December 1, 2023
Sandeep Reddy Vanga
Ranbir Kapoor, Rashmika Mandanna, Anil Kapoor, Bobby Deol, Tripti Dimri, Upendra Limaye, Suresh Oberoi, Saloni Batra
Hindi with some English, Punjabi, Marathi etc
I cannot remember the last time the gifted veteran actor’s dialogue delivery was this strained and this unintentionally comical. Can’t blame him alone. That scene is so ridiculous, the phallic symbolism so in-your-face, the attempt at profoundness so laughable, and the sum and substance of the episode so juvenile that I burst out laughing.
Ranvijay is fixated on his nether regions throughout Animal. He keeps drawing attention to the area by either pointing at his crotch or baring it or talking about it or griping about his underwear. In one scene, he speaks of both his “penis” and “anus” – his choice of words, not mine. It is all meant to be very very cool.
Animal is directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga who debuted with Arjun Reddy (Telugu, 2017), and remade it in Hindi as Kabir Singh (2019). Animal – edited by Vanga and co-written by him with Pranay Reddy Vanga, Suresh Bandaru and Saurabh Gupta – seems bent on enraging those who slammed his earlier works. That goal is evident throughout this boring, blood-spattered film – in Ranvijay’s bizarre remarks and deeds, the all-pervasive violence, misogyny and gore.
So that’s 3 hours and 21 minutes of revenge against those who criticise misogynistic cinema. 201 minutes of a desperate desire to shock and/or offend.
Don’t be deceived into considering it mindless though. Bloodshed and immaturity may rage across Animal, but make no mistake about this: the film is steeped in messaging about victimhood – male victimhood and an allusion to the majority community too.
Vanga’s film is a painfully long account of a boy longing for his father’s love. The said Dad is the industrialist Balbir Singh who has no time for his children. His neglect translates into anti-social behaviour and obnoxious cockiness only in Ranvijay who becomes an obsessive son and entitled lover, while his sisters somehow grow into women who don’t resent or bash up all and sundry.
For the zillionth time, let me pre-empt the clichéd question that always comes from defenders of such cinema: violent men do exist in the real world and a violent man can certainly be the central character in a film – the issue here, as always, is the manner of the portrayal, the script’s indulgence towards him, the humour and coolth written into his fictional character, and the various means used to give him an allure despite his violent ways.
The strategised depiction of Ranvijay and his arch enemy Abrar (Bobby Deol) – arriving late in the second half – illustrates how the difference between a film’s gaze on two equally violent characters is used to steer audience reactions to them. Both commit horrifying acts, both treat women terribly, yet there is never a doubt about who is the hero or with whom the director wants our sympathies to lie. Animal may call itself Animal with reference to Ranvijay, yet his animalism is preceded by scene after scene dwelling on his childhood pain, his protective brotherly conduct, his aversion to sexual harassment, his advocacy of marital fidelity and so on, thus establishing him as a traumatised man with innate goodness. By the time his beastly side is exposed, a point has been firmly made that everything he does that is seemingly wrong is in fact done for the greater good. In contrast, the only Abrar we get to know is the brute who kills, rapes and terrorises.
Abrar’s Muslimness is underlined by pointedly mentioning his family’s conversion to Islam.
If Ranvijay rips up human flesh, it is to avenge an attack on his father. If Ranvijay cheats on his wife (mind you, after lecturing other men when they cheat on their wives), he does it for a noble cause. Poor misunderstood Ranvijay had sex only to save his family, you know.
Ranvijay assaults Geetanjali and a defence is woven into the script. He proposes that just as there is a first kiss and a first time having sex in a relationship, so also there should be a first slap. And guess who gets slapped first?
Sigh. Poor misunderstood, suffering, victimised Ranvijay.
Poor Ranvijay who has a solitary wife, and is up against evil, brutal Abrar with three wives.
Now contrast this with the mellow tone of the scene in which Ranvijay converses with Geetanjali while examining the bruises he inflicted on her body.
Note too that the relentless cruelty inflicted by Ranvijay on various people is bookended in this carefully constructed narrative by lengthy scenes emphasising his vulnerable nature.
So, to circle back to that predictable question, “Violent men do exist, so what’s wrong with a film portraying reality?”, I repeat: yes, violent men do exist in the real world, and the issue here, as always, is the director’s gaze on them and their violence.
Animal brims with an intense dislike of women, outspoken women in particular, and evolved, gentle men. It begins with a derisive use of the word “toxic” in a fable narrated by Ranvijay about a monkey that harassed a princess. The contempt is obviously for the term “toxic masculinity”, popular in the feminist lexicon, that was widely applied to Vanga’s first two films.
At one point, Ranvijay mocks Geetanjali for complaining because she has to change pads for four days in a month – he claims she complains, we don’t hear her doing so – while he, he tells her, has not complained though his body has been invaded by doctors during a life-threatening situation. Talk about false and stupid equivalences. Periods are a natural bodily function – often horribly painful, always incredibly inconvenient – that every woman bears for every single month of her entire reproductive life lasting for three to four decades. Ranvijay’s condition, on the other hand, is caused by a human aggressor; it is not the biological fate of all men. Here, Ranvijay is a version of misogynists who troll women for using the social media to raise awareness about cramps, excessive bleeding, agonising period pains and the trivialisation of these experiences by society.
Oddly enough, the determinedly misogynistic Animal writes a feminist element into Ranvijay’s character – he explodes with anger when his brother-in-law roughs up his sister early in the film. There is no progression shown from that scene to his own extreme hostility to his wife.
Animal’s terrible attitude to women runs alongside a cunning use of India’s religious minorities.
Abrar and his cohorts are stereotypes diligently being peddled by Hindi cinema to echo the current Islamophobic national discourse. There is even a Muslim man in the picture who is described as a butcher from Istanbul. His sole contribution to Animal is a stomach-churning slaughter of men.
The Sikhs in Animal are Ranvijay’s brethren and protectors, an extension of a positive stereotype: the fierce, fiercely loyal Sardarji. They are also his allies against Abrar’s marauding gang. All this leads up to a climactic confrontation between shirtless men on an airport tarmac – talk about Hindi film clichés! – in which a kirpan is handed to Ranvijay so that he can wrap up a fight unto death.
Without giving away plot points, I can tell you this much: according to Animal’s underlying philosophy, Sikhs are family and very much in the Hindu fold, Muslims are family that chose the wrong path and are now out to destroy the mother clan, and Christians are the other.
The mind games played by Animal are packaged in slick production design and cinematography, accompanied by a pulsating sound design, infectious music, and Ranbir’s immersive performance.
Despite all this, I was bored stiff by the film.
Startling violence is used here to compensate for a thin, trite storyline. In the first half hour, I was curious about where Vanga would take it, but I spent the remaining 171 minutes stifling yawns at the transparent effort to be disgusting. The camera zooms in on a pulverised human eye. A knife is run back and forth, back and forth, back and forth over a human neck in close-up instead of one swift slash that filmmakers usually favour.
For the record, Animal is not the most violent film ever made in India. Others have done as bad or worse. It is ugly though – in both its use of violence and in its intent.
Ugly. Hate-filled. Tedious. Self-indulgent. And hawking a loathsome agenda.
Misogynists insist that feminists hate men, although all that feminists want is gender equality. You know who hates feminist men? Answer: misogynists. You know who hates men in general? Answer: misogynists. I cannot for the life of me imagine a feminist – female or male – ever conceiving a film that makes men look as foolish, puerile, self-pitying and pathetic as Animal does.
Rating (out of 5 stars): 0
Poster courtesy: IMDB