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Animal: Sandeep Reddy Vanga's Film Is Repulsive, Revolting & 90 Minutes Too Long

This is #CriticalMargin, where Ishita Sengupta gets contemplative over new Hindi films and shows. Here: Ranbir Kapoor's Animal.

Animal: Sandeep Reddy Vanga's Film Is Repulsive, Revolting & 90 Minutes Too Long
Animal Movie Review: Ranbir Kapoor-Starrer Is Repulsive, Revolting, 90 Minutes Too Long

Last Updated: 03.02 PM, Dec 02, 2023


IN 1967, the French theorist Roland Barthes wrote The Death of the Author and altered traditional literary criticism. In the essay, he argued that the meaning of a text should not rely on the author’s biography. Barthes suggested that a work should be treated independent and separate from its maker. It matters not who and how the author is; the way one interprets it depends on the reader instead. Fourteen years later, Sandeep Reddy Vanga was born — a filmmaker so odiously excessive in his opinions on women, love, and life in general that he makes biographical criticism inevitable. Vanga is so forceful in his bad takes (chief among them being men having the right to slap and touch ‘their women’ as evidence of love) that it is impossible to watch his films and not read them as an extension of his belief system.

The troubling bit is he is aware of it. He is attuned to the words his heroes say, he is conscious of their actions and, if the polarising effect of his last film Kabir Singh (2019) is any proof, he is familiar with the issues people have with his outings. He, however, does not consider them as problems. The director staged a scene where an unhinged hero chased a female domestic help out of his house, threatening to hit her, and claimed it was only to evoke laughter. He included a moment when the same man sauntered in a classroom and referred to the girl he loves as “meri bandi” (“my girl”) in front of all the students and stated that the subtext of the scene was no different from a wedding. Wasn’t the messaging the same except with a bigger audience, he argued. It was not because a wedding is not about ownership and, more crucially, it is not just about what a man thinks. But to level such criticism against his films is as frustrating as trying to use a battery-less remote. The only one who stands to lose is the one watching it. Vanga, unperturbed, exalts the problems to the point of glorification.

Animal Movie Review: Ranbir Kapoor-Starrer Is Repulsive, Revolting, 90 Minutes Too Long
Animal Movie Review: Ranbir Kapoor-Starrer Is Repulsive, Revolting, 90 Minutes Too Long

If none of these translate to stumbling blocks for him, it is because the three-film old director uses his work to represent the rarest of the rare social species: the cishet Indian man. Everything in Vanga’s films is committed to depicting him, making him feel seen, upholding his broken heart, and foregrounding his sorrow. After all, with the burgeoning conversation about gender and representation, it is the Indian man who has been reduced to a minority. His debut Arjun Reddy (2017) and its Hindi-language remake, Kabir Singh unfolded, informed with this quandary. Both celebrated entitled male protagonists who freely abused and hit women because the world is a scary place for men and they have to do what they have to in order to survive.

With Animal, Vanga is more specific. Unlike his previous work, it does not pretend to be a love story. Instead, the film dives straight to the heart of every Indian man’s problem: their father. Animal envisions a premise where a neglected son, obsessed with his father, goes to extreme lengths to be seen by him. He kills, murders, assumes the role of a protector only to be protected. On paper, it makes for a watchable film because it is a gender-specific problem. Men grow up by growing apart from their fathers. The fact that the actor in question is Ranbir Kapoor, someone who has never held back on his own formal relationship with his father, actor Rishi Kapoor, lends an intriguing subtext to the casting. But the director is still Sandeep Reddy Vanga.

Thus, instead of unpacking the problem, he uses the setting as an easy excuse to craft a universe for his kin. Everything in Animal exists to exhibit a world where men have a free reign without intervention. It is so far-fetched, it is almost wishful thinking. There are big guns, bigger guns, bullets, more bullets. There is blood, there is mayhem. There are quiet women, easy women. There are women who never refuse sex and blush at the idea of alpha men. There are men who use pick up lines like, “you have a big pelvis, you can accommodate healthy babies.” There are married couples. When one of them fights, the man longingly looks at his wife and says, “It is time for you to be slapped.” In another scene, another man throws a lit cigarette on his wife. When a woman confesses her love for a man, the latter asks her to prove it by licking his foot. None of these are played to make a comment. There is no law and order, no semblance of a cop in the film. This is Vanga’s customised playground for his hype men and we are surviving in it.

Animal Movie Review: Ranbir Kapoor-Starrer Is Repulsive, Revolting, 90 Minutes Too Long
Animal Movie Review: Ranbir Kapoor-Starrer Is Repulsive, Revolting, 90 Minutes Too Long

The heroes here are men, even when they are the villain (an effective Bobby Deol with nothing much to do). The filmmaker has a specific vision of his male characters. They wear shades, they smoke. They are sexually potent, they are aggressive. For them, their masculinity resides down there. In Animal, there are countless conversations about penis, size, hair. In one scene where Kapoor’s character is injured and a therapist enquires after his sex life, he looks at his wife, Geetanjali (Rashmika Mandanna) and says that he has overcompensated to last the next five years. The filmmaker’s insistence to portray the virility of his male characters is so devout that the family business here is that of steel — speaking of phallocentric signs. The film is the equivalent of a man boasting about his size. There is a term for it: small dick energy.

The plot of Animal is basic. Balbir (a wasted Anil Kapoor — a travesty) is a businessman. He is always busy. His son, Ranvijay (Ranbir Kapoor) has grown up vying for his attention. He says ‘Papa’ like the world is inserted in his mouth. Kapoor plays it with all his pent-up angst and dead eyes. But Vanga stretches it to include intergenerational family feud because his eye is on action. And there is plenty. He draws from Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy, he goes all out with a heavy-duty bullet machines. But Kapoor is too superior an actor to be rendered immobile holding a gun. He feels strangely cheap doing it, his facial expression imbued with a look of sexual gratification. There is just one scene that comes closest to doing justice to the performer that is Ranbir Kapoor. It arrives towards the very end, where he role plays with his father to display his hurt. It is too late by then and too little.

It is easy to dismiss Animal as an indulgent film, one that achieves none of what it sets out to. It is. It is repulsive, revolting, and one-and-a-half- hours too long. Scenes float in and around without transition. But it is also a film that unravels as retaliation. Spurred on by the success of his last two works, Vanga is now brandishing his arrogance. He is only reacting and not film making.

At this point, he shares a combative relationship with the viewers. The offence is heedlessly dialled up. In the film, the name of the steel company is Swastik; the director deliberately inserts a scene where the protagonist argues their official logo (that of a swastika) is an Indian sign and not like the Nazi symbol. But the moment exists to needle us . The hero is given more crowns for being unruly, immoral. Ranvijay is provocative, inciting — like the filmmaker himself. He knows what irks us and he does it more. Our discomfort delights him; the thought-pieces propel him. The writer and the text have fused into one. Who draws the line then and is there any? That is the biggest concern.

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of OTTplay. The author is solely responsible for any claims arising out of the content of this column.)

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