Animal Review: Unhinged, Violent, with a Power-Packed Performance by Ranbir Kapoor

Directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga, the film stars Ranbir Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, and Rashmika Mandanna
Animal Movie Review
Animal Movie Review

Animal is unhinged — as in, like a door swinging without its hinges, lubrication, or jamb; directionless, reckless, without design, only gravity (maybe not even that) and the propulsive force of its splintered wood. 

It is writer-director Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s revenge-bod after Arjun Reddy (2017) and Kabir Singh (2019), his rebound that is designed to make this ex look smaller, frailer. At the feminists, he is smirking, you thought Kabir Singh was sexist? Let me make a film where sexism is the least abrasive lashing. At the critics’ face, he is blowing smoke, you thought my scene rhythm was off? Let me make a film where rhythm is the least troubling quip.

The film, at three and a half hours — carry your shawl with you, the chill begins to hit the marrow at the 2.5 hour mark — is so much, too much, very much. Body doubles and volcanoes of blood and sex in autopilot planes and mountain peaks missing the nose of this plane and ecological crises in Kerala and marriages in not-quite Kashmir and machines that were conceived in Delhi, made in Bengaluru, assembled in Maharashtra that look like someone lugged KGF onto a toy train. The film washes past you, like sandpaper being rubbed against your aesthetic and moral convictions. 

Thin Story, Muscular Hero

How to make sense of the film as a whole? You don’t. It works as scenes strung together. Your lunge towards one scene having little or no provocation on your receding from the next. The film flashes as discrete images of masculine rupture.  

In the midst of this much-ness, if you breathe and pause, you sense something uncanny, that the story is actually very small and feeble. That it was yanked and stretched and peppered and lathered and screwed with and over till it resembles a much-ness. 

Ranvijay Singh or Vijay (Ranbir Kapoor) loves his absentee father Balbir (Anil Kapoor), but like Tamasha (2015), Kapoor plays this love like a pathological condition. (You also thought he had multiple personality disorder in that film?) It is a powder keg of a performance where charisma and delusion become inextricable, where masculine weakness is so wrapped in masculine muscle, you would not know where one ends and the other begins.

In a baller move, Vijay whisks Geetanjali (Rashmika Mandanna) from her engagement to an NRI wimp. Arjun Reddy also had an NRI groom-to-be that is emasculated by the hero, what is Reddy Vanga’s stinging complex against the Indian with a colonial accent? 

Vijay and Geetanjali kiss and marry. Their courtship is strange and these scenes are fractured because Reddy Vanga is expressing gentle ideas with a corrosive vocabulary. He wants to be cool and repugnant, admirable and agonizing. Vijay, at Geetanjali’s feet, speaks of being an alpha. There is a poetic dissonance here, which is battered into oblivion when he puts a full stop to their exchange by complimenting her pelvic bones, noting she has birthing hips. She is, apparently, floored. It is an intercaste marriage that one family is against and the other is indifferent to, and like in Arjun Reddy, caste hierarchy here is destabilized by class hierarchy. Vijay and Geetanjali fly off to Virginia where two kids are birthed, thus validating Vijay’s observation about them birthing hips. When someone shoots Balbir, the splintered family all cartwheel back to Delhi, and Vijay (now bearded and wild-haired) vows to murder those who attempted to kill his father, taking up blood as professional and personal duty.

Of Time, Twists, and Peacocking

It is actually quite a simple story, but Vanga wants to layer it till the very foundation collapses. So a revenge begets a counter revenge, wiggled by some internal conspiracy, all of which flowers a mute Bobby Deol in the second half, and the story goes to Scotland, there is a mention of Turkey, and a runway that becomes a peacocking arena for a shirtless Kapoor and Deol who in their climax, collapse on each other, and set the stage for Deol to smoke a cigarette that feels distinctly post-coital.  

The scenes of Animal don’t transition but tumbleroll. Scenes themselves don’t complete, but suggest and strut off. The background score does not massage as much as drown the scene. Sometimes, it plays beyond the emotional register of the scene, sometimes counter to it. Excess is the language, diagnosis, delirium, and distraction of this film. It knows nothing else. Time works odd ways as the film flashes back and forth. We are told, for example, that the shirtless rubbing on the runway was a two-hour-long peacocking. Don’t these men tire? 

The thing about Animal’s grammar is that it isn’t important who these characters are but what they impress upon people, what the effect of their recklessness is. So we do not need not to know what happens to Rashmika and Ranbir after their marriage, because it was never about their characters. 

This is Vanga being slippery. Every time you think you have pinned him to an intention, he will swerve around you. When Bobby Deol is introduced, as a Muslim, as a man who is marrying his third wife, with both wives and his multiple kids in attendance, some anxieties about Muslim representation bubble to the surface. Cut-to the hijab-clad first two wives smoking, speaking in British accents, one of them voicing clearly, that she married him only for his money. The scene’s intention flips, not in pursuit of deepening the presence of these women on screen, but to twist our ideological arms into ambivalence. 

Violence As an Acceptable Outlet for Desire

How, then, to react to the surface of this film? It is constantly playing games with you, toying with your perceptions, never letting anything sink its teeth. A restlessness clouds the film. That Vanga seems to have lost his strident voice chasing the effect his movies have on people. At this point there is very little distinguishing his directorial intentions from that of a troll. There is a ravenous pleasure he gets from being askew, and performing this askewness. His cinema revels not in what it is, but in not being what people think it is. 

Besides, I don’t know what to make of Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s men at this point. Arjun Reddy gets angry when a man generalizes women vapidly, but he also thinks “fat chicks” are a personality type. Vijay keeps snapping the bra strap of his wife, she keeps telling him to stop, and when he doesn’t stop, she slaps him. Scene cut. He is seen applying cream over the bruise. (Just what are those bras made of that they leave marks like barbed wire?) 

Vijay will speak brashly, frequently about sex, as though he knows exactly what he is doing, where he is putting what, with how much force, and how much restraint. He even tells his wife, you snap your fingers and I’ll be ready — as in horned up. She snaps her fingers at him. Nothing. We see signs of the facade collapsing. 

To see Geetanjali’s body language reacting to Vijay through the film is to see the effect of this verbose, stylized masculinity — he folds his cigarette box into his sleeve — wear off. It has lost its sheen, its capacity to make you turn your life over has receded. That he speaks confidently, does not mean he feels confidently, and this Vanga keeps showing us in glimpses. His confidence is a cracking surface. There is something almost pathetic about it, even as its sex appeal is licking its paws. 

How long do these men last, I wonder. Psychoanalyzing a little — Vanga’s worst enemy — it seems the pleasures of sex have been sublimated into the pleasures of violence, because while the men in Animal love to talk about sex, they are seen ecstatically pulping bullets into flesh, because of its easy, penetrative power, shooting around, spraying its gunpowder semen. The bloodbath has this erotic blur, which as the end credits, the post end credits scene and the post-post end credits wink roll past, begins to feel like both a viciousness and a victory. That it is a film made not to be seen as much as to be provoked by.  

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