Animal: The Good, The Bad And The ‘Problematic’
Animal: The Good, The Bad And The ‘Problematic’

Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Ranbir Kapoor-starrer has again opened up conversations around the portrayal of problematic characters on screen and its probable impact on society

Plot: The film is a story of a young man who is both psychotically violent and obsessively in love with his father, who banishes him abroad because of his anger issues. Years later he comes back to India to exact revenge from people responsible for his father’s death.


“My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.”


― Joyce Carol Oates


It seems, Sandeep Reddy Vanga has bridged that gap between art and mass entertainment! For, there is no denying the fact that his Animal has provoked a large chunk of the population. Breaking the concept of hero versus villain stories he drops a movie about a villain and an ultra-villain. Here nothing is black and white—black is a rainbow and the rare patches of white are spattered with blood red.



What’s in a name?


The film brands its protagonist as ‘Animal’.  And Vanga boy didn’t promise you a civilized/domesticated animal. His Animal is raw, uncouth brute force of nature that is high on blood and gore and low on softer emotions like empathy and kindness. He is supposed to be odious. Just like the Joker or Tony Montana, he is written as an unhinged character.


Animal’s Vijay is essentially a guy with serious anger issues and an almost maniacal obsession with his father. Much like Michael Corleone in Godfather, the prodigal son comes back to take the reins of his family business and protect his family after his father faces an attack on his life. The intense fixation to exact revenge on the people responsible for the attack on his father serves as the main motivation for the protagonist to step into the world of crime and violence.


What is interesting and essentially makes the two movies so different is how the newly-minted agent provocateur develops his protagonist– from a meek child craving for his father’s love to an out-and-out Animal where his other emotions get consumed by his love-turned-obsession for his father. An absentee father makes him extra protective when it comes to his family as he starts considering himself the ‘man’ responsible for the safety (because he is being set up as an unhinged character, an Animal, it is not the wellbeing but the physical safety that he cares about) of his near ones. He goes on a rampage and takes a gun to his sister’s college upon knowing that she is being harassed and traumatised by her seniors. But instead of addressing the problem, his father, acknowledging his criminal bend of mind, packs him off to a boarding school. Upon his return, we still see him as a man deeply in love with his family–when his brother-in-law pushes his sister during an argument, he is again that protective brother who (almost like Dil Dhadakne Do’s Kabir Mehra) absolutely loses. He is not a misogynist here and vehemently condemns the domestic violence that he gets a tiny glimpse of. He also admonishes his sister for wasting her education and losing her voice.


But in the second half he slowly transforms more into an Animal shedding his human emotions, especially empathy. And this is reflected in his change in attitude towards the two women he loves the most – he not only indulges in domestic violence, something he earlier had zero tolerance for, but he even becomes immune to his sister’s intense pain and grief. His wobbly moral compass breaks down further as the story progresses. But still, he never loses sight of his constant north–his father. Until he loses him. Here the violence perpetrated on women by Vijay is crucial to his character arc.


Apart from the movie title, Vanga also chooses the name his protagonist very carefully. The very mention of ‘Vijay’ is bound to remind one of the Vijay Dinanath Chauhans (Agneepath)–the 1970s architype of the Angry Young Man. Vanga resurrects the voice of the common man of the ’70s as a spoilt rich brat who has gotten more violent and ethically vacuous over the decades. But the story still starts from childhood trauma and involves ‘daddy issues’!



Ultra violence pro max


“Violence in real life is terrible; violence in movies can be cool. It’s just another colour to work with.” – Quentin Tarantino


Cinema often dials up certain emotions to make that larger-than-life impact – here Vanga choses rage and violence. But Real violence and cinematic violence are very different beasts and their purpose and impact are not the same either. It is assumed that the audience of a movie with an A certificate would have the maturity to differentiate between the reel and the real. Also, like Quentin Tarantino, who regularly faced criticism for indulging in overly-stylised gratuitous violence, Vanga’s violence is amped up to point that it breaks away from the realms of realism and borders on fantasy. The idea is to further distance the reel from the real.


Many are of the opinion that the thumping superlative music that elevates the violent scene to a whole new level are ‘glorifying’ the gore. Well, this is cinema – entertaining the audience is the commerce part of it and the director creating a beauty with blood might be the art part of it. How a filmmaker wants to create a movie and which cinematic devices s/he chooses to tell the story is as much a personal choice as that of the audience to watch it or not.


But yes, one serious issue I had with the film (apart from the half-baked second half) is that of the director’s personal stance on domestic abuse which gets reflected in his cinema. It is a persistent problem with Vanga where he normalises slapping/physically abusing one’s partner. He had faced massive backlash for the ‘hero’ slapping his lady love in Kabir Singh, and maybe to make it up, in Animal he gives the woman the agency to slap her partner. If Vijay suffers consequence of his ultra violence by losing the very father he so vehemently wants to protect, domestic abuse finds no consequence in Vanga’s movies. In fact, at one point, he almost romanticizes hitting one’s partner by equating the first kiss with the first slap.


The Gaze


“The basic purpose of art is not to teach, but to show—to hold up to man a concretized image of his nature and his place in the universe.” ― Ayn Rand


Many critics are pointing out, the problem is the gaze – maybe it is. But apart from the gaze of the director, it is also about the gaze with which you watch the movie that decides its impact. Some might see a carnage and feel nauseated by the excess of gore and some might find Ranbir a vision to behold as he walks towards the camera in his white blood-spattered silk kurta and dhoti while watching the same scene. Some might view a movie as a work of art and analyse it as per its cinematic values (according to me the pluses being the brilliant BGM and its use, the stylisation, the choreography, the stunning performances of Bobby Deol, Anil Kapoor, and the career-best work of Ranbir Kapoor, while the negatives being the shoddy and self-indulgent editing, not having a nuanced and consistent script, and a weak subplot), while some might watch it as an activist and analyse its impact on the moral health of the society.


But then, one’s morals should not be that weak that it gets swayed by a movie. The responsibility of a filmmaker is to make an interesting character on screen and not a virtuous character in real life. Moreover, the A certificate assumes that that character is already built when the person enters the theatre to watch this movie.


The main purpose of a movie is to entertain and not educate. If it educates, it’s a bonus. Movies don’t change society. Movies can at the most make you buy a cool pair of sunglasses.


No Woman, No Cry


Yes, one has to admit that the movie doesn’t have very well-etched out female character, but it is marketed as a father-son story and the movie focuses on the two men. Yes, it could have developed its female characters more, but then, most movies in India still don’t equal women representation.


But for those getting triggered by Vijay’s character mentioning ‘childbearing hips’ of Geetanjali… apparently, women with a wider pelvis and hips can carry and birth a baby better and Animals pick their partners with the sole purpose to mate and reproduce. His commentary advocating the Alphas is also in keeping with his Animal core for in the animal world, the concept of an alpha exists, and they rule.


Most men, and even women, indulge in ‘casual’ misogyny without even realising. Movies are products of the society; and not vice versa. Such toxic men exist in the society, and we need to rise up against real violence. Shutting one’s eyes to the real world and demanding a Utopian homogeneity in the reel one is hardly the solution.


Hero Warship


Unlike Kabir Singh, which projected the protagonist as a cool hero, Animal is not a problematic movie (the director never projects the protagonist as a hero, he faces consequence, his entire life gets consumed by his rage, in the end he even loses the very thing that he treasures the most – his dad) but one with a problematic character as its protagonist.


The bigger problem is that as audience, we still want the protagonist to be the hero. Just as Vijay, who considered his father his ‘hero’, cinema and the audience need to get past their obsession with heroes. Not all men are heroes, some are Animals.


Maybe as Bollywood audience, we are so used to seeing the bad guys die in the end that we are unable to accept the end…but then with the possibility of a sequel already highlighted with the post-credit scene, we are still in the middle of the story! Animal Park is yet to drop on us!





“Filmein sirf teen cheezo se banti hai, entertainment, entertainment, entertainment!” And this is entertainment. The tickets sales are the proof. The movie on its 6th day has crossed the Rs 300-crore mark in India and Rs 500 crore worldwide. According to me Animal has one of the most stunning ‘first half’ Bollywood has seen in recent times. And Ranbir Kapoor as Vijay totally hits it out of the park…or maybe straight into the Park.


But to each his/her own. If you are repulsed by the character, that was the intention. If you are repulsed by the film, that’s your taste. If you have issues with the filmmaking then you know your cinema well. But if you have a problem with the filmmaker for making the movie, then somewhere you are questioning the significance of artistic freedom. 


Post Script


Is Animal a great movie? No. Post the interval, especially with the infidelity subplot, the movie loses its steam and about 30 mins of this long saga could have been easily chopped off.


Is it an original movie? No, this is Mahabharat-meets-Godfather-meets-Scarface with Tarantino Tadka. There are too many scenes that are influenced by a wide range of movies including the likes of  Old Boy, No Country for Old Men, Sarkar etc.


Is it a cult film? Well, it might become one. Case in point Scarface. In fact, we are reacting today just the way some of the critics had reacted to the Brian De Palma movie upon its release in 1983 (although Animal is no Scarface but the movies have similar flawed, repulsive, protagonists).

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