This critique contains spoilers, so read with discernment. I liked Ranbir’s acting in Wake Up Sid, thought he has played dumb, coming-of-age characters singing and dancing around a tree ever since. This is not just his fault but lousy writing and lame direction as well. Enter Animal. There are plenty of reviews about this film, and most are mischaracterizations screaming misogyny, etc., so this review aims to go beyond the apparent fake feminism trans-whatever lens for those interested in the evolution of Indian cinema. The article will discuss themes, unnecessary parts that could have been edited out, and the rise of the Hindu, especially Hindu males, in Indian cinema post-Bollywood’s systematic and timely death.
Multiple themes run throughout the film. The first one is the apparent mental health issues that Ranbir’s character endures, and it refers to Indian cinema addressing non-mainstream themes that were all but wiped out under the Bollywood umbrella. It is now okay to not just speak about mental health but portray complex characters that depict realities of life. The father-son dynamics in Animal have come a long way since the failed relationships portrayed by Amitabh-SRK in films from the 1990s. Ranbir has done a fabulous job of acting within and outside the norms of his character without over-the-top acting – the main requirement of what used to be Bollywood. There are over-the-top scenes in the film – masked guys being massacred by Ranbir, but for most, this scene was the film’s best part. Critics are screaming louder than the character does in the movie about how Ranbir should be put in therapy from an early age, and while that might be true, it would not have resulted in a rich and complex script. Here, coming of age is again played by Ranbir in Animal, and the first few minutes might have as well been an extension from his other films; the writing does evolve, giving us a complex character that we both love and hate.
Loyalty to family and self are themes that echo throughout. As ‘immoral’ as he is, the character follows an intrinsic dharma that entails protecting his family – father, sisters, wife, and those who work for his family’s company. The theme of a modern-day Mahabharata is in the fabric of the script as the character is literally fighting off his cousins who have converted to Islam and taken on multiple wives, tried to murder his father, etc. One shortcoming of the film is the underdevelopment of Ranbir’s and Anil Kapoor’s relationship. There is a lot that is left for the audience to figure out in terms of the strained relationship. Though one finds out at the end that the relationship was even abusive as the father used to berate and throw things at his young child verbally, this information could have been portrayed early on to build up sympathy for both the father-son duo.
Other relationships portrayed in the film show husbands and wives – Anil’s character rarely seems to listen to his wife. While some write this off as a generational issue, similar tones are seen in how Anil’s elder daughter and her husband are shown on screen. They, too, seem to have marital problems, and the main reasons causing divisions are loyalty, power, and money. Ranbir’s character gets along with his wife and, though he promises not to cheat on her, does precisely this, portraying it as necessary to sleep with the mole to extract information about the enemy. His treatment of the Muslim mole is shown to be peppered with respect until the scene where he asks her to lick his shoe – this was more symbolic than anything as it would have been out of character actually to see the act through. Thus, the character’s treatment of sexual relations outside of marriage is shown to be different from how his married cousins are paying white prostitutes for fun and also very different from his converted cousin Abrar, who is shown pouncing on his wife-bride in front of the other two wives, children and guests during his third wedding. Abrar, in contrast, is also revealed to be misogynistic when all three wives are shown in one room with him; one naked under the bed, another he is stripping nude, and a third he slaps at the same time. It is left up to the reader to ponder if Abrar is doing so as his religion sanctions it or whether someone else is at play. The director subtly shows generational and religious differences in portraying intimate relationships.
The film could have been edited better. The penis and pubic hair references were one too many and took away from the gravity of the well-made film. Similarly, there was no need for Ranbir’s character to borrow underwear from the arms dealer before going into a fight. However, one had to justify a story about him being in a dhoti during the fight sequence. Similarly, boring plane scenes trying to show motions of intercourse during Ranbir’s honeymoon could have been shortened. Recklessness and intimacy could have been depicted in more sophisticated ways. One big pet peeve was the Punjabi clan, which is clearly shown to be Hindu, attending a church service! There was absolutely no reason to show them going to church, though Ranbir’s character attempting to smoke in church and trying to turn on his wife on church grounds added to the sick-dark humor. Still, the director fails at this by deliberately trying to include humor via penis jokes and doctors evaluating Ranbir’s character in front of family members inquiring about sex life. Indians are still mentally colonized by Bollywood, where films are poorly trained to include slapstick comedy, but hopefully, this compulsiveness will change soon. Kantara, too, for its brilliance, failed at times when it came to inserting slapstick sexual “comedy.”
Rise of the Hindu
The display of Hindu culture is definitely in the film’s fabric. When was the last time we saw women under forty on screen wearing bindis and traditional attire or the sacred Swastika portrayed as it should be? Embracing Hindu culture is a welcome change in Indian Cinema. From aesthetics to cultural practices, the film is replete with Hindu themes. Gone are the days of sissy, effeminate males from the 1990s films. The joint family system, loyalty towards parents and siblings, and genuine feelings toward a criminal cousin whom Ranbir’s character is reluctant to kill echoes compassion and general Indic ethos revolving around dharma.
Female empowerment is yet another accomplishment in Animal – every female Hindu character is shown a natural equality. Ranbir’s character empowers his sisters to be self-sufficient and participate in the family business. His wife is revealed to have a career out of India, and even when he confesses to being untrue to her, he is prepared to endure consequences – galis, thappads, and whatnot, which the wife freely bestows on the character. The two Muslim wives married to Abrar share cigarettes and chit-chat about why they married the wealthy mute, attempting to show empowerment and act outside the norm in their own way. The mothers on all sides are respected by their offspring, though no interaction is shown between Abrar and his mother.
Male empowerment is mischaracterized as patriarchy by most critics who have reviewed Animal. The same feminists are whining about the character point out facts that it’s a man’s world. These self-proclaimed critics are falsely hung up on fake Marxist equity rather than equality of opportunity when it comes to gender. However, the theme of the awakened (woke, in the real sense) Hindu male is the film’s fabric. From facial hair, turbans, sarees, bindis, and other aesthetics such as havans, puja-archana, tilaks on the forehead, and mundus and dhotis, Indian cinema seems to have resurged quicker than expected after Bollywood’s death. Hopefully, this will usher in a time of embracing the pride that is Hindu culture and not pretending to run after what we think “Western” means, as Bollywood always got the narrative or modernity part wrong.
Just like art imitates life imitates reality, Ranbir, a big beef guy, is shown drinking Gau Mutra in the film, and fans get to see him and his wife attend the Rama Janam Bhoomi – Prana Pratishta festivities. There is a clear, real-life theme about not just leaving the embarrassment of being Hindu behind but embracing it. As someone who never wants to see Ranbir in a lousy wig pretending to be twenty again, playing the same role in the same leather jacket, Animal, and subsequent partaking in Ayodhya events have helped us see Ranbir beyond a nepo “kid.”
All in all, Animal is a welcomed change. For those obsessed with comparisons to Tarantino and Uma Thurman’s characters, Indians must leave the chains of colonization behind and build up Indic Ranbirs and directors like Vangas. As messed up as Ranbir’s character is, the best line from the film is, “Happiness is a decision.” Truth indeed. The character succeeds as a philosopher-murderer who never lets go of this dharma as a grihastha.