Sandeep Reddy Vanga's Animal is a love story with violence as the love language
Animal comes across as toxic and misogynistic because it turns the concept of love on its head. Sandeep Reddy Vanga makes violence his chosen love language.
Sandeep Reddy Vanga has taken the rampant criticism he got for Arjun Reddy and Kabir Singh, and turned it into art. Whether that art appeals or repels is debatable, but an easy way to process and comprehend his latest film, Animal, is to take love as we know it out of the picture, and replace it with violence. To treat violence as a primal expression of love, like probably an animal would.
(Also Read: Animal movie review: Ranbir Kapoor's action tale is flawed, overtly violent and misogynist; yet it entertains)
Violence for love
When Rannvijay (Ranbir Kapoor) is trying to woo Geetanjali (Rashmika Mandanna), his junior from school, who addresses him as ‘bhaiya (brother)’ and has just gotten engaged to another man, he explains the concept of love from prehistoric times. He positions himself as belonging to the alpha male tribe, which hunts and protects the women, as opposed to the other one, which does other less masculine duties. He claims that in order to divert some attention of the women from the alpha tribe, the other tribe introduces poetry and other softer connotations of love.
Like his protagonist, Sandeep takes this poetry and drains it out of the system. Sure, there's enough poetry that serves as a backdrop in the form of songs, but it has no shape or form in Vijay's (Rannvijay's) life. He's all about the alpha: hunting, protecting, and relishing in all his murderous actions, without paying any heed to the consequences. Violence is not only his chosen love language, but also the one he inherited from his father Balbir (Anil Kapoor).
Love for father
From what we know, Anil Kapoor is no criminal, but only a self-made wealthy industrialist. He has a steel company, which transcends to his steely exterior as well. As a father, he is emotionally unavailable and physically absconding. Extremely occupied with his work, he lets his wife do all the raising of their three kids. And the few times, when his son manages to reach him, Balbir only has aggression to offer in return of the little one's innocent pleas. He's even seen slapping Vijay multiple times in order to ‘discipline’ him. He doesn't have the time, will, temperament, and bandwidth to sit and hear him out, like the mother does.
But instead of this instilling discipline in Vijay, it only instills in him flawed ideas of reverence, justice, and pride. He goes on to believe that violence is the means to love, fairness, and all sweet things in life. Which is why, when Balbir slaps him constantly for firing a gun in his sister's college to protect her from ragging, Vijay just smiles and takes the onslaught head on, promising to repeat his action if needed. Because if his dad is absent, he's ‘the man of the house.’
When his father gets shot later in his life, Vijay returns after a hibernation of years to avenge the same. Everyone, from his wife, mother, grandfather, and even the father try to convince him to let it go. But the violence flows in his veins with such a force that he turns a deaf ear to what his loved ones want, to get them what they deserve, as per his code of justice. It's like his character Janardhan from Imtiaz Ali's Rockstar, who transcends the sense of right and wrong, but via violence, not music. Or like Ved in Tamasha, who's been let loose after years of conditioning, except here, he'd just been waiting to go all guns blazing.
Towards the end, Ranbir defends his actions by saying that how Balbir beat him up in childhood is also a crime. While we're all for saying no to corporal punishment, does this skewed sense of justice that Vijay exercises justified? Early on, one can't make out if the director is commenting on childhood trauma and attacking toxic masculinity, or is as much a part of it. Especially in the interval block sequence, it feels like Sandeep is sitting on a rocking chair and watching all the action unfold in all its unhinged glory, with all the boy toys and bloodshed intact. The gaze on weapons and bullets is laced with brandishing and blood is used more as a rouge than the precious life force it is.
It's only in the second half that Sandeep's commentary acquires a fraction of that razor-sharpness. He puts Vijay in a coma and turns him deaf. But instances like him walking full monty in his garden as a mark of celebration are still given the whistle treatment. Or his cousins and sidekicks passing lewd jokes on his girlfriend (despite being married) is also treated as a scene for laughs.
Love for wife
Sandeep's most powerful voice of reason in the film is Vijay's wife, played by Rashmika Mandanna. She, like many of us and seemingly also Sandeep himself, is initially seduced by the alpha avatar of Vijay. But one realises with the progression of the narrative that unlike Amitabh Bachchan's Angry Young Man, who was also called Vijay in most movies, he's a rebel without a cause. That's when Geetanjali turns into the mirror he never wants to peep into.
She points out that his unhealthy obsession with his father is undoing their own marriage. His bloodthirsty quest for revenge made him forget he's a father of two. She even tells him that his lust for her has been replaced by the testosterone spike he gets from the havoc he wrecks with his pind ke launde around the town. She gets turned on by the idea of them having sex on a private flight on autopilot or when he threatens to slap her.
But it's in a breakout scene that she just loses it on her husband. On the night of Karva Chauth, when he confesses he slept with another woman, she slams the strainer used in the Karva Chauth moon ritual, asking herself, “Why am I doing this?” She then blasts Ranbir for not coming out clean despite all the bravado he throws around all the time, and rolls her eyes in disbelief when he tells her he did it as a part of a plan to avenge his father. She then wishes his father had died before he threatens to shoot her down with a gun.
That scene feels like the only one where Vijay's conscience, whatever little is left of it, reminding him that he can start afresh and that he's doing to his new family what his old family did to him. It urges him to give love and forgiveness a chance and break out of the cycle of hatred and revenge. At the end, probably learning from the criticism for Kabir Singh, Sandeep makes Geetanjali leave her husband. She realises it's not his father who's the problem, but the man himself. She confesses getting seduced by violence without taking into account the fury it could unleash on her family. She still feels her love is true, but has come to terms that the love language is quite different.
Love for brother
Vijay's love language also pops up in his duel with his long-lost estranged cousin Abrar (Bobby Deol). The two men order their gunned guards to keep at bay as they engage in a good ol' fistfight, where no surprise for guessing, they let go of their shirts too. Sandeep isn't enjoying the action laid-back. Instead, he treats the duel as a romantic song. B Praak's Sari Duniya Jala Denge plays in the background as the two brothers stare into each other's eyes with vengeful love and go intimate by exchanging blows as if in a sexual encounter. “Pada maut se paala mera, aaj main bachunga ya saamne wala mera,” B Praak belts, as the two brothers take each other down in a fight to finish.
Vijay is deaf at that time, Abrar is mute, and both are blinded by violence. They don't know love as it may exist in the rest of the world. When Balbir chooses to make amends and apologises to his son for letting out abuse instead of love, a perplexed Vijay stands still as if he doesn't know how to react to that change in tone. He's then seen crying his eyes out in the lap of someone. But that lap is that of his uncle, his father figure, and not his biological father. Because Vijay can't break down in front of Balbir. In his language of love that would be telling his father that he hates him. But there's only love. And where there is love, there is violence.
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