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Why Can Nobody Have an Opinion on Sandeep Vanga’s Films Except Sandeep Vanga?

Sandeep Reddy Vanga and the official 'Animal' X handle have much to say!

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(Trigger warning: Discussions of abuse)

Ever since the release of Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Animal, the film has been subjected to polarising views. With many criticising the film for its portrayal of toxic masculinity and gratuitous violence, others have been quick to defend it. Glimpses of this were also available after the release of his previous film Kabir Singh. Most recently, the filmmaker became a topic of discussion because of something his film’s official X (formerly Twitter) handle said about one of India’s most prolific writers Javed Akhtar. 

Sandeep Reddy Vanga and the official 'Animal' X handle have much to say!

Even if we believe that viewers can walk out of a film without being affected by it, it is difficult to deny the reality that the themes in these films didn’t stay contained to the film. Let’s also assume for a second that the characters in these films can be called anti-heroes – maybe we can’t expect them to have the same virtues as the typical heroes do. But a film’s problematic messaging becomes even more so when it feels as if the messaging is almost endorsed. 

In Animal’s case, for instance, the film’s X handle, the interviews that followed have also been rather dicey and sometimes even more problematic.

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Let’s start with context: 

During the 9th Ajanta-Ellora International Film Festival in Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar, Akhtar said, "If there’s a film in which a man asks a woman to lick his shoe or if a man says it’s okay to slap a woman… and the film is a super hit, that’s dangerous.”

Akhtar is seemingly referencing a scene from Animal – the lead character Ranvijay played by Ranbir Kapoor asks Triptii Dimri’s character to lick his shoe after she admits that she was essentially a “spy” of sorts. 

This how the official film handle responded, 

Sandeep Reddy Vanga and the official 'Animal' X handle have much to say!

Let’s dissect that:

The phrase, “If a woman (betrayed and fooled by a man in the name of love) would have said "lick my shoe" then you guys would have celebrated it by calling it feminism,” is actually rooted in nothing. While it is difficult to summarise something as nuanced as the feminist movement in a few words, the very basis of feminism is to strive for equality and equity between genders. 

It has never stood for condoning violence of any kind against anyone. Feminists are also the people who have criticised films for portraying violence against men as a joke – if a man is slapped or hit in a film, oftentimes it’s passed off as being humorous. 

Sandeep Reddy Vanga and the official 'Animal' X handle have much to say!

The film's director has defended the scene by saying something along the lines of "it didn't actually happen" and then the official handle goes on to defend it by using something that "didn't actually happen".

Keeping aside the fact that love is political in the world we live in, a ‘lover’ would neither cheat and lie to their partner, nor would they ask someone to ‘lick their shoe’. Because violence cannot exist where love (or even basic respect) does. 

I don’t even want to get into the fact that the handle insinuates that Javed Akhtar, writer of films like Zanjeer, Sholay, Shaan, Kaala Patthar, and Don ‘didn’t understand’ something in a film. 

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But here’s the thing, is ‘Animal’ misogynist?

This is not me asking you a question, it’s a question Sandeep Reddy Vanga was asked in an interview. Does he think Ranvijay is a misogynist? His response was:

Sandeep Reddy Vanga and the official 'Animal' X handle have much to say!

Misogyny is also a very nuanced topic and considering how prevalent it is in society, it can be difficult to identify and define every form of misogyny in a few words. But Marriam-Webster’s definition is “hatred of, aversion to, or prejudice against women”. It’s really not as simple as “not respecting women”. 

It is Kabir Singh’s belief that Preeti ‘belongs’ to him. It is Ranvijay Singh telling his men, “Yeh tumhaari bhaabhiyan nahi hai, dushman ki biwi hai.”. It is in the way Ranvijay belittles the way his wife reacts during her periods just because he is injured because of a revenge saga he himself has embarked upon. It is in the way all these moments are treated as ‘gotcha’ moments or hooted for and applauded at in theatres. 

(Also, he clearly has made no effort to understand how periods actually work, even as someone who grew up trying to ‘protect’ his two sisters). 

Sandeep Reddy Vanga and the official 'Animal' X handle have much to say!

Respecting a woman only if she is related to you or if you’re attracted to her is not ‘respect’. Respect can’t be transactional. In that same vein, even asking someone to lick your shoe, whether you expect them to do it or not is disrespectful. 

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Even if Ranvijay had asked his male rival to do the same, it would be disrespectful. Even if Zoya had asked Ranvijay to lick her shoe, it would be disrespectful. While talking about the ‘lick my boot’ scene, the filmmaker says in an interview on Galatta Plus, 

Sandeep Reddy Vanga and the official 'Animal' X handle have much to say!

The point is that cinema has always been up to interpretation – it’s what Roland Barthes talks about in “The Death of the Author”. Now of course, if you don’t believe in the theory, we will disagree. A filmmaker or an artist has all the right in the world to defend their art but then they must also respect the audience’s interpretation. I don’t genuinely think that people who have been criticising the scene don’t understand that Ranvijay was attached to Zoya – that much is obvious. 

But all of that got overshadowed by the fact that there was a character on screen willing to lick a man’s shoe to ‘prove’ that she actually loves him. Even the insinuation that a woman would continue to respect someone who treats her that way is wild. Here’s hoping it was all a ruse to escape the clearly dangerous situation she was in (this is not me telling the filmmaker what to do; we're all allowed moments of hope).

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On the ‘liberty to slap’ someone,

After the release of Kabir Singh, many people criticised the fact that the two main characters were clearly in a toxic relationship (one of the things brought up was the fact that Kabir was controlling and that Preeti and Kabir slapped each other). 

Speaking about that, Vanga had said during an interview with Film Companion,

Sandeep Reddy Vanga and the official 'Animal' X handle have much to say!

Violence can’t (or rather shouldn't) coexist with ‘love’. If we try to understand the sentiment behind the quote, maybe one can argue that anger has a place in relationships – valid, anger is a human emotion and even having the space to express your anger or displeasure can be a sign of a healthy relationship.

But the manifestation of anger as violence isn’t healthy and it definitely isn’t love. 

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention, “About 41% of women and 26% of men experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner and reported an intimate partner violence-related impact during their lifetime. Injury, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, concern for safety, fear, needing help from law enforcement, and missing at least one day of work are common impacts reported. Over 61 million women and 53 million men have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”

(These figures were last reviewed on October 11, 2022)

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Speaking of the film, yes, Preeti leaves him after that but they literally end up together and Kabir is portrayed as a saviour. Kabir gets a redemption because the other man Preeti is involved with is seemingly ‘worse’, a trait we also observe between Ranvijay and Abrar. 

Sandeep Reddy Vanga and the official 'Animal' X handle have much to say!

At the same time, a film like Thappad doesn’t get as much recognition as it deserves for addressing issues surrounding intimate partner violence and the effect it can have on people and relationships. 

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Men and their anger,

There is so much to be said about the gaze in Kabir Singh and Animal – the idea that the male leads being absolutely, maddeningly in ‘love’ with their romantic interests somehow justifies why they act the way they do. 

Another scene that is often talked about is Ranvijay’s character repeatedly snapping his wife’s bra strap against her back, injuring her, after she adds salt in his food in a fit of anger. Vanga speaks of the scene and says,

Sandeep Reddy Vanga and the official 'Animal' X handle have much to say!

Forget that adding a lot of salt to someone’s food and literally injuring them are disproportionate actions. But even the addition of salt (an act of aggression in itself) stems from Gitanjali’s anger at her husband. So she is, apparently, “punished for it”. Her anger gets a consequence and his gets a justification. The argument once again is that the relationship Ranvijay and Gitanjali share is not ‘love’, it is abusive. 

Also, let's not forget that this is a man who earlier tells his friends that shaadi mai ek darr hona chahiye, pakad honi chahiye. Sure, this can be the problematic thoughts of a problematic man but when his 'love' for Gitanjali is constantly defended, one begins to wonder where this sentiment fits into that idea.

This phenomenon of using “anger” as a justification for behaving rashly is dangerous, in several ways. The fact that she does finally leave him in the end is the only saving grace. 

Let's talk about the 'pelvis' dialogue, 

When Ranvijay's love interest Gitanjali is about to marry another man, he shows up to give her a speech about how women should choose 'alpha men' over other men (with a dig at poets for some reason). After the discussion, as Gitanjali is about to walk away, Ranvijay says, "You have a big pelvis, you can accommodate healthy babies" (give or take a word).

Speaking of the scene, Vanga says in an interview to Galatta Plus,

Sandeep Reddy Vanga and the official 'Animal' X handle have much to say!

Appreciating a woman for having a 'big pelvis' or 'child-bearing hips' (another phrase we often hear about women) isn't a compliment, it never has been. Even in the stone age, where Ranvijay's analogies seem to be coming from, it shouldn't have been one.

Even in the stone age, research suggests that women weren't just gatherers and often joined hunting parties. For the hero to reduce a woman to her "pelvis" or to someone who can birth children for him is misogynist no matter what 'age' you're looking at. Once again, as a character, I can still try to understand why Ranvijay would behave that way but the dialogue should not be misconstrued as a compliment, especially not off-screen.

I could get into why the analogy isn't a compliment even if we were all mindless 'animals' because the animal kingdom is not a monolith divided into male hunters and female caretakers but this isn't Animal Planet.

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When a provocative film provocates, 

As director Sandeep Reddy Vanga said in an interview, "This is cinema, this is art, this is expression. I will make a few scenes uncomfortable. That is the quality of a film or art; it will upset, it will evoke you, it will provoke you. It will irritate you sometimes.”

Honestly? Valid. There is space for violence in cinema and there is space for lack of morality in cinema because rarely is censorship the route to take. But at the same time, that means that there is space for the way these things are portrayed to be critiqued. Many have appreciated Ranbir Kapoor’s acting in Animal, the background score, and even the exploration of how an abusive father-son relationship can affect a young boy’s psyche. 

Sandeep Reddy Vanga and the official 'Animal' X handle have much to say!

In the same interview, he agrees that ‘gaze and morality’ are subjective. But so is film! How a film is viewed by any single person on Earth is subjective and thus, calling someone ‘illiterate’ because you don’t like their views also borders on censorship. 

All this also from the same person who, while speaking about how ‘some critics’ review films said to Bollywood Hungama (after Kabir Singh), “I don't even feel like, you know, 'Audience gave you back,' it's a 200 crore film and it's still running. I'm not even in that kick also. I think this is wrong and it should be eradicated.”

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One wonders, then, why the official Animal X handle quote tweeted a critic’s review with their box office numbers. 

Why is it okay to say that a certain style of criticism should not exist if it isn’t okay to say that a certain style of filmmaking shouldn’t exist? 

There is also a weird assumption that feminist critique of cinema is equal to asking for a boycott or that 'woke feminists' are reading too much into it. Viewing a film or any art through a feminist lens is a way to understand cinema. Just talking about a film’s plot and just talking about technical aspects of a film is actually an extremely superficial way of reviewing a film (and still isn’t wrong). There are layers and nuances to filmmaking and to study them is to respect the art. 

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Because if Barbie can be called ‘anti-man’ despite advocating for equal rights for people across genders, why can’t films like Animal be criticised for being misogynist? 

I think Roger Ebert said it best in his essay, ‘"Critic" is a four-letter word’, “He (a critic) can urge you toward older movies to expand your context for newer ones. He can examine how movies touch upon individual lives, and can be healing, or damaging. He can defend them, and regard them as important in the face of those who are "just looking for a good time.""

"He can argue that you will have a better time at a better movie. We are all allotted an unknown but finite number of hours of consciousness. Maybe a critic can help you spend them more meaningfully.”
Roger Ebert

Funnily, I have followed Ebert for years and consider him to be one of my idols and yet, we tend to disagree on films. But it is Ebert’s essay that also taught me that that is natural, often encouraged.

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Bah! Does it even matter?

To assume that filmmaking or art exists in a vacuum is actually an insult to art. Art has been a part of revolutions, it has given voice to the voiceless, and it has taught. If art did not have the ability to affect and influence, there would be little point to sharing it.

Box office numbers would mean absolutely nothing and some people’s opinion about the film would mean even less. 

We can go in circles talking about how characters like Ranvijay are ‘anti-heroes’ and ‘not supposed to be nice guys’. As far as a violent, troubled character goes, Ranvijay is written exactly how he should've been but when the film’s fans start to troll anyone with an opposing opinion, we see that the art and the conversation around it clearly is influencing people.

When trolls descend upon anybody who disagrees with the film, the language they use often has a common pattern - they're usually threats or misogynist abuse.

In that environment, for people representing the film to skew the idea of 'love' and 'abuse' is dangerous. For them to essentially say 'sometimes people be angry' is dangerous.

Not to rely on a cliché but with great power comes great responsibility. I would think that making almost Rs 900 crore at the box office is "power" in the world of cinema, so where is the responsibility?

But alas, maybe we all just don't understand love.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Kabir Singh   Javed Akhtar   Animal 

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