A catchy title, a Godfather-tinged theme, Ranbir Kapoor with daddy issues, and a Satan-like Bobby Deol. I could overhear fan theories the moment its monumental trailer surfaced. “What if Deol is Kapoor’s violent alter ego?” After all, in the trailer’s winning shot, a rough, cigarette-blowing Deol lies casually atop a way weaker Kapoor. It is both offbeat and aesthetic a visual with the potential to be more than what meets the eye.
Coming back to the basics, Animal is a Sandeep Reddy Vanga film and the more obvious inference to make is that it is a psychopath’s life story. Ranbir Kapoor plays Rannvijay Singh alias Vijay who does not believe in functional relationships. Unlike Kabir Singh and his best friend, Vijay prefers an army of cousins-turned-henchmen. He has an unhealthy obsession with his industrialist father Balbir (Anil Kapoor) which is the root cause of every havoc he creates. On that note, if absentee fathers were to receive patronage of this magnitude, half of India would shred each other to bits. Vijay seems to have no noticeable bond with his mother and the man’s bodyguard-like air looms over his meek sisters. Vanga and his co-writers (Pranay Reddy Vanga and Saurabh Gupta) build this idea from a theory of alpha and non-alpha men narrated early in the film. If regular, educated girls would have scoffed at such ghastly ideas, Geetanjali (Rashmika Mandanna) buys the elevator pitch, breaks her marriage to a seemingly nice man, and whisks off to the US of A with Vijay. Atta girl.
Vanga’s way of evidencing that he (and his cinema) has evolved is by letting the woman slap her man. Sadly, it is no victory in a marriage that abounds in abuse, dominance, neglect, and infidelity. When Vijay leaves for London to nab the villain, his ultimatum to Geetanjal goes, “If I don’t come back, do not marry again…” The same guy constantly encourages his elder sister to marry a man he chooses. Because in his eyes, she is a ‘strong, independent woman’. Irony dies a thousand deaths in Vanga’s university of gender equality. There are more women in Animal, each resembling exotic animals reared to fulfill an ornamental purpose or two in a zoo – the mother, a gangster’s moll, and a nurse included. The less said the better about the villain’s (Deol) mini-harem and their bizarre camaraderie.
Animal wants itself to be about a son with a strange humiliation kink. Paradoxically, the father (Balbir) is at best a wallflower for a good chunk of the film. The overlong screenplay, in all the chaos it creates, often forgets why it took birth in the first place. Unintentionally, the film ends up as a wild chronicle of a man with mental health issues who berates a professional who tries to help him. Vanga, on the other hand, is overjoyed to glamourize the man’s psychopathic tendencies with a lining of heroism.
As for the setting, Animal takes place in a lawless land although we are told that they live in Delhi. Vijay and his kin commit recreational murders never to see the sight of a cop. Animal also goes all Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham on and off but with a severe lack of women with agency and the warmth of familial bonds. Mandanna had a chance to weep, “Bauji ka aashirwad nahi liya,” Instead, she chooses to enter the mile-high club. Atta girl, once again.
Ranbir Kapoor, present in almost every frame, reassembles the jigsaw of his career to give us a mixture of Sanju, Tamasha, Bombay Velvet, Rockstar, and the likes to deliver an act that is adequate and constantly engaging yet never particularly captivating – a deficiency occurred due to the screenplay’s lack of inventiveness. Rashmika Mandanna is the only other cast member with a marginally developed part and she does very well in high-voltage scenes. Again, Geetanjali is seen and devised from a man’s problematical purview. The woman’s giant outburst comes too late in the film and is written and executed in a candy-floss fashion although Mandanna manages to ace it her way. The subplot that leads to it makes no sense and is among the film’s many chapters to drag endlessly. Bobby Deol, who also exists in Animal, gets no scope to extend his show-stealing, screen-scorching effect in the trailer. Abrar (Deol) emerges as an eerie gent whose violent spree finds no foundation. The result is an inert antagonist who looks good and emotes great to cause no stir in the larger scheme of things.
Animal’s soundtrack is rich with Punjabi folk songs that underline key fights. ‘Arjan Vailly’ is high on adrenaline and ‘Saari Duniya Jalaa Denge’ lends the climactic brawl an emotional rhythm although the sequence is patchily cut and the villain’s characterization is astonishingly weak. Amit Roy’s photography is scintillating in the fight sequences in the first half and is average otherwise. It does not help that the filmmaker does not the dynamics of romantic love. As a result, the romantic songs and moments remain in the kink zone sans any notable sizzle. Animal’s editor (also Vanga) is so indulgent that the first half works as a standalone film. The remaining acts, besides overstretching itself, introduce key players with no solid footing to design arcs that are all over the place.
Animal would have proven a lot more authentic if it were to end the mayhem at the interval point or if it dared step out of its inane machismo to address the leading man’s declining mental health. But, no, it’s Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s world where we inhale toxic masculinity and exhale regressive philosophies. Moral uprightness is the last thing to expect from a product designed to appease a target group that knows no better. The film is more at home when the leading man delivers a speech at a factory setup, straight from the ’70s. If only the film could entertain better with a coherent plot, characters with depth, and an editor with a darned pair of scissors.