Art & Culture

I'm your captive, and I love it: Stockholm Syndrome and how 'Kabir Singh' is promoting it

Nairita Mukherjee
Nairita MukherjeeJun 25, 2019 | 16:13

I'm your captive, and I love it: Stockholm Syndrome and how 'Kabir Singh' is promoting it

What is Stockholm syndrome, Kabir Singh, Shahid Kapoor, Highway, Alia Bhatt, captor captive relationship, Stockholm syndrome, hostage situations, kidnapping

Five years ago, Veera Tripathi was kidnapped, shoved into the back of a truck, and driven away. This was days before her wedding, her family was left in a mess, nursing a broken heart and gathering the courage to find her, even as the fear that she might never return crept in.

In the weeks that followed, Veera’s life changed completely.


She went from a point of numbing horror that her life was going to end, to feeling a strange sense of security in captivity — as if this life was better than the one she was forced to leave behind. Her captor, Mahabir Bhati — in her mind — went from being the devil incarnate to God himself, handholding her out of the apparent prison that her earlier life was.

In Imtiaz Ali’s Highway, Alia Bhatt portrayed Stockholm Syndrome to (near) perfection.

Veera found a strange sense of security in captivity with Mahabir Bhati. (Photo: YouTube screengrab/Still: Highway)

The film was widely discussed — as was this new phrase, Stockholm Syndrome — that up until then remained outside the realm of Bollywood story-telling.

Highway was criticised for glorifying kidnapping and abuse, and applauded for making a serious psychological disorder like Stockholm Syndrome dinner table conversation.

Five years later, the Shahid Kapoor starrer Kabir Singh hit theatres and suddenly, this phrase was back in our vocabulary. After all the talk around misogyny, patriarchy and toxic masculinity were over and done, the curious case of Preeti (Kiara Advani) took centrestage.

Preeti is demure by nature, she’s an obedient student and daughter, and she finds herself falling in love with Kabir Singh, a senior in college. Now, Kabir is arrogant, angry, even abusive — he’s barely likeable aside from his genetic endowments. At this point, most arguments turn to a dismissive ‘But she finds him attractive, na’ in a beauty-lies-in-the-eyes-of-the-beholder fashion.


True, except not entirely.

Is Preeti the only one who can see the good in Kabir — or the only one who can't see what's wrong with him? (Photo: YouTube screengrab)

Preeti is actually falling in love with Kabir's arrogance, anger — and his utterly abusive nature.

That’s a classic sign of Stockholm Syndrome.

A BBC article on Stockholm Syndrome will inform you that it is an unusual dependency a hostage — usually a woman — would feel towards her captor.

Though the term is most commonly cited in the context of kidnapping and hostage cases — like the six-day bank siege in Stockholm's Norrmalmstorg square, 40 years ago, which led to the coinage in the first place — it can be interpreted in everyday lives too. For instance, when a wife refuses to leave her physically abusive husband. In the same article, psychiatrist Dr Frank Ochberg was quoted, defining the syndrome for the FBI and Scotland Yard in the 1970s, saying it all starts when people are suddenly faced with a terrifying situation that leads them to believe they will die, coupled with a sense of infantilisation — where they cannot access food when they’re hungry or go to the bathroom themselves if they need to — followed by a sense of primitive gratitude when their captor, in a one-off act of kindness, gives them food.


They start to believe this man is going to save them — completely forgetting the fact that he was the reason they’re in this situation in the first place.

Perhaps a history of past trauma — abusive parents, being bullied or just a sense of an unhappy life that makes them feel they’re trapped — could trigger this syndrome. Like how Alia’s Veera felt trapped in the physical abuse she had suffered at the hands of a family friend as a child, and more so because she was unable to confide in her parents.

While Highway opened up a debate, Preeti's story remains inconsequential in the plot of Kabir Singh. (Photo: YouTube screengrab)

In Preeti’s case, an overpowering, unnecessarily strict father could be an explanation.

Except, we never really get to know her side of the story.

Highway worked because the story was told from the perspective of the captive — while in Kabir Singh, Preeti and her story became a needle in a haystack, buried six feet deep under misogyny, patriarchy and toxic masculinity.

But does Kabir Singh promote, romanticise, even glorify this dysfunctional captor-captive dynamics? No, not intentionally. But the sheer success of the film and the fact that keyboard-armed Twitter crusaders are defending it to high heavens is a sign of Stockholm Syndrome in itself.

If you’re able to empathise with Kabir — the abuser — defend him, humanise him, even justify his actions by calling it 'normal', perhaps you’re — we all are — showing early signs of this psychological disorder. In a country where it’s taken us decades to openly talk about depression, and yet we find a few sniggers here and there, how long will Stockholm Syndrome, possibly impacting millions of us, take to get diagnosed?

Last updated: June 25, 2019 | 16:13
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