With just two films, Arjun Reddy and Kabir Singh (which is a remake of Arjun Reddy, so maybe that counts as one), Sandeep Reddy Vanga gained a significant level of notoriety for glorifying a toxic man and normalizing abuse in a relationship. One section of the audience hailed him for slapping feminists on the face through his realistic portrayal of a “problematic” character. Another section of the audience critiqued him for bringing back regressive values under the garb of realism. Amidst all this to-and-fro between cinephiles and fans, Vanga made a lot of money, promised that he’d be back with a violent film that would dwarf his previous two films, and vanished from the cinematic landscape for around four years. When he returned with the trailer for Animal, and I saw Ranbir Kapoor towering over Anil Kapoor, it did seem like Vanga would stay true to his word. But after trudging through the film’s 201-minute-long running time, I have to say that he has failed hilariously.
Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Animal, which he has co-written with Pranay Reddy Vanga and Saurabh Gupta, tells the story of Ranvijay Singh, the only son of the owner of Swastik Steel, Balbir Singh. His mother is Jyoti, his sisters are Reet and Roop, and he has a grandfather and an extended family with several branches going here, there, and everywhere. Ranvijay’s whole personality is made up of two things: his father and constantly explaining what women should and shouldn’t do. And while his obsession with his father leads to a massive fallout, his mansplaining leads to his marriage with Geetanjali. The couple moves away to the USA, and when an assassination attempt is made on Balbir, Ranvijay returns with his wife and two kids to take the reins of Swastik Steel and fortify the walls of the Singh household so that no one can harm them ever again. Although Ranvijay starts out strong, he begins to spiral out of control after sustaining several deadly injuries. By the way, that’s just the first half of the film. The second half is something else entirely.
Look, I’ll try to talk about Animal as precisely as possible because every aspect of it is so laughably juvenile and hollow that they need to be discussed. I can just say that the viewing experience was mind-numbing enough to not recommend this film and call it a day. But I won’t, because Vanga deserves better. And by “better,” I mean that he needs to learn some self-respect because, based on the story and the script, it seems like he has consumed nothing but Sigma-Alpha-Male Reddit posts and Andrew Tate videos for the past few years and vomited onto the pages. He is a mainstream Bollywood director who can get actors like Ranbir Kapoor and Anil Kapoor to work in his films. He has a sizable audience that will come to the theaters after seeing his name on the posters. He can afford to buy a more expensive brand of toxic masculinity and misogyny. However, all that he and his team manage to muster is a bunch of nonsense about male and female reproductive organs that nameless and faceless teens on Twitter and Instagram spew on a daily basis as soon as it challenges their shallow intellect. I can see that for free. I am paying to watch a movie about a toxic man. Where’s my money’s worth?
Animal’s screenplay is clearly born out of spite for those who criticized Kabir Singh and Arjun Reddy, and that has to be classified as the most “Beta” behavior of all time, right? At one point in the film, Vanga crafts a conversation between Ranvijay and Geetanjali where they talk about slapping each other, defining it as an expression of love, and then proceed to listen to the moans of the first night they spent with each other, that too in a church. And it’s so obvious that he’s trying to “dunk” on the likes of Anupama Chopra, who reprimanded him for the slapping scene in his last two films. But why? The power dynamic between a filmmaker and a critic is not equal, especially when a filmmaker has earned crores of dollars and love from his fans. So, instead of specifically catering to them with something new, why is Vanga doubling down on a piece of criticism that shouldn’t matter to him if he is such a Sigma-Alpha-Theta-Zeta man? If he is not, I can understand. I can’t empathize with him, though, because he wastes so much of the film’s screen time hating on women instead of focusing on the father-son dynamic and the revenge plot.
I can excuse the action scenes in Animal because this is Vanga’s first foray into that aspect of filmmaking. I can see that the actors, stunt experts, choreographers, production designers, make-up artists, VFX artists, SFX artists, and every other department have put in a considerable amount of effort into those moments. Sadly, their effort has been ruined by the editing. Wait, who is the editor? That’s right! Sandeep Reddy Vanga. But still, I’ll forgive the nearly incomprehensible and lackluster action while hoping that he learns from his mistakes. What I can’t forgive is the way Vanga has fumbled two of the most advertised aspects of the film. Vanga starts out strong and extracts good performances from Ranbir and Anil. And then he goes on a whole tangent about gaining weight, justifying cheating on Geetanjali, and posing like Andrew Tate (with the triangular hand thing that he does). He resumes it right at the end and shoots himself in the foot with one of the most cliche health-related twists in the history of Bollywood films to elicit some kind of emotion (hint: Ae Dil Hai Mushkil had a similar “twist”). And the less I say about the whole Bobby Deol subplot, the better. Calling it a disappointment is an understatement. The man hardly has 10 minutes of screen time, and he has been pitched as the big bad guy of the film. Why would you hype up a very stereotypical villain who isn’t even in the film, relatively speaking? I guess all Sigma-Alpha-Theta-Zeta men suffer from the issue of achieving catharsis, in reel and in real life, after a lot of build-up.
Now, let’s talk about the A-rating. Before shooting a single frame of Animal, Vanga claimed that it’d be the film that would define the term “violent” and make Kabir Singh pale in comparison. The promos have heavily highlighted how bloody and gory Animal is. And, yes, the movie has a huge body count, a few “nude” scenes, and a bunch of expletives. But is it enough to make me uncomfortable or provoke me in some way? No, absolutely not. I have watched Takashi Miike’s Blade of the Immortal, Ichi the Killer, and Audition. I have watched The Sadness, the Terrifier films, Quentin Tarantino’s films, Martin Scorsese’s films, Martyrs, Raw, Titane, David Cronenberg’s films, David Lynch’s films, and A Serbian Film, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So, when an Indian director says that they’re going to make something violent and provocative, they are setting themselves up for failure. The reason is twofold. Firstly, self-proclaimed provocateurs like Vanga aren’t built that way. Their imagination isn’t messed up enough to generate anything remotely synonymous with uneasiness. The most they can do is punch down and feel “macho.” Secondly, the CBFC (which is known as the censor board) won’t allow anyone to be totally unhinged. Hence, there’s a larger conversation about censorship and a pro uncensored art movement that needs to happen urgently in India. But modern-day mainstream artists just don’t have the grit or the courage to do something as radical as that. They are happy punching down on women and feeling “macho.” So, until these two issues are resolved, I’ll simply request the likes of Vanga to pipe down and only do what the government allows them to do.
Let’s come to the “angry young man” and “rebel without a cause” tropes. Say what you have to say about characters like Pushpa or Rocky Bhai (from the KGF films), but their rage and frustration have substance. They always punch up. Their enemies are representatives of fascist institutions. And their aim is to dismantle the old world order and bring about equality. The source of their anger comes from oppression and struggle. Given that that’s what almost ninety percent of the population of India is doing, those characters begin to feel relatable and, at times, aspirational. Who are Sandeep Reddy Vanga and Ranbir Kapoor catering to with Ranvijay Balbir Singh? He belongs to the richest section of the population. He has absolute immunity and access to all kinds of resources. He is physically attractive because of his genes. His vengeful nature is performative. He debunks fascist imagery while partaking in fascism in the name of “protecting the family.” He doesn’t spend a single second with his son, and he is still loved by him. He has unimaginable amounts of money. He throws tantrums about his underwear, his food, and the mildest criticism about his behavior. So, who is this for? The 1 percent population that owns about 40 percent of India’s wealth and flaunts it on a daily basis, and those who convince themselves that they can be like that 1 percent by emulating the outward appearance of an archetypal Noida dude-bro? Well, you have lost me there.
The tension and sense of conflict between me and the exit door in the theater were much more compelling than anything in Animal. I didn’t care about the characters. The acting from the entire cast, with the exception of Anil Kapoor, wasn’t impressive enough to keep me engaged. The songs were annoying, especially because they broke the flow of the already horridly paced film. The action was bad. The comedy was even worse. But the worst was the “romance,” as the leads had no chemistry whatsoever. There were sound design issues, and no, I am not talking about the moment when Ranvijay lost his hearing. The opening scene with Ranbir and several of Rashmika’s scenes were poorly mixed. There weren’t enough gore, sleaze, and controversial elements to earn the A-rating. It was boring, dull, and exhausting. So, I won’t lie; I laughed out loud at the idea of a sequel with not one but two Sigma-Alpha-Theta-Zeta Ranbir Kapoors, who’ll unintentionally parody every film about a toxic man. The only advice that I have for Vanga before he writes a single line of Animal Park (I am guessing that’s the name of the sequel) is that he should go outside and touch the grass, not literally but metaphorically, instead of overdosing on Andrew Tate videos and Reddit posts about being macho.