Animal review: An overlong, tedious circus of low-IQ alpha males
Animal (Hindi)(1.5 / 5)
Sandeep Reddy Vanga is a provocative filmmaker, and he revels in his reputation of being one. Animal, the director’s third film, begins with its protagonist narrating a story about a baboon asking a princess for a blowjob. This baboon has a single-point agenda and cannot be distracted or outwitted by anyone. The frame story – to which the film returns repeatedly – sets the tone of Animal and what we should expect from it.
Ranbir Kapoor plays a papa-obsessed son. Indian mythology is full of devout sons who would go to any extent for their papas, but this son is thoda extraaa. As a young boy, he doesn’t mind getting caned if it means he can rush out of class a few minutes early for his papa’s (Anil Kapoor) birthday. He wants to know why he can’t be named Balbir Singh II, after his papa. It is only at the interval block that his name is revealed – until then, he’s identified as Balbir Singh’s son. As a grown man, he’s so into his papa that he even knows which hand the latter uses to hold his penis while urinating. His wife, Geethanjanli (Rashmika Mandanna), diagnoses his love as a “rog” at one point – but Sandeep wants the audience to flirt with the possibility that this mentally disturbed man could be a hero.
If the young boy could recite the definition of an “animal” flawlessly in science class, the grown-up version – deprived of his father’s love that he craves so badly – has become a new definition of the word. He frequently resorts to jungle metaphors to express himself.
“Mere papa sher hai!” he announces to a group of employees to enthuse them when their morale is low. Our hero has no use for evolution or civilisation. Since it can be considered a spoiler to reveal his name, and the film anyway makes a metaphor of it, let’s just call him Baboon.
Baboon’s twisted love for his father leads him down a path of violence. When his older sister is molested in college, for instance, Baboon appoints himself as the man in charge and fires a gun in her classroom. Somewhere in this chaotic world where hundreds of people are murdered but you don’t see a single police officer, there is a genuine story to be told about a looming father figure and the shadow it casts on his son. Many of the shots, in fact, have this play of light on the faces of the characters – half in the sun, half in the shadow. The over-the-top fight sequence that drenches the screen with blood and marks the interval block has the villains wearing animal headgear but our hero doesn’t; he doesn’t need props to become a beast, he already is one.
Ranbir’s manic performance, transforming from little boy to killer, and Anil Kapoor matching all that fire with his icy demeanour, could have given us a memorable film. But the writing is too distracted, too self-indulgent to allow that story to breathe. Instead, what we get are Sandeep’s obvious attempts to hit back at people who slammed his earlier work.
His idea of romance, for example, is to have Baboon tell a woman that she has a big pelvis and is capable of bearing healthy babies. This, after theorising about how women used to pick alpha males in prehistoric times based on their hunting skills (we had a taste of the Sandeep brand pheminism in Arjun Reddy, and there’s a lot more of it in Animal).
So, you get lines like “First we kissed, then we had sex, next we should slap each other” – and you have Mrs Baboon slapping Mr Baboon several times because that’s the kind of passionate marriage they have. Mrs Baboon sticks around despite everything because Mr Baboon is a pheminist who helped her during childbirth – I mean, give the man a Nobel Prize already! When he develops a potbelly, he glances at her when she’s undressed and compliments her body for looking the way it does after two kids. Phenomenal Pheminist hai ye Baboonji. It’s the kind of writing you’ll find in BDSM erotica like Fifty Shades of Grey, but presented with the same earnestness of “pure love” that we saw in Arjun Reddy.
There’s a lecture about pubic hair management, a Rolls Royce in the colour of love bites, a chaddi with a tiger on it, guns fired in jubilation when a naked man walks around – a plethora of just Sandeep things that the internet can diss, debate and celebrate till the cows come home. The overarching sentiment in each scene is “look how outrageous I can be!” and this constant attention-seeking chokes the screenplay, especially the second half when the film seems never-ending.
It doesn’t help that the director has edited the film himself, sacrificing cogency for “lookie here” moments. The pulsating background score patches up the gaps to a certain extent, but there’s only so much it can do in a three-hour-21-minute film about daddy issues. Even after the end credit roll, Sandeep isn’t done. There is an extended bloodbath, and after that, a message that is probably for the critics.
Bobby Deol’s much-touted role is an abomination, and the actor is reduced to playing the stereotype of the brute Muslim with three wives. The idea here may have been a face-off between two “animals”, but Bobby comes and goes before he is allowed to leave a mark as a formidable antagonist. For all its faults, Arjun Reddy was an immensely watchable film. Animal, though, is so wannabe-edgy that it becomes plain boring after a point.
Rashmika Mandanna speaks through clenched teeth for the whole of Animal, and the actor faced considerable trolling for her dialogue delivery in the trailer. But, after watching the film, you understand why. In this circus of low-IQ alpha males, she is us.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film’s producers or any other members of its cast and crew.
Sowmya Rajendran writes on gender, culture, and cinema. She has written over 25 books, including a nonfiction book on gender for adolescents. She was awarded the Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Sahitya Puraskar for her novel Mayil Will Not Be Quiet in 2015.