CultureCinema A Feminist Reading Of Kaabil

A Feminist Reading Of Kaabil

Overall, Kaabil had a crumbling plotline, held together by a good cinematography and brilliant acting. But it reinforced what it was trying to disprove; the belief that the visually impaired are weak.

When I first heard about the film Kaabil, this Hrithik Roshan and Yami Gautam starrer had seemed promisingly progressive, with both the main characters in the film being visually impaired. What was refreshing was not their disability, but the fact that they were shown as young, moderately successful, and independent, a drastic shift from the ‘weak and dependent disabled’ stereotype. And while films such as Sparsh (1980) and Black (2005) have explored this aspect before, they could barely escape the narrative of the pitiful disabled. I think the most empowering movie yet has been the Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar starrer Aankhen (2002), a heist thriller film which gave its three main characters a life beyond their obvious visual impairment. They were shown as real people; with traits, morals, strengths and weaknesses.

And that is why I was excited about Kaabil. Being released almost a decade after Bollywood’s last film noteworthy of its representation, it promised to go one step further, and show the visually impaired as people with romantic and sexual needs. Little did I know, I was setting myself up for a fall.

Kaabil (2017)

Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Yami Gautam, Ronit Roy

Director: Sanjay Gupta

The movie was off to a good start, following Hrithik’s character Rohan Bhatnagar around as he completed mundane tasks with ease, relying on his other senses. In fact, the first ten to fifteen minutes of this film were so revolutionary, I wished that the entire film could have been just that; a blind couple navigating the world and each other using their other senses.

The first warning sign was when Rohan Bhatnagar met Yami Gautam’s character Supriya (Su for short) for what can only be a described as a first date for an arranged marriage. Su promptly told him that she was independent, happy, and not interested. In response to this, Rohan laughed and quickly asked her out for a second date in order to convince her, to which she shyly agreed. A hop, skip and dance number later, they were getting married. And while the romantic in me was happy for the lovebirds, the feminist in me was a bit irked. Does Bollywood really need another narrative where “No doesn’t mean no, it means try harder”?

But I brushed the thought aside. And by then the gundas had arrived, the catalysts of turning a sweet albeit slightly-sexist romance into a revenge story. What was immensely disturbing was not only when they raped Su, but also everything that happened after. The film showed very well the brutal reality of what a rape survivor has to face; from the insensitivity and downright condescension of the policemen to the problems in reaching a hospital to have a rape kit administered to them, especially since she clearly could not identify her attackers. But none of this was more disturbing than the fact that through this entire process, the film’s focus remained on Rohan Bhatnagar. We the audience were constantly shown his distress, his anger, his helplessness, while Su trembled at his side like a battered prop.

The audience stared at Rohan’s face as he underwent an inner turmoil, while Su mechanically arranged for dinner, ate it, and told him that if he didn’t want to be with her anymore, she’d understand. Still engrossed in his own pain, he sat there in silence, and the camera sat there with him. And then it followed him to work the next day, where he couldn’t work properly because he was so distressed, and finally came back home to find out that Su had committed suicide.

As a feminist, this film had hit a low point for me. Not only had the blind woman been shown as weak in a film whose premise was that blind people are not weak (I guess it only applies to men), the film had focused on the man’s distress over something that happened to her. There was absolutely no screen time spent on what she was going through. And although Rohan had failed to be supportive towards her, neither he nor the filmmakers seemed to think that he was even remotely responsible for her decision to commit suicide.

Her suicide itself was problematic, painting her as a victim rather than a survivor. But the cherry on the cake was her suicide note, which said that she hung herself because she couldn’t see him suffer like this every day. At this point, there was a raging pit in my stomach, one that even Rohan Bhatnagar’s vengeful anger was no match for. “If you can’t show a woman live for herself, at least let her die for herself!” I thought. But Supriya Bhatnagar did not have the luxury of dying, forget about living, for her own selfish needs. Even after dying, she became an idealistic fantasy that reappeared on screen over and over to make the hero ‘feel better’ about his murderous rage.

This sequence of events unfolded in the first hour of the movie itself. What had started out as a refreshing idea became ensnared into the same old discourse of revenge fantasy, in a series of bizarre incidents and terribly executed plans that worked out due to sheer luck. And while the movie showed that revenge is not just a fantasy of the living, it was ultimately Rohan Bhatnagar’s superhuman physical strength that proved his masculinity to the bad guys, the police, and himself.

Overall, the film had a crumbling plotline, held together by a good cinematography and brilliant acting. But it reinforced what it was trying to disprove; the belief that the visually impaired are weak. Because in this revenge fantasy, you could only overcome your weakness if you were a man, with the strength and virility of a Greek god. And while Rohan Bhatnagar smiled triumphantly into the distance, the feminist in me was left feeling weak, unsafe, and extremely UnKaabil.


  1. Mayuresh Chavan says:

    Woman like you have wrong concept of feminism. Being strong and independent is different than being alone. You can give any excuse to run away from marriage only because you are afraid not because you are strong and independent. You miss the biggest point in whole film is how powerful Supriya was than Rohan Bhatnagar.

    • Aishwarya Javalgekar says:

      Hi Mayuresh, you are welcome to your interpretation. I’m just not sure how Supriya is powerful if she’s dead. How is a person who was forced to commit suicide more powerful than a person who got away with committing three murders?

  2. Afaq says:

    How dare they keep the focus on the main actor rather than the victim of rape? I mean it is completely unacceptable.
    I wouldn’t want to watch any movie of your kind. Boy meets girl, girl says no… the end
    This is not a feminist reading, this is an out of logic, childish and woman-demeaning reading of Kaabil

    • Aishwarya Javalgekar says:

      Hi Afaq, there were two main actors in the movie. The rape was the main event. Wouldn’t it make more sense to focus on the actor who was a part of that event, or give both of them equal importance?
      I, for one, would really like to watch that movie. 🙂

    • Afaq says:

      The story was built around Rohan. So no there weren’t two main actors, but yes she was an important character to the plot. The rape was not the main event, it was the turning point/event. The problem with this analysis is that you want the plot to be around the female role. If you want that watch Mary Kom

  3. I completely agree with this! It is frustrating when they show woman as the weaker sex even in 2017! Common people.. it is the men whose emotional unstability keeps pulling us down!

  4. And how did you deduce from this article that the writer, a woman like her was trying to run away from marriage? Here’s what’s wrong with men like you.. you think if you ask twice any girl should say yes to marrying you, and that woman somehow gain strength only by accepting such a proposal.. as if even in this day and age a woman’s prerogative should be to get married and make her husband a happy man even if he’s being insensitive to her pain and suffering.. and at the end of the day she kills herself because of this husbands hurt ego.. she should thank him even in death for satisfying his own ego by avenging her death to those outsiders rather than realizing the pain she suffered at his hand!

  5. Sneha says:

    I am afraid its a gross miscommunication by you about that scene where Su finds herself in despair, when rohan is distressed and angry about being unable to help her out. As a couple its about being a unit, though Rohan wanted to help her and couldn’t and became depressed because of that and (according to you) Su is projected as a victim. Your take on the entire focus shown on Rohan is really biased and stereo-typically pretentious of you. The narrative is characteristically a revenge saga and not about woman being projected as progressive or regressive; focusing on every aspect could have rendered the objective of the film rudderless. She happened to be an independent woman and did NOT lose her privileges when she got married. Rape is a form of crime that can happen with any1 and not just dependent, half educated and some less influential backward people. It can happen with even the most advanced women in society. Perversion and voyeurism is absolute and not qualified. U haven’t written anything as to which I am drawing such conclusions. But the way you went about….”mechanically arranging for dinner….” so if Rohan served the dinner instead of her may have brushed aside your doubts ??

    • Aishwarya Javalgekar says:

      Hi Sneha,
      I completely agree with you. Rape is something that can happen to anyone, even independent women. And Rohan was unable to help her out when they were supposed to be a unit. The camera showed Rohan’s distress, but never Su’s. Her emotions, her thoughts at having gone through that experience were not shown, only Rohan’s emotions at not being able to get justice. She got raped, was kidnapped on the way to the hospital, her rape kit came back inconclusive, and she was then accused by the police of making the whole thing up. After that, her husband was unresponsive when she said that it was okay if he didn’t want her anymore, as if she was somehow ‘ruined’. If they are a unit, are her emotions not equally important?

  6. Sneha says:

    True, may be the commercial aspirations of the film demanded the camera to be focussed primarily on Hrithik’s character; giving equal impetus to Su’s journey from a happy independent life to a victim and stressing on Su’s survivor instinct could have changed the objective as a social message and not the one which would result in tremendous footfalls at the box office counters.
    But isn’t it the case with most of the films in our Indian film industry where a glamorous actress is merely utilised as a prop?

    Give or take there may be well about a dozen or less number of films that are female oriented, which went on becoming commercial successes. Notable examples include Chaalbaz, Khoon bhari mang, Tanu weds Manu, its sequel, Kahaani, etc.,. Entirely depends on the filmmaker as to the scope and scale of his story brought on-screen and his goals.

  7. Priyabasu says:

    I see all girls have replied here as it is But I being a guy got scared after watching this film. So I am replying.
    Watched this movie today. If Rohan was so physically strong he should have killed the two villains the night he and Su were first harassed in the street. He knew these guys well and should have known that Su might be attacked by them, in future. In real life Hrithik is not even 10% capable as Rohan was shown in the second half of the film. In real life police complaint is the only option left for any normal person in such horrific insanity like rape, ragging or physical molestation on either any man or woman is to report to the police and media. So police and media should understand their responsibility and take strict actions. If they are incapable to protect us then who will?

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