With Arjun Reddy/Kabir Singh and Animal, Sandeep Reddy Vanga has established himself as one of the most exciting filmmakers. What's so appealing, exhilarating about his films is that his characters are so cocky they refuse to be a puppet. They drive the story forward, though it should be noted that in Animal, the "story" is tethered to the main character's experience. We don't feel as if we are jumping from one point to another. Rather, we feel as if somebody's life is unfolding in front of our eyes. Vanga doesn't observe the events from a distance. He puts us in the middle of the situation. When Ranvijay (Ranbir Kapoor) informs Geetanjali (Rashmika Mandanna) about alpha males, his voice sounds so real that you believe Vanga has created his characters and dialogues from personal experience. The inflections and the expressions come from an authentic place. Vanga either knows such people or has traces of the traits displayed by his dramatis personae (both things can also be valid). This is why his movies appear to originate from the truth. The fiction lies in the exaggerations.
A Sandeep Reddy Vanga protagonist cannot come into existence without a brilliant actor. Both Shahid Kapoor and Vijay Deverakonda located scars in their souls with precision (Deverakonda better than Kapoor). Now, it's Ranbir Kapoor's turn, and he brings out the angst with a similar perfection. Given the actor's performance in Shamshera and Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar, I was worried if Kapoor would live up to the task. But Animal proves that in those two films, the directors were at fault. Kapoor, the actor, was suppressed by Luv Ranjan and Karan Malhotra. Vanga revives that side of him in this film. Kapoor expresses happiness, heartbreak, and disappointment with just a slight movement of his facial muscles. He rarely uses big, obvious gestures for suggestions. But even when he does, it feels fabulous. Kapoor becomes emotionally and physically naked for our pleasure. His self-assurance is infectious.
Together, Vanga and Kapoor infuse credibility into scenes that would have otherwise seemed like a stunt. My jaw dropped to the floor when a gun was brought into a classroom. A scene like this could have easily become tasteless. But Vanga's chutzpah carries us along, and it comes across as an exhilarating, rousing moment. It helps that no other response feels appropriate. Ranvijay is quickly established as a family man. He is the man of the house after his father, Balbir Singh (Anil Kapoor), and the man of the house takes care of his family members. Ranvijay can chop someone into pieces for the safety of the Singh ménage. He is someone who thinks it's okay to kill anyone who is a threat. Arjun/Kabir kicked and punched a boy who touched his girlfriend. Ranvijay injures all the boys who touch his sister. Arjun/Kabir and Ranvijay have deep affection for people close to them. It's only natural then that they turn out to be his weakness. Without Preeti, Arjun/Kabir lost his job and became a drunk loser. In Animal, take Balbir out of the equation, and Ranvijay will be dead.
The protagonists in a Vanga film crave love from a special someone, so much so that they fight with the world (and themselves) to achieve that tenderness. For Ranvijay, Balbir is that special someone. He even knows which hand his father uses in the washroom to hold his penis. If Vanga had been a little more twisted, we could have got something close to that opening scene from Ari Aster's The Strange Thing About the Johnsons. There is a shot at the beginning of Animal where a young Ranvijay eagerly leans out of the car window because he is excited to celebrate his dad's birthday. He looks like a happy dog sticking his head out the car window. His "Papa! Papa!" cries could very well be a bark (woof, woof). His canine-like affection is endearing as well as suffocating. Balbir, like most fathers, has no idea how to show love to his son. So what does this man do? He plans to leave a large steel empire for him to control. Ranvijay says that Balbir should be his son in another life so he can learn how to be a good father. Afterward, in another life, the father-son should be born with their original role so that Ranvijay could scream, "My dad is the best!"
However, once Ranvijay becomes a father, he fails to spend much time with his children. Unbeknownst to him, he also behaves like Balbir, and it's easy to see Ranvijay's children similarly crying in the future that their father wasn't with them. What's he so busy with? Revenge. Someone tried to assassinate Balbir, and now, Ranvijay wants to execute everyone who was involved in the plan. This puts into motion a cycle of vengeance. That circle which appears in the background with the film's title could be taken as a symbol of this never-ending circle of revenge (you murdered my brother? Now I will inflict harm on your family members. All this goes on for generations). You can also give that circle a more lighthearted interpretation by taking it as...a washing machine, given that Ranvijay talks about clean fabrics during this moment.
Apart from writing and directing, Vanga has also edited this film. There are moments where he throws us off balance by deviating from conventions. Take that scene where Ranvijay puts on tiger underwear. A rousing music blasts from the speakers, and someone else would have allowed the music to linger. But Vanga suddenly cuts away to another place, and the people who had just started to whistle in my theater felt confused, and disoriented. The fight choreography, too, is neither clean nor smooth. It's all very messy, like the leading character's head. But Vanga finds his rhythm in this mess. When Ranvijay slowly lifts his big gun, it looks as if Vanga, like a conductor, is raising his baton. Animal is not so different from that shiny, golden weapon. It's a Made in India product created and assembled in various Indian places. The movie, too, consists of many North and South and Hindu/Muslim/Christian characters. And like that weapon, the movie fires sharp, lethal "shots" at us. Every scene keeps you on edge.
It's understandable why Vanga's movies upset many people. They establish a direct link between you and the mindset of the character. You don't passively watch the events. You go through the same feelings as the leading man. And when these feelings enter the toxic territory, the audience recoils in horror. They are shocked by their own reaction. This is why Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani is widely acclaimed because such movies make the audience feel morally uplifted, and the director and the viewers pat each other on the back. What's more, critics and some audience members would rather exert themselves and write well-written sentences to mine political subtext from Jawan's tokenism, and incompetence than accept the fact that Arjun Reddy/Kabir Singh does not glorify toxic behavior. In that film as well as this one, the character is punished for his cockiness. Arjun/Kabir get the girl (their happy ending) only AFTER they change. Animal's conclusion, though, should easily be digested. Ranvijay, after all, doesn't get a happy ending. He remains a loser who wins (small) fights but loses the battle.
Mandanna meets Kapoor in the middle and shines with fervor. She converts the quarrels between her character and Ranvijay into warfare. Like Arjun/Kabir and Preeti, Ranvijay and Geetanjali are not an ordinary couple. She breaks off her engagement for him, and he takes complete care of her during the pregnancy. They are at each other's throats one moment and hugging and kissing one another the next. Ranvijay openly discusses things with his wife. But the real drama arrives when she starts asking him direct questions. Bobby Deol got the loudest cheers during my screening (I wanted to see more of him), and Anil Kapoor is fine as usual. Triptii Dimri has such a lovely presence that you instantly believe that a faithful husband like Ranvijay can fall for her. I still wish the movie had made it clearer how Ranvijay got to know the truth about her.
Animal's mind is a crazy one. It takes the concept of body doubles to pleasingly ludicrous levels (don't walk out during the end credits). The final take-out-your-shirt fight is more funny than brutal (is it a sober parody of such climactic fight sequences?). I chuckled when Deol ripped off his clothes. He might have been saying, "Why are you alone? Let me also be naked." Deol's character is mute, and Ranvijay suffers from hearing loss after the interval. When it comes to revenge, peace is a word that is neither heard nor uttered. The characters in Animal - the ones who are in charge - merely speak with their bullets. A hack would have pushed this story into a genre. But Vanga frees himself from such traps. He presents his vision to us (a couple of poorly-timed, bad, sad songs prevent the movie from reaching greatness). As a film critic, you don't always come across movies that stir powerful emotions. It's only rarely you get to watch something as exciting as Animal that immediately motivates you to tell your friends to go to the theater.
Get all latest content delivered to your email a few times a month.
Bringing Pop Culture News from Every Realm, Get All the Latest Movie, TV News, Reviews & Trailers
Got Any questions? Drop an email to [email protected]