'Animal' movie review: Ranbir leads a confused take on toxic masculinity

Ranvijay Singh (Ranbir Kapoor) worships his father, industrialist Balbir Singh (Anil Kapoor). Everything he does is to get his attention.
Anil Kapoor and Ranbir Kapoor in 'Animal' (Screengrab)
Anil Kapoor and Ranbir Kapoor in 'Animal' (Screengrab)

Provocation and convolution. Two words that kept popping into my head while watching Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Animal. It almost felt like the director was aiming the gun at his critics. So bothered by the noise outside that he let it dictate his music. Most scenes felt like they were concocted to elicit a response from the viewer rather than serving the story. More of a rant-filled open letter than an introspective narrative.

Ranvijay Singh (Ranbir Kapoor) worships his father, industrialist Balbir Singh (Anil Kapoor). Everything he does is to get his attention. As a child, he asked his mother to rename him as Balbir Singh The II. He even distributes sweets in his school on his father’s birthday. He gets a haircut because “Papa likes short hair”, then grows it again after Papa says even long locks suit him. Heck, he even knows his father’s urinating mannerisms. Specifically, in which hand he holds… Let’s just say Ranvijay has daddy issues.

After an attempt on Balbir’s life, Ranvijay goes feral and furious. He forms a militia with turbaned cousins from his pind (village). They are out to kill but the violence that unfolds on screen is merely an illusion of gore. A lot of blood is splashed, goons are spliced with an axe and riddled with bullets. There is even a gatling gun which boasts to be of Indian origin.

All elements are in place but the scenes lack throttle and threat. You hardly spot an open wound or a rotting corpse. The camera sometimes does more acrobatics than the lead actor. It isn’t just the mechanics. The action sequences, although well-choreographed, lack the propulsion of emotion. There isn’t much of an inciting incident for Ranvijay to go full guns blazing at the drop of a hat. He is merely acting out of his childhood neglect. A feeling the film uses as a motivation for everything that occurs.

Love happens crudely, and misogynistically in Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s universe. Ranvijay spots Geetanjali (Rashmika Mandanna) while she is getting engaged. He looks at her like Kabir Singh or Arjun Reddy looked at their Preetis. I want her. Love here is more obsession and possession than affection. It is also manipulation. Ranvijay uses an evolutionary explanation to brainwash Gitanjali into marrying him. “In the olden days, there weren’t parents or castes, women chose their partners themselves. Who would you choose if not an alpha?” he asks her. It’s convoluted like feminism being mansplained.

For anybody who opined that the central problem with Vanga’s previous films was that the protagonists weren’t punished for their vile actions, Animal tries to compensate, maybe a bit too much. Ranbir’s Ranvijay loses his sense of hearing, smell and taste after sustaining injuries in a frenzied gunfight. We are constantly told by the characters around him that they don’t condone his actions. “Our son is a criminal,” Anil’s Balbir keeps harping. Ranvijay is shown walking around with a paunch and a urine bag but that isn’t enough to show the ugliness of this entitled brat. It also plays like a “low phase” in the character’s life because quite soon enough he is fit as a fiddle, garden-strolling in all his naked glory, ready for more violence.

Ranbir Kapoor plays Ranvijay with abandon. He succumbs to the character’s visceral vileness and delivers a star act. Rashmika shines as Gitanjali in certain scenes, especially the one in which she confronts Ranvijay over his infidelity. It seems like Vanga, this time, has donated some agency to his leading lady. Anil Kapoor fits well but is more of a negligent rather than a toxic patriarch. Bobby Deol plays a bloody-good formidable villain who comes too late and goes too soon. I felt cheated.

Somewhere beneath the crotch commentary, the misogynistic acts, the origins of toxic masculinity, lies an emotional tale of a father and son which deserved a better telling. Animal seemed like it is imitating the beats of an epic family-crime drama, attempting a philosophical commentary on the cycle of violence. But in reality, it’s more of a monkey see, monkey do.

Film: Animal
Director: Sandeep Reddy Vanga
Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Rashmika Mandanna, Bobby Deol, Anil Kapoor, Tripti Dimri
Rating: 2/5

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