Director Sandeep Reddy Vanga must be fun at parties. I imagine him brooding in a corner, with a drink in his hand through most of them. But once he joins a conversation, he doesn’t shy away from saying something provocative. Like, the ‘scientific’ reasoning behind the invention of the caste system. Or how the only way to realise the dream of ‘India Shining’ is to elect a strong-willed dictator. It doesn’t matter whether he believes everything he says, he mostly likes the attention.
I imagine him regurgitating some things he heard from snippets of a Jordan Peterson interview – on gender roles, how equality is a sham, how progressive values spell doom for modern society. He’s not interested in a conversation; he just wants to say his piece. We can get riled up as much as we like, but the truth is Reddy Vanga will not listen. And nothing proves this more than his second Hindi feature, Animal.
Starring Ranbir Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, Rashmika Mandanna among others, Animal has been three years in the making. Three years after Reddy Vanga split the audience down the middle, with Kabir Singh (2019) – the Hindi remake of his Telugu directorial debut, Arjun Reddy (2017). Half the audience batted for Reddy Vanga to portray an obsessive, abusive lover as ‘grittily’ as possible. While the other half felt the director endorsed his protagonist’s actions, and let him off lightly for abusive behaviour. Sure, the conversation needn’t have boiled over like it did, but seeing Animal, Reddy Vanga’s persistence to walk the same path without the slightest hint of introspection, makes the discourse around Kabir Singh seem like white noise for the director.
Clearly, he hasn’t budged since then.
In Animal, his protagonist is a scion of a fractured industrialist Punjabi family. Herein lies, Reddy Vanga’s masterstroke – the casting of Ranbir Kapoor. Who else in Bollywood *looks* the part of blue-blooded scion, better than Kapoor? Also, how many among the current crop can play the directionless lad, who has just returned from America/London, with that stunning Michael Corleone energy, and still explore a new facet? Kapoor, one of the finest actor-stars of his generation, also desperate for a blockbuster, embraces the crudeness of Reddy Vanga’s world without much ado. He’s the reluctant heir to a steel manufacturing entity called Swastik steel – whose symbol is, you guessed it, a Swastika. Not the Nazi kind, the film insists. Even though there are stray mentions to someone’s gene pool, stronger genes and breeding during the film.
Rannvijay Singh says the darnedest things. “Love, poetry and pining was invented by the non-alphas”, he tells Geetanjali (Mandanna) while trying to court her. Ten minutes later, he also goes on to say: “You have a big pelvis, you can accommodate healthy babies.” This is their first meeting; in case you’re wondering. After almost killing six boys who bullied his sister in college, Rannvijay defends himself in front of his father, “Papa, forget law and order for five minutes… do you think what I did was wrong?”
It’s almost like Reddy Vanga (with brother Pranay Reddy Vanga and Saurabh Gupta) has specifically written these lines to bait critics. There’s an entire scene between Rannvijay and Geetanjali – where they talk about their first kiss, the first time they had sex, so it was only natural their next level of intimacy would be… the first slap. He’s obviously written this into the film, to spark think pieces about the film. To all those considering, it’s not worth it. This man is quite singularly obstinate – who doesn’t care about critical feedback, because he’s obviously touched a nerve somewhere. Both his films have been widely accepted by the public, so then why should he listen to a few dozen voices cautioning him against his natural ‘style’?
The scope of Animal is Shakespearean: warring brothers, a permanently damaged father-son bond, men so consumed by revenge that they’re willing to wait for months, years, decades before striking back. This could’ve been a focused action film about violence being inherited from one generation to the next; akin to Park Hoon-jung’s New World (2013). But with Reddy Vanga’s empty provocation, and his tendency to overwrite a scene with thoughts and opinions that feel borrowed from an incel treatise – the little potential it could have had is lost over several long drawn-out sequences.
Tycoon Balbir Singh (Anil Kapoor doing his best Logan Roy impression) survives an assassination attempt, causing Rannvijay to take over the reins of business and find the culprit. Even with all the money in the world, the Singhs are obviously not well-acquainted with the boons of a strong information network. Which is why they go through the preposterous method of creating body doubles to lure out perpetrators. There’s a pre-interval corridor scene that seems inspired from Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy (2003) and an gargantuan Maxim machine gun sequence, which seems like a by-product of Lokesh Kannagraj’s Vikram (2022). The corridor scene has none of the fluidity of its original, and the machine gun scene seems like the director is overcompensating.
Reddy Vanga wants to put people off with the violence in Animal, wearing it like a badge of honour for being a misunderstood maverick. Truth be told, it’s nowhere as effective or truthful as those he’s deriving it from. What remains more disturbing, is the psychological violence his characters inflict on one another, and his audience. Everyone is just a moment away from oversharing about their sex lives, their painful pregnancy, their childhood trauma. He doesn’t want to stage a compelling dialogue, instead he wants to direct shouting matches between volatile characters, who don’t [wish to] learn anything at the end of the conversation. Reddy Vanga wants to see you flinch; this is sadomasochism of a whole new level. And if the climax is any indication, they’re going to try to make a franchise out of this.
May the force be with us.