Piggybacking on Masochism

Why? Historically audiences have welcomed varieties and shifts. Amitabh Bachchan’s macho songless men replaced Rajesh Khanna’s soft romantic musicals in the 1970s.
Rashmika Mandanna and Ranbir Kapoor in 'Animal'.
Rashmika Mandanna and Ranbir Kapoor in 'Animal'.

Controversy and filmmaker Sandeep Reddy Vanga are no strangers to each other. His earlier Kabir Singh (2019) had faced its expected quota of flak for glamourising misogyny and toxic behaviour. But, certain reviews had also termed the film a ‘welcome departure from stereotypical love stories’, and that ‘Kabir’s domination of women needed some getting used to’. Vanga would have taken away two key learnings—one, that critics were at least divided if not polar; and two, that the audience cared two hoots for critics. For his next venture, he raised the bar on his tried-and-trusted elements, and it worked wonders with box-office results of Animal rubbishing whatever the naysayers had to say.

Why? Historically audiences have welcomed varieties and shifts. Amitabh Bachchan’s macho songless men replaced Rajesh Khanna’s soft romantic musicals in the 1970s. Similarly, Animal is that lateral shift from ‘corporate type’ films or romcoms where actions and emotions are measured and moderated. Every filmmaker tries to create stylised outputs and Vanga’s ‘style’ is his excesses. Just the way Kabir’s near-fatal drug overdose was his catharsis from the pain of separation from his lady love, Vijay’s killing people by the hundreds was his catharsis from the grief of a life-long rejection by his father. And both found their mark with the audience. “It is the defense mechanism of the viewer at play. In those three hours with the adrenaline pumped up, we ‘solve’ problems in a way we would never be permitted to do in the real world,” points out consultant psychologist Dr Paromita Mitra Bhaumik. So true. 

The other problem with Animal is its misogyny. Vijay is entitled to strut around the lawns naked, but he berates his wife for wearing that attractive nightgown. Again, male domination is not new to Bollywood. We have seen patriarchy and toxic domination of women right from the Saheb Bibi aur Ghulam (1962) days. But this is 2023. Why are women watching Animal, especially given its toxic masculinity that included references to (and vulgar below-the-belt gestures) the male phallus with the unmissable objective of projecting the organ as the emblem of male machismo?

Is this acceptance a catharsis from the hyper-awareness of body-shaming, gender-shaming, social shaming, and all that? As Rocky in Rocky aur Rani Ki Prem Kahaani says, “You can’t call a fat person ‘fat’ nor a black person ‘black’. I learnt that not wanting to have a dark complexion means being racist.” This ‘imposed’ political correctness makes one lose one’s spontaneity and makes for a humourless society. So, when Vijay tells his father’s body double which hand his father holds his penis with while peeing, the audience vents with laughter at the corniness. 

Animal comfortably checks all the boxes of a poorly made film. A clumsy effort to plagiarise from The Godfather and Sharaabi, it has disjointed sub-plots, wooden characters with no arc, and music that leaves no recall. Even the make-up is poor. No wonder Vanga needed to cover it up with what appealed to his senses.

Balaji Vittal

Film commentator and author

Posts on X (formerly known as Twitter): @vittalbalaji

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