‘Animal’: the film India isn’t ready for

Animal might have received 19 nominations and 12 victories at the Indian International Filmfare Awards alongside breaking several box office records, but it has received widespread criticism from various members of Indian society, ranging from Javed Akhtar to random old aunties. Yet, others have heaped praise upon Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s direction as well as the acting performances. There is by no means a correct opinion for a film that explores, and some say glorifies, deeply controversial themes, but nevertheless, I shall endeavour to share my view.

Animal is essentially a three-and-a-half-hour-long story about a man whose father didn’t give him enough attention. An assassination attempt on Balbir Singh (Anil Kapoor) leads his son, Ranvijay Singh (Ranbir Kapoor), to embark on a furious killing spree in what is perhaps one of the most violent Bollywood films of all time. The film also encompasses its fair share of alpha-male-type speeches, adultery, and toxic relationships, also featuring a a school shooting.

Firstly, we need to explore the commendable aspects of the film. There can be little criticism, if any at all, of the acting performances of the main cast. Ranvijay’s ‘army of Sardaarji’s’ is fearsome and bold, and it members play their roles with conviction. Tripti Dimri’s portrayal of Zoya is controlled and has earned her a vast amount of plaudits (plus a Filmfare nomination). Anil Kapoor is able to summon a performance similar to that of his roles in Dil Dhadakne Do and Ek Ladki toh Dekha toh Aisa Laga, portraying a distant, almost emotionless father at times; yet again, he takes it to another level, earning a Filmfare nomination. Notably, Bobby Deol’s portrayal of the antagonist, Abrar Haque, warrants acclaim: having a speech impediment, he evokes empathy and understanding despite his violent intentions. Rashmika Mandanna is, perhaps surprisingly to some, excellent. She successfully portrays an emotionally strong wife, a pillar of support for her family with strong will. In many ways she is a traditional Indian wife, sacrificing her wants for her family, and holds herself together amid the chaos that ensues around her. It’s a firm portrayal and one that should hopefully enhance her reputation within Bollywood further.

And finally, Ranbir Kapoor. The actor who has shown his wide range of flexibility and acting skills on numerous occasions, Kapoor delivers one of his best performances to date. It’s always been clear that he can act. Barfi, Sanju, and Tamasha, among others, have shown us that. But in Animal he produces an acting display that few other members of the industry could pull off. In bringing to life one of the most vicious protagonists ever seen in Bollywood, he captures our attention throughout the film. Ranvijay is almost able to justify all of the unthinkable crimes he partakes in and beliefs he adheres to in a way that is more than credible.

Whatever your opinions of him, Vanga’s direction is largely fantastic. His repetitive use of low-angle shots, for example when he introduces the ‘current’ Ranvijay and when he fires the shot that blows Varun’s body to pieces, indicates the immense level of power at play.

He almost does the unthinkable, contrasting scenes of sheer violence with music

He almost does the unthinkable, contrasting scenes of sheer violence with soothing music. It is rare that we see action scenes accompanied by songs, let alone love songs. However, this is the case during the climactic fight between Ranvijay and Abrar, which is supported by the song ‘Saari Duniya Jalaa Denge’. It is essentially a song about loving your family, creating a juxtaposition as these two men take it in turns to tear each other to pieces. This is a common theme within Vanga’s films, for despite portrayals of dark characters such as Kabir Singh and Ranvijay Singh, his films include such beautiful romantic songs with wonderful lyricism, including ‘Kaise Hua’, ‘Pehla Pyaar’, ‘Tujhe Kitna Chahne Lage’, ‘Satranga’, ‘Pehle Bhi Mai’n, and the aforementioned ‘Saari Duniya Jalaa Denge’.

So, what exactly is wrong with it? The film involves a lot of violence. And that’s an understatement. There’s a scene in which Ranvijay murders approximately 300 people in a hotel, and the final showdown scene is also particularly gruesome. The film also includes its fair share of adultery, with prostitute visits, as well as Ranbir choosing to be intimate with Zoya (Tripti Dimri) in order to protect his father. Ranvijay is in a toxic relationship with his wife, Geetanjali (Rashmika Mandanna), and uses a ‘male ego’-infused speech to break off their marriage. To further add to the list, he chooses to go to his sister’s school with a rifle, because some college boys are sexually harassing her. This list could also extend to comment on the potentially Islamophobic and anti-Sikh references within the film. All of this doesn’t paint a good picture, and what’s more, Vanga hasn’t made any comments to deter this behaviour.

The storyline isn’t flawless either, as it jumps around a little during a puzzling first half. The film spans over three hours and involves long drawn-out scenes of violence, which many have issues with, and in addition, the antagonist isn’t introduced until the first two hours have passed by. The decision to include four antagonists within the film, with three of them having a name beginning with ‘A’, also ought to be questioned, for this only serves to create confusion.

Ultimately, the gripe most have with Animal is that the protagonist’s violent actions and adultery are almost glorified within the film. Ranvijay does not face any ramifications for the crimes he commits. The same misogynistic elements occurred in Vanga’s first Bollywood movie, Kabir Singh, which also divided opinion.

It is not necessary for every Bollywood ‘hero’ to be the epitome of good

The important thing to remember when it comes to watching films is that movies are an art of storytelling. Vanga is telling us a story through an action film that is there to entertain us, and despite its length, it serves that purpose. It is not necessary for every Bollywood ‘hero’ to be the epitome of good. Some very successful Bollywood actors have played anti-hero protagonists, including the likes of Shah Rukh Khan, Shahid Kapoor, Aamir Khan, Aditya Roy Kapur, and Hrithik Roshan, and Ranbir Kapoor is just another addition, albeit a very bloody one, to a long list.

Just because Animal glorifies adultery and violence, that doesn’t mean the Indian public must endeavour to follow in his footsteps. It is the job of a director to present to us a story, and in turn, our role as an audience is to evaluate this in terms of its entertainment rather than a certain character. Disliking Animal and disliking Ranvijay Singh are two very different things, and perhaps, if you dislike Animal, you like it more than you think.

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