Animal Review: Revenge and Ranbir Kapoor Make For An Unpalatable Dish

Directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga, the film revels in the criticism made of the director’s previous hits
Animal Review: Revenge and Ranbir Kapoor Make For An Unpalatable Dish

Director: Sandeep Reddy Vanga
Writers: Sandeep Reddy Vanga, Pranay Reddy Vanga, Saurabh Gupta

Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, Rashmika Mandanna, Bobby Deol, Saloni Batra, Tripti Dimri, Suresh Oberoi, Shakti Kapoor

Duration: 203 mins

Available in: Theatres

Animal thinks it is a story about revenge. The story – if one must call it that – revolves around a man (Ranbir Kapoor) obsessed with hunting down the people who attacked his father (Anil Kapoor). His unseen enemies, too, are driven by retribution. Their journeys – if one must call it that – is filled with bitterness, provocation and rage. But Animal is really a revenge story. It’s essentially a middle finger masquerading as a film. Director Sandeep Reddy Vanga seems to have launched a 203-minute offensive against the critics of his 2019 hit, Kabir Singh. Every frame oozes with bitterness, provocation and rage. He has not forgotten. He has not forgiven. This is, however, a very expensive rant – one that might ironically make the woke naysayers (like myself) feel important for living rent-free in his head. It’s almost flattering. 

Ranbir Kapoor in Animal
Ranbir Kapoor in Animal

Script as Bait

It seems Vanga remembers the accusations so well that he’s unwittingly incriminating the legacy of Kabir Singh. You can almost hear the scripting process. Oh, they had a problem with that slap huh? Let’s give them a scene where she slaps him now – except he pulls out a rifle, shoots into the wall, frightens the kids, and of course they make out. Oh, they called it a ‘glorification of toxic masculinity’ huh? Let’s give the hero a pick-up line like “You have a big pelvis, you can accommodate healthy babies”. Let’s also give them a man ordering the woman who betrayed him to lick his shoes (she kneels). Let’s also give them a moment where he orders a Rolls Royce the colour of the hickeys on his lover’s neck. Let’s also give them a husband who coaxes his angry wife by making her listen to a black-box recording of the first time they had sex in his private jet. Let’s also give them a baddie who murders at his own wedding and coerces his bride into having blood-splattered sex – in public view. Oh, they had an issue with that PMS line huh? Let’s give them a wounded guy who flaunts his post-surgery, diaper-wearing courage by mocking his wife for “making a fuss” about changing four sanitary pads a month. Oh, they can’t stand the alpha-ness of Kabir huh? Let’s give them a North Indian man who claims that poetry was created by weak men to woo women back from the alphas. 

Oh, they couldn’t handle the volatility of the middle-class love story of Kabir Singh huh? Let’s give them a billionaire couple whose marriage is a distant second to the man’s daddy issues. Oh, they didn’t say anything about ‘politics’ huh? Let’s give them a company called Swastik Steel with quasi-Nazi iconography. Let’s also give them a victim complex and a lust-for-revenge arc – maybe a “ghar mein ghus ke maarenge” line – that stimulates the national mood. Let’s give them a weapons dealer proudly introducing his state-of-the-art, India-made machine gun (basically a tractor with inverted bagpipes) as “Atma Nirbhar India”. Let’s also give them a Muslim mole and a barbaric Muslim villain with three wives. Let’s also give them an all-Sikh security detail so they see the war metaphor. Oh, they were irked by Kabir’s violent ways huh? Let’s give them the sort of Korean-inspired, stylized violence that can happen anywhere, anytime, as long as our guy looks like he’s shooting more than just bullets. Yes, that should teach them. Oh, they’ll find this film vile huh? Well, love is vile, life is vile, film-making is vile, that’s the beauty of it. Oh, they’ll predict this will become a blockbuster anyway huh? Let’s give them a huge flo – wait, maybe they’re right.  

Rashmika Mandanna in Animal
Rashmika Mandanna in Animal

Get a Cast, Give it a Raw Deal

Animal is so busy lashing out that it forgets to behave like a film. For something of this scale, it’s also surprisingly needy. The ‘frank’ misogyny (“it’s a man’s world, Geetanjali, deal with it”), music, gore and staging scream for attention. The jarring close-ups are supposed to be symbolic: We dare not look away. Most feuds, arguments and massacres – like the narrative itself – go on forever, almost like they hope to find purpose along the way. The performances unfold like emotions being thrown against the wall to see what sticks. There’s an endless marital spat in which Rashmika Mandanna’s acting feels like a race against time. It’s hurried and desperate, but also understandable. Having an entire scene (and words) at your disposal as a female character in a Vanga movie is such a rarity that she surrenders all her chips. The result is not pretty. 

To be fair, most of the supporting cast gets a raw deal. I went in with some hope because of Anil Kapoor, but his character perpetually looks like a beta-patriarch, a narrative tease. Like he’s on the brink of having an impact, but it never comes. The father he plays is little more than a bystander with multiple “aghast” expressions. A double role comes and goes; timelines keep shifting like coffee-addled writers. Ditto for Bobby Deol – the star of the trailer – who’s reduced to a time-extending gimmick for a story that can’t get enough of its own baiting. It’s a weirdly narcissistic film in that sense, almost as though Animal sneers at the mirror after every shot and tries to love itself by hating on everyone else. It also yells ‘massy’ so that this label – as it usually does – eliminates the pressure to be responsible and gives it the license to be inane. Some might find that entertaining, but it’s sad in a walk-in-the-rain-to-hide-my-tears way. 

Anil Kapoor in Animal
Anil Kapoor in Animal

Why is Animal?

It’s only fitting that a film like this is a reflection of its troubled protagonist. At times, Animal stops pretending, and just becomes the playground for Ranbir Kapoor that it’s designed to be. It’s more of a messy portfolio than a potent performance – a greatest-hits mixtape that searches for meaning in a troubled movie. It’s like all the man-children Kapoor excelled at playing have now grown up – if one must call it that – to become this one shapeless sociopath. At some point, he has a Pablo-Escobar-ish belly. At another, he strolls into his garden naked after a heart transplant. At another, he spanks the wife’s bottom in the kitchen to tease their sexless marriage. At another, he responds to a psychologist asking about his sex life with a similar question. At another, his wife abruptly takes off her top in the living room so that he can nestle his face in her chest. At another, he taunts his dad for being absent through his childhood, but also psychoanalyzes himself and concludes that the absence is why he yearns for his validation. In other words, ‘unpredictability’ is an artistic excuse for characters who have no rules. Not everyone can be a Joker, though. 

During the interval, I was at a loss of theories. I didn’t know what to make of him or the film. All I could ask was: What’s the point? Why is Animal? So then, I decided to intellectualize this fellow – who says anything, does anything, feels anything, like a loose cannon happily floating about in outer space. I wondered if this man could be a rich drifter who is so aimless that perhaps he’s faking love for ‘papa’ to rescue himself from a life of oblivion. Maybe he’s manufacturing conflict and madness to water his own dormant seeds of masculinity. Maybe revenge is his only way to stay relevant. Maybe he goes: “Oh, my family had a problem with my lack of ambition huh? Let’s give them a bloated and self-indulgent journey to nowhere.” 

I found myself comparing him to the lost little men of films like October (a man saves himself by caring for a comatose woman) and Rockstar (a musician seeks tragedy to create art). I also found myself wondering if the super-fans of Animal would soon call themselves “Stanimals”. I thought of how a middle finger is also a middle finger to the person who flashes it. But then the end credits rolled. I had to stop thinking and start writing. So I naturally went: Oh, they have a problem with sharp and legitimate criticism huh? Let’s give them a review in which the film’s biggest flaw is that no actual animals feature in it. Yes, that should teach them. Who’s the beast now? 

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