Rereading Animal: Nuances Lost in Feminist Angst

Animal. Yes, probably the most talked about movie of 2023 for its polarising opinion among the audience and the critics. However, most of its reviews either come across as the most basic, surface reading of the movie or turn into a feminist angst that just makes it borderline personal frustration at best. And no, don’t get me wrong, I am not here to defend the movie, I am simply here to discuss why Animal, as a movie, deserves the success it received and it is imperative that we look at the nuances of it and acknowledge it for art’s sake.


From the moment its trailer dropped to the actual premier of Animal, it has found itself exposed to some strict and strong opinions. And sprinkle the Director’s view on women, love and violence and it doesn’t help the cause much. Animal is directed by none other than a director that is famous for his controversial representation of romantic relationships with a tinge (read: a lot) of violence, Sandeep Reddy Vanga. He formerly directed Kabir Singh which received major backlash but that didn’t stop it from being a major hit. Following the same path, Animal managed to earn over Rs 500 Crores in revenue during the very first week of its screening.


Vanga’s Animal has a slightly stretched runtime of 202 minutes and starrs some of the best talents that Bollywood has fished out with the likes of Ranbir Kapoor, Bobby Doel, Anil Kapoor, Rashmika Mandanna and Tripti Dimri. The plot? Ranbir Kapoor as Rannvijay Balbir Singh is the son of a powerful industrialist Balbir Singh, from whom the father’s love is of an exalted rank, anything beyond that is just is for Vijay. Once an attempt is made on his father’s life, Vijay drops his stable and loving life in America and flies back to India to find the culprits who posed a threat to his father’s life. Over the course of this vengeance, all hell breaks loose and we see the protagonist’s transition from the human that he was to the animal he will become.


Animal is the saga of a strained father-son relationship, where all the son ever craved for was the father’s love and validation while all the father ever did was criticise and called him out on his incompetence. Balbir Singh, too committed to his Swastik Steel, never gave his family the time required for the healthy upbringing of the family. So, when the older sister gets ragged mercilessly in the College and calls his father thrice and he is unavailable, no surprise there, it is the teenage Vijay that has to man up and step into the big boy shoes of the “man of the house”. And so he does but with the AK-47 and a hit and run. This act of his lands him a fat slap across his face from his father while simultaneously labelling him a criminal and shipping him off to boarding school.


Vijay even as a child in school on his father’s birthday would be ecstatic, running around and distributing candies to his classmates. It was for him nothing short of a holy occasion and his father, his God. The comparison of which is explicit in the background music of ‘Papa Meri Jaan’, the lyrics of which read “naa koi khuda mera tere siva”. Hence, the rampage that he went on to protect his Khuda is naturally a thing of the senses to a person like him, who has always been horsevisioned to his father. What goes on in the periphery is least of his concern as long as his father is okay. This is where Vanga’s brilliance shines as a director in birthing a character so drowned in the obsession for his father’s safety and security, that he blurs all lines of rationality and sensibility. And from henceforth, commences his journey that first, dehumanises him and second, makes him a full blown animal whose primordial aim to perish any being that comes in the way of his father’s well-being.


So, the next time you think that the character of Vijay carried no depth and is plain psychotic, I suggest you take another look because for the rare attempt that Bollywood makes in representing twisted psyche, Rannvijay’s provides great insight into the grey areas of it. He is bad? Sure. He is a misogynist? Sure. But, at the end of the day, he is just a manchild that has obvious damage, open wounds and a repressed longing for his father’s love and having been deprived of that all his life, he is filled with rage, anger and resentment. This is a phenomenal subversion of the black and white representation of the hero. Like, you want him to slap him so hard across the face that his dentures fall out but you do feel a certain empathy when you see him aching for his father’s warmth.


It doesn’t matter whether you liked the movie or disliked it but the final sequence that involves the confrontation between Vijay and Balbir is truly the pinnacle of acting right there and I am not lying when I say that one literally had to fight back tears. The batting eyelashes get all the more fierce when Vijay is sobbing uncontrollably like a child in the arms of his uncle when his father passes away. Post this, his love Gitanjali leaves and the animal is completely distraught.


My only complaint? The fact that this father-son was not tastefully represented in terms of screen space. Animal follows a non-linear progression and it is only in between fighting sequences that we find bits of instances that chart their relationship. Had there been a more devoted screen space to them, there would have been less outrage in terms of this movie being destructive to society. And to the critics holding this view, I just have to say to them that movies don’t shape a society but it is the society that inspires any form of art.


To release a movie entailing such a theme of twisted father and son relationship is bound to resonate with the masses especially in a subcontinent like India, where kids have a habit of pedestalizing their parents; seeing them in the God-like light. And to top that, daddy issues are the story of every third household. The degree of it may differ but the society doesn’t actually feature a heart-to-heart among a father and son.


Moving on, no Vanga movie is complete without its contentious female portrayal. And this time around, the woman in the lead is Gitanjali and is shown surprisingly in a character graph that shoots up. Something that was not the case with Preeti Sikka in Kabir Singh, who straight up conformed to everything that was thrown her way by Kabir, without any fight whatsoever. But, this changes in Animal. Gitanjali is surely enamoured by Vijay, almost like a school girl having a crush. But, she slowly develops into a woman with a voice, agency and autonomy.


Gitanjali is quick to slap him across the face when Vijay tries to hurts with her bra. She is livid when he goes on the rampant bloodlust and is not afraid to point out how his obsession with his father has led him into this manic frenzy. She concludes that his love for his father is like a disease that is fast spreading and destroying him, holding him back from doing better in life and living at peace. It is not long before she has had enough and finally proposes a divorce between the two. Eventually, she packs the bags, takes the kids and leaves.


The aforementioned highlights that she may have been all gaga over him for a while but is now rational enough to see that he is headed to the path of no return and eventual destruction and she wants no part in that. She won’t play the part of a mute spectator  but will instead take the charge back in her hand and exit.


Beyond a female lead that has decided to finally put her foot down, what worked for Animal was its action sequences and the brutality with which the bloodbath is brought on. The wide angle shot when he chokes his brother-in-law and the fight that ensues with Abrar Haque towards the very end, are among some scenes that are shot so well, acted out so well, which leaves the audience in sheer awe with their jaws apart.


What is mostly a hit-and-a-miss for Indian action movies is the creation of the villain that truly is at par with the hero. And Bobby Doel has been through the roof in playing Abrar Haque. I mean, not just Doel, the casting in the movie nails it with every actor doing a banger job. But, back to Bobby Doel. Despite being underutilised in the movie, he is a strong villain that matches the animal level of Vijay. From dancing on his third wedding to murdering a man in front of guests to having sex with the wife while the victim’s blood is smeared across his face, he is truly the animal that is the right fit to fight Vijay. His smugness never takes a step down when he can barely stand and Vijay offers him a way out. He steps back, unzips his flyer and signals his hand to his dick (which, by the way, left the viewers roaring in the theatre I was in). Very casually.


What calls for a special mention when we are discussing violence in the movie is the fight scene that takes place right before the interval, where Vijay ditches the guns and ammunition but instead asks his ally Manjot to hand him the “kulhadi” because “maza nahi aa raha”. Chills, through and through! And as Vijay jumps in and slays the men with his axe, ‘Arjun Vailly’ starts to play in the background and what follows is quite an experience for the audience that is incredibly hard to put in words. And the audience meets this experience twice in 202 minutes as the final fight sequence with Bobby Doel is paired with ‘Saari Duniya Jalaa Denge’ in B Praak’s voice. The lyrics of which are just an apt culmination of what Vijay has done through the entire movie!


Vanga’s immaculate taste for music that features in his films is a distinct feature of his directorial style and Animal has left the audience with some of the most melodious tracks like ‘Papa Meri Jaan’, ‘Pehle Bhi Main’, ‘Hua Main’ etc. to cherish for a long time. The music is so organically placed that they actually help in the plot progression.


Just when you think that the bloodshed finds an end, you are thrown a post-credit scene that captures more bloodshed. One thing that Vanga establishes with this is that if you thought Animal was extreme, wait till you see Animal Park!

by Deepali Verma