Very early into the film, Ranbir Kapoor’s character Ranvijay Singh Balbir hints to a woman he likes that she should choose him because he’s an ‘alpha’. Forget the fact that David Mech, the man who introduced the idea of the alpha after observing captive animals, has since rejected the idea. Forget the fact that Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Animal has almost ancient ideas of love and marriage. For a second, let us forget all of that and choose to believe that this film exists in a vacuum and won’t influence anyone.
In the first half, the one thing that is cemented is Ranbir Kapoor’s status as a superstar – every scene is a visual treat because of the lead; he oozes charisma and raw magnetism. In suits cut to perfection, Kapoor cuts an imposing and impressive figure. His transformation (emotional more than physical) is really the only thing keeping the movie together at some point. This is a man who is so impossibly alone that he goes above and beyond to impress his impassive (and partly abusive) father Balbir.
We’re supposed to look at his existence and find it an excuse for his toxic masculinity and violence. Animal feels like Vanga’s effort to look at the criticism leveled at Kabir Singh and say, ‘This is just the beginning’. There is an interesting premise there – to unpack masculinity in a father-son relationship where one views the other as a hero and the other views him as a liability. But beyond this premise, the story is close to paper-thin.
The first half is, to its credit, engaging. The background music, the well-mounted action sequences, and the decent camerawork is enough to create an atmosphere that keeps you hooked. You’re left wondering where the story will go next by the time the Oldboy-esque action sequence ends (one of the film’s best). It technically goes nowhere – all the superficiality becomes glaring.
Now let's drop the facade that films don’t influence people. After Ranvijay marries the aforementioned woman after complimenting her ‘birthing hips’ (“You have a big pelvis you can accommodate healthy babies”), he and his wife Geetanjali (Rashmika Mandanna) move abroad to settle down. Their picturesque life is interrupted by an assassination attempt on Balbir and the family is flown back down to homeland.
This is not Mandanna's film; while she is near-convincing when she has to dial her emotions up to a 100, most of her other scenes feel too lacklustre to leave an impact.
Ranvijay soon starts to become increasingly violent, in general and especially towards his wife who challenges him at first but almost always falls back into his arms – as if his abusive ways are just quirks to iron out. This coming from a man who keeps saying that he will “protect” the women around him when it is him that most need protection from. Red flag doesn’t even begin to cover it.
The way Geetanjali reacts to things in the little agency that she is afforded is perhaps intended to expose Ranvijay’s brutality for the mask that it is but when Ranvijay starts to say, “Shaadi mai ek darr hona chahiye, control hona chahiye” (A marriage should have fear and control), you start to remember what film you’re watching. There is no necessity for love or marriage to be ‘perfect’; nor is there no space in cinema to explore abusive relationships. Flaws characters are almost necessary to explore in today’s content space. But Animal glorifies Ranvijay for his behaviour.
Not once does anyone question the way he treats the women around him even though he is a man raised by the kindness of women – his mother and his two sisters.
But there is not much space for that nuance here. The film almost goes out of its way to put down its women, to put them in humiliating situations for no good reason except to cement the hero’s “masculinity”.
Bobby Deol appears in the second half as the film’s antagonist. He is ruthless and violent – but we’re not meant to root for him. At this point the audience is watching two horrible people battling it out trying to understand how the initial premise reached there. That is perhaps why the most effective scene in the second half is the final showdown between father and son.
While the background score complements the action well and almost pushes the film into a massy arena, the editing is messy – many scenes come and go one after the other without giving every scene the necessary time it deserves.
At times it feels like Vanga is trying to make the audience question their expectations from his film. That is another reason the first half feels as good as it does – women in this film at least have more flimsy agency than Kabir Singh’s, some scenes surprise you.
The most jarring thing about Animal however is an obsession with the phallic that lasts from the very first scene to the end. Crass and concerning are understatements. Everyone loves to talk about sex and what starts off as sex positivity soon morphs into something more sinister.
Animal feels like it's designed to “trigger” people, not understanding that being able to view violence against someone on screen and not be affected by it in real life is a privilege. A privilege not many are afforded and it’s a privilege not many are willing to address. That is perhaps the one unsettling feeling Animal leaves you with.