‘Animal’ works in parts, falls as a whole

Vijay infiltrates criminals in an attempt to find the culprit in his father’s murder attempt.

The mousy-haired machine of masculinity hacks down dozens of masked goons while his supporting group, instead of aiding him in his carnage, stands to sing a brutal anthem…something Western audiences don’t often see.

Meanwhile, a cozy show with a star-studded cast set in a grand mansion with a script similar to 1972’s The Godfather, Indian audiences are also not used to it.

“Animal”, directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga, succeeds in providing a cinematic experience that dares to go beyond what the audience expects and even accepts. However, while his desperate quest to prove his creativity shows in some parts, other parts fall completely into the same tropes and potholes that have plagued Hindi cinema for decades.

The premise is an intense drama surrounding a son’s unconditional love for his rich father who is busy and lacks time to give little to Vijay. In standard Bollywood fashion, these familial sentiments carry the majority of the story thematically, even if the plot itself seems to go off the rails by the end.

The film follows Rannvijay (Vijay) Singh, played by Ranbir Kapoor, and depicts his life story. Vijay grew up idolizing his father, the wealthy industrialist Balbir Singh, despite his father’s emotional unavailability towards all members of his family. Determined to step in as a “family man,” Vijay adopts a toxic personality and spends his time beating up college students, bringing firearms to classrooms, and praising women for their “big pelvis.” But this angered Balbir. Fearing his son’s behavior, Balbir kicks his son out. Vijay and his wife immigrate to the United States where they raise two children. Vijay is asked to return to India after trying to kill his father. The rest of the film follows Vijay as he balances protecting his family with avenging his father.

Throughout this plot, Ranbir Kapoor’s character Ranvijay Singh is portrayed as reckless and animalistic, but still intellectually and emotionally complex. Ranbir Kapoor gives a career-defining performance that is as stunning as the background music that scores it.

For context, the vast majority of songs in Indian popular culture are derived from films, as independent albums are not as common as in the West. So, for the project, so many legendary singers and composers like Arijit Singh and Pritam have collaborated on a truly special collection of tracks, right from a song of paternal affection to a deep anthem worshiping barbarism.

In fact, the always great music feels out of place at times, especially when the plot gets muddled in the third act.

Distorted is an accurate way to describe many of the events in the film, from Vijay’s inability to die to the Hitler references, and audiences will certainly classify the film as such.

There’s a fight scene separating the two halves of the film, and it’s an unfiltered adrenaline rush that I would compare to a hypothetical live-action anime sequence if it were fast-paced and choreographed in all the right ways. It’s brutal, it’s deranged, and it’s brilliant…as a standalone set piece!

So it’s a shame that this serves to reinforce the same flawed themes that the film forces on screen.

There is an argument that the animal intends, in essence, to decode the “alpha male” and process how it was created primarily by exploring relationship themes of high anticipatory bonds and emotional neglect. This would explain the exaggeration of the stereotype in the film, making the audience wonder why Vijay appears this way.

However, the protagonist, who feels the need to constantly remind everyone that he is an “alpha” male, says and does seemingly culturally insensitive things for the sake of sensation. While his character is all about being emotionally overloaded, when combined with Bollywood’s elevation of its main characters, the film uses that as justification to elevate his toxic traits. His lies and scandals are startling, confusing and scandalous in a way that attempts to put the audience in their place but almost provokes audience disapproval of the film.

The film pushes the audience to an almost uncomfortable level of hysteria when the protagonist brings a gun to school to save his sister from bullying. From a character-centric standpoint, this is a choice to further radicalize our so-called hero. But looking at it from any other angle, it’s a rehash of the glorification of abhorrent violence when it comes from the character we’re supposed to root for: something Bollywood is known for, but also something it gets wrong most of the time.

South Indian director Sandeep Reddy Vanga, controversial for his depiction and glorification of toxic masculinity, has teamed up with some of Bollywood’s biggest actors to create Animal.

Vanga is known for his “masculine” films and his consistent depiction of men with anger issues. Animal follows two previous releases of Vanga – Arjun Reddy (2017) and Kabir Singh (2019) which were allegedly misogynistic. Vanga is not afraid of any backlash, in fact, he challenged his fans that he will get more backlash from Animal then from Kabir Singh.

Many have noted that Vijay’s film reflects Vanga’s ideologies too much. In response to the backlash to Animal, Vanga described his critics as “illiterate and uneducated” and in an interview Vanga defended relationship violence, saying: “If you can’t spank, if you can’t touch your woman wherever you want, if you can’t slap her, If you can’t touch your woman wherever you want, if I can’t kiss, I don’t see any emotion there.”

These comments have raised concerns among fans, but some say Vanga’s boldness in speaking out about such a complex and raw topic is admirable. Supporters are defending Vanga, saying he represents and highlights many relationships across India through his film, and opens a conversation about domestic violence. But it is important to note that, as Vanga’s comment emphasizes, the film glorifies this violence and portrays it as something romantic.

Despite the message Vanga intended to deliver to his audience, Animal ultimately glorifies and facilitates violence. By creating a story in which the protagonist is excused from his violent and misogynistic behavior, the audience is not receiving an “authentic” representation of how the world works, but rather is being asked to find this behavior charming.

When our flawed “hero” justifies his misogyny, the movie does too! If the film is structured to depict the downfall of a man whose emotional ecstasy stems from violence and sexism, then all the controversial scenes depicting explicit sexual tensions and reverent brutality will serve to uphold this inherent through-line: an unstable man and his emotional ecstasy serve as spectacle for us, and the consequences as lessons.

But the problem arises when this greed to create something sensational combines with the film’s marketing to a stereotypical Indian audience, accustomed to idolizing almost larger-than-life characters.

When Vijay brings a gun to school and shoots it on the ground as a means of intimidation, the biggest consequence he faces is a slap from his uninvolved father. The police do not exist in this world, and neither does the law. Anyone who wonders why seems to leave with the same unsatisfying answer: They’re all filthy rich, so it doesn’t matter!

The ambition is there. To create a modern, large-scale emotional epic that reminds us of our love of spectacle. As far as artistic values ​​go, the cinematography, color grading, and camera work are top notch. But as Avatar: The Way of Water showed us, spectacle can only take you so far.

Creating an emotionally unstable war machine and fueling it with his obsessive love for his father is interesting on paper. Flawed characters make some of the best stories. But this film, from concept to execution, is all about commercial appeal among the Indian audience. And when directors try to experiment within this realm, they have to be extra careful about not letting the inherent flaws of that formula tarnish otherwise excellent cinema, as is the case here.

The cinematic experience is the culmination of countless aspects, which can, and often should not, be judged in isolation. Because the film includes not only the director and actors, but also the camera crew, technicians, visual effects artists, screenwriters, and a large number of other roles behind the scenes.

So it’s a shame that Animal is morally bankrupt, because it delivers some of the best performances I’ve ever seen in an Indian film, coupled with instantly memorable music, and set pieces that stick with you long after the credits roll. Unfortunately for the animal, this is a case where the sum is not greater than its parts.

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