Balbir Singh is the father of the protagonist of Animal, Ranvijay Singh. He is the current owner of the family business, Swastik Steel. His father is Rajdheer Singh. He is married to Jyoti. Other than Ranvijay, he has two daughters, Reet and Roop. He prioritizes Reet’s husband, Varun, over Ranvijay because Varun is way more disciplined and responsible when it comes to handling the business. Ranvijay has a short temper and is way too volatile to do anything without resorting to violence. So, Balbir always sidelines him or straight-up ignores him. But when push comes to shove and an assassination attempt is made on Balbir, it’s Ranvijay who comes to the rescue and takes over Swastik Steel, while going after Varun for being a part of the plan to kill Balbir and take down the Singh empire. As he begins to reunite with Ranvijay, he realizes that he has given birth to a criminal who is wreaking havoc in the hopes that his father will give him his seal of approval.
The rough outline of Animal’s Balbir Singh is that he is an absent father because he is a busy industrialist. Ranvijay is dependent on him emotionally, and when he doesn’t get the attention he needs from his father, he becomes unhinged. So, Balbir is responsible for the poor upbringing of his only son. Now, the issue here is that we never actually see him as a busy industrialist or an absent father. I mean, the character doesn’t have that kind of screen time to truly cement the fact that he is the unintentional sculptor of Ranvijay’s fate. He hardly goes to his factory. We rarely see him talking about his business. There’s one scene where he sits down with a Chief Minister (who is probably part Irish because he is wearing a scarf featuring the four-leaf clover), but we don’t get to hear what they’re talking about. Is he feared in his line of work? Is he hated in his line of work? Is he loved in his line of work? We don’t see any of that.
When Balbir gets shot (by goons whose costumes seem to be inspired by PUBG), his employees refuse to work and rejoice when Balbir promises to slit the throat of the person who tried to kill Balbir. That’s all we learn about Balbir’s work life. At the very end of the film, when Balbir is having an argument with Ranvijay, he says that Swastik Steel has been his life. And my question is, “How?” If Sandeep Reddy Vanga didn’t spend so much of the film’s running time on mansplaining what women should and should not do, maybe we could’ve got a miniaturized version of Kanji Watanabe’s arc from Ikiru, i.e., a character who dedicated his whole life to work and then realized he had wasted so much time after learning that he was suffering from cancer. It’s probably an insult to Akira Kurosawa’s legacy that I am even making this comparison, but I’m trying to be educational in a space that’s only designed to trigger the “woke feminist crowd.”
Coming to the “absent father” angle, again, there’s not enough substance. There’s a massive jump between the middle schooler version of Ranvijay and the school shooter version of Ranvijay. How hard did Balbir ignore him that he had such a drastic change? We don’t know. There are several drastic shifts between the adult versions of Ranvijay, and apparently, Balbir’s attitude towards his son is the reason for that, too. That’s what we are told through tedious expository dialogue. In the final moments of the film, Ranvijay talks about how he didn’t go to a Michael Jackson concert because it coincided with his father’s birthday and then proceeds to demonstrate how Balbir behaved with him on that day. But even that interaction offers little to no new insight regarding who Balbir is as a person. Why does he prioritize his job over his family? And despite all the abuse, why does Ranvijay treat him as a hero? There can be a messed-up reason hidden between the lines. However, it’s never really explored by Vanga.
Balbir’s injury offers the opportunity to do some introspection about his past, but all Vanga allows him to do is whine about how Ranvijay is taking over everything or gawk in awe at what Ranvijay is doing. He sometimes says that he doesn’t agree with Ranvijay’s methods, but then he’s okay with the results. I thought that bringing in a body double of Balbir was going to comment on what Ranvijay said when Jyoti joked about cloning Balbir so that one could be at his job and one could love Ranvijay. No, nothing like that happened. The double ended up being the fall guy. Hence, you can only see Vanga echoing Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather without giving the godfather of his film a scene that can be as impactful as Don Corleone’s opening scene. Anil Kapoor could’ve pulled it off, but Anil’s acting prowess isn’t the issue here; Vanga’s lack of skill is an issue here. I apologize for making yet another comparison with a classic, but I’m trying to be educational in a space where people think buying a poster of The Godfather, Raging Bull, or Scarface in your room equates to understanding the substance behind those films.
Then there’s the cancer. It’s the oldest tool in the shed that’s used by Bollywood films to generate some kind of sympathy for the characters. Throughout the course of Animal, Ranvijay has seen Balbir’s attitude towards him as a game, and he has tried to one-up Balbir by being ruthless. But, much like how Ranvijay asks for a point of comparison for the number of times he has had intercourse with his wife, even though the answer to that is objective and not subjective in nature, there’s not enough evidence to compare Ranvijay’s ruthlessness with that of Balbir’s. Ranvijay says that it’s a game, and Balbir refutes it, but we never see that conflict unfold or not unfold. It’s just dialogue based on something that has probably happened offscreen. And when we don’t see enough of the rise and fall of Balbir Singh or the ups and downs of his relationship with Ranvijay, it becomes really hard to care if he is dying of a gunshot or due to cancer. There’s not enough conflict between the father and the son. There’s not enough meat on the bones of Ranvijay’s love for Balbir.
At one point, I am sure, Ranvijay says that even he doesn’t know why he has done what he has done or why Balbir has done the things that he has done. It’s supposed to indicate that the whole dynamic is so complex that it can’t be explained and has been rendered pointless by cancer. However, I think that Sandeep Reddy Vanga has mixed up “complex” with “convoluted.” He has made such a mess by focusing too much on crafting misogynistic subplots that he has failed to unravel the core father-son dynamic of his own film. There’s a chance that Vanga can salvage this nonsense by crafting his very own trilogy where he goes back in time to show Balbir’s backstory while peppering it with his altercations with Ranvijay, thereby imbuing Balbir and Ranvijay with some semblance of substance. That said, since it’s the Vanga we’re talking about, I’ll refrain from getting my hopes up.