'Animal': Why the Film Needed to Have a 'Muslim Villain'

Animal connects with right wing incels at a visceral level. It brings to life some of their pet fantasies.

6 min read
Hindi Female

Warning: Contains spoilers and details of violence.

There are many things that are superfluous in Sandeep Reddy Vanga's 'Animal' – the length, the women characters, Bobby Deol (an AI-generated character with the prompt 'very evil, scary-looking man' would have sufficed).

Then, there is the misogyny. Read more on that in this extensive review by Pratikshya Mishra of the Ranbir Kapoor-starrer film.  

In this article, however, we'll look at two other aspects of the film:

First, an aspect that seems superfluous but is actually central to the film's worldview  – the Muslim background of the antagonists.

Second, an aspect that seems central but is actually superfluous – the Sikh background of the protagonists.

To understand this, let's first, for the sake of argument, look at what 'Animal' could have been without the misogyny or the anti-Muslim narrative.


What 'Animal' Could Have Been

Without the misogyny, Islamophobia and intimate scenes, 'Animal' is essentially a revenge drama centered around a feud between cousins.

From Prakash Jha's 'Rajneeti' (2010) to Punjabi film 'Shareek' (2015), directed by Navaniat Singh and starring Jimmy Shergill, feuds between cousins has been an engaging theme in Indian films.

But the film which seems to have the deepest influence on 'Animal' is the Tamil film 'Thevar Magan' (1992) remade into Hindi as 'Virasat' (1997). Influence, not inspiration. We'll come to that in a bit.

Like 'Animal', 'Thevar Magan/Virasat' depicted a rivalry between cousins, and the films also had a strong father-son track.

Interestingly, Anil Kapoor, who plays the 'son' in 'Virasat', is the father in 'Animal'.

But Vanga completely inverts the morality of 'Thevar Magan/Virasat' in 'Animal'.

In 'Virasat', the antagonist Balli Thakur played by Milind Gunaji keeps taunting Anil Kapoor "Andar ka jaanwar mar gaya kya? (Has the animal within you died?") while Anil Kapoor's refrain through the film is to urge Balli not to awaken the animal within him.

Even in the climax scene, Balli continues to taunt Anil Kapoor's character to pick up the 'gandasa' (axe), the latter refrains until the final moments of the film when the 'animal' does get awakened and Kapoor's character picks up the axe and decapitates Balli Thakur in a fit of rage, only to weep in regret a few moments later.

The 'animal' that the hero in 'Virasat' keeps trying to restrain, runs amok in Vanga's narrative so much so that he made it the title of the film. Iss film mey jaanwar hi hero hai.
Animal connects with right wing incels at a visceral level. It brings to life some of their pet fantasies.
Anil Kapoor and Tabu in Virasat.
(Photo Courtesy: Facebook)

The gandasa, which Anil Kapoor and Kamal Haasan's character tried to avoid using until absolutely forced to, is again celebrated in 'Animal' in the song Arjan Vailly that plays in the background during an axe-wielding fight sequence.


The nature of the father-son relationship is also inverted.

In 'Thevar Magan/Virasat', loosely inspired by 'The Godfather', the son has different aspirations to begin with but eventually steps into the father's shoes and becomes an honourable village chieftain like the father. The son compromises on his love life and marries in order to honour his father's context.

In 'Animal', the protagonist rebels against his father on the issue of marriage. And instead of later emulating the father and taking over his responsibilities, he makes the injured father subservient to his own will.

This moral inversion can help us partly understand the worldview 'Animal' is coming from.


'Animal' is the Fantasy of Right Wing Incels

Animal's psychological universe is the same one that is inhabited by many right wing male incels on social media. Some of them are also called 'trads' in the Indian context.

The film is a revenge against all those who threaten the insecure masculinity of these male incels: secure and functional men, women who call a spade a spade, people who call a Nazi a Nazi, and last, but definitely not the least, Muslims.

For right wing incels, the films connects at a deep, visceral level. It is almost as if their favourite memes and fantasies have been put on the big screen.

Consider, for instance, the scene in which Ranbir Kapoor's character Ranvijay orders Tripti Dimri's character Zoya to lick his shoes to prove her love for him.

This visual – of a Muslim woman submitting like a slave before a 'Hindu Alpha Male' – is a very common meme in the 'Zalim Hindu', 'Zalim Pandit' genre of semi-pornographic pages on Instagram run by pro-Hindutva incels.

Bulli Bai and Sulli Deals – in which Muslim women journalists and activists were put out for a mock auction – were products of the same ecosystem's fantasies. Incidentally, in the Bulli Bai case, the police says that the culprits used Sikh names and symbols to hide their identity. More on 'Animal's treatment of Sikhs in the next section.

In 'Animal', the protagonist's dysfunctional relationship with his strict father, gets healed only when he returns home after slitting the throat of the 'Muslim villain'. The villain – Abrar Haque, played by Bobby Deol – too is built up with all the usual cliches – has three wives and several kids, eats even cake as if he's devouring a piece of meat, carries out marital rape etc. In fact, the film makes it a point to mention that men in Haque's family converted to Islam only so that they can have multiple wives.

All these tropes in 'Animal' – slitting throats of Muslims, humiliation of women, obsession with the Alpha Male concept, constant references to one's p***s – also happen to be common themes in the Trad universe.


Is 'Animal' Really Pro-Sikh?

While the misogyny and Islamophobia are all too evident in the film, more insidious is the propaganda directed at Sikhs.

At a purely superficial level, 'Animal' presents itself as a pro-Sikh film – the protagonist is shown as being from a Sikh background and is followed by visibly Sikh bodyguards. The villain in the end is killed with the help of a Kara and Kirpan.

However, once you scratch the surface, it becomes clear that the film is actually against the practise of Sikhism. The protagonist, his father, and grandfather are shown as Hinduised – they have done Kesh Qatal (cut their hair), they conduct Hindu rituals, and the protagonist is even shown having gau mutra.

The hero is shown as a chain smoker, even though smoking is strictly prohibited for Sikhs.

Animal connects with right wing incels at a visceral level. It brings to life some of their pet fantasies.

Ranbir Kapoor is shown as a chain-smoker in Animal.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

At one point towards the end, it seems that the protagonist has come of age and is growing his hair and beard. But in the last scene, he yet again returns clean-shaven and sporting a tilak.

Despite so many Sikh characters, not once are they shown chanting the Jaikara or visiting a gurdwara.

Without Sikhi, Sikh characters are little more than props.

The underlying message to Sikhs is that they will be glorified only if they become Hinduised, shed certain core Sikh principles, and join the "larger battle" against the Muslim villain.

Being set in Punjab, there was so much potential for the film to be the kind of revenge drama that is integral to the region's folklore. But, except for a hat-tip to the 1982 film 'Putt Jattan De' in the song Arjan Vailly, there was no engagement with the Punjab context.

The film should learn from the Punjabi film 'Maurh' (2023), starring Ammy Virk, to see how even a revenge drama involving a Muslim antagonist can still be made without an iota of Islamophobia, just by honestly rooting the film in the Punjab context.

'Animal' is an ill-intentioned and depraved film, but it is a landmark in the way 'Kerala Story' and 'Kashmir Files' are. If those two films represent WhatsApp forward content's entry on the big screen, 'Animal' is a Trad-incel wet dream on celluloid.

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Topics:  Ranbir Kapoor    Animal   Bobby Deol 

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