Animal (2023) Movie Review: They say that storytellers craft fictional characters out of the kernel of their real-life personalities. A Sandeep Reddy Vanga protagonist is a jack of all trades in terms of knowledge. He is charismatic, angry, determined, hard-headed at times, and obsessive about a specific aspect of his life (either his girlfriend or his father). He believes himself to be a harbinger of masculinity, such that the protagonist can rationalize even actions that fall under toxicity but also be vindicated by the people around him.
Vanga’s perspectives on these notwithstanding, the one thing working for Animal (2023) and having the possibility to unite all aspects of the audience—his staunchest supporters and his fiercest detractors—is the genre the perspectives would be ensconced in. A gangster genre carries within itself a set expectation of violence as well as a form of hyper-masculinity that had been the norm while portraying such infinitely flawed characters. That itself disconnects it from the reality that perhaps it had been a touch too close in the portrayal of Arjun Reddy and Kabir Singh.
It would have worked for “Animal” if the movie and Vanga had completely doubled down on the gangster genre aspect of the protagonist’s obsession with his father. Unfortunately, “Animal” is also self-reflexive in that it also tries to comment on the detractors of Vanga’s previous films. But to enable such a self-reflexive attitude, Vanga has to create characters and a love story that could sufficiently work as a substrate to comment on and consequently comment towards.
I will give credit to Vanga for providing commentary, not losing sight of creating a character from scratch, and also focusing on the relationship between Vijay (Ranbir Kapoor) and Gitanjali (Rashmika Mandana). He does delve into the beginnings of their romance, with Vijay’s character acting as the typical Vanga protagonist of the alpha male and managing to convince Gitanjali to break off her engagement to marry him. That does entail Vijay describing what an alpha male is to Gitanjali and thus to the audience as well, and these scenes where Vijay can rationalize all his actions could be taken as a form of overcompensation.
But here is where the masterstroke of casting Ranbir Kapoor comes into the picture. Kapoor as presented by Vanga is quite different from Kapoor’s presentation throughout his filmography. Kapoor brings a level of conviction and arrogance to that boyish charm that, instead of being repulsive, becomes a compelling performance to watch. Unlike his performance in Tu Jhoothi Main Makkar, where director Luv Ranjan’s overwritten and overly smart-alecky dialogues lost any form of nuance, that charm of Kapoor got buried under the smugness and arrogance of the character. Here, though the character is compelling, even though at times Vanga doubles down on his masculinity and his comments on what makes a successful marriage for males, it just feels tiring.
This is one of the primary feelings one has about the movie once the credits roll, even while the scenes are playing. It is a bloated and overlong movie, where the gangster elements are taken from the Godfather playbook with shades of the Mahabharata sprinkled in. The bond formed between Vijay and his distant cousins, whom Vijay brings from their ancestral village, is given a lot of moments to flesh out, and even the enmity with Abrar (Bobby Deol) has shades of that epic. But these are only shades, with moments of heartwarming promise in the depiction of violence. Vanga brings a strange form of levity to the crafting of the action set piece.
There is an overwroughtness to it mixed with a silliness that works in some instances because the humor applied to some of the characters and some of the over-the-top violence feel reminiscent of Telugu commercial features. But then there are moments where the fight scene is scored to an overly emotional ballad that comes off as unintentionally comical. For fans of the gangster genre wanting to witness carnage on the big screen or Ranbir Kapoor managing to battle with goons with an axe, there are satisfactory instances.
It felt at times that the gangster genre is shown through an acid-wrenched cacophony of violence, where bullets, blood, and guts spew, and a machine gun sequence again manages to top another mass commercial film. But viewers expecting an enmity of magnitudes or a rivalry of the ages between Abrar and Vijay would be disappointed because Abrar only makes his appearance at the tail end of the second half. Vanga’s efforts to make him almost a mirror image of Vijay are appreciable, and Bobby Deol truly looks the part and acts menacing, but there isn’t enough time given to Abrar to underscore his presence. If only these gangster elements and these violent moments had been consistently showcased.
Because one of the key grievances of “Animal” is its inconsistency. For a movie marketing itself as a relationship between a father and son, the father and son relationship gets lost for a very long period, and the final resolution comes at the end, which only gets emotional poignancy or resonance at the end and that too as a result of the performances of Ranbir Kapoor and Anil Kapoor, who give it their all. The inconsistency also stems from the tonality of the film.
On the one hand, the misogyny that had been inherent in Kabir Singh is also present here, but on the other hand, Gitanjali’s character doesn’t suffer any lip. She manages to point out the flaws of his character and the violence that Vijay portrays as a form of love. But the inconsistency stems from a subplot that occurs that almost threatens to lose me, and the only reason the film didn’t completely lose me is that Vanga tied it together in the final confrontation between Vijay and Gitanjali that serves as Vanga almost reassuring his detractors that he listened to the criticism. Except that it never completely coalesces into something meaningful. And Mandana is not that strong of a performer to deliver these commentaries convincingly enough that they would ultimately land.
All these “commentaries” only serve to extend and stretch out an already extended narrative, threatening the goodwill that Vanga inculcates in the first half of the film. His attention to the milieu and the Punjabi language and its dialects is again symptomatic of a man who knows how to craft a story without losing regional specificity. But here, the storyteller Sandeep Reddy Vanga comes into conflict with the iconoclast director Sandeep Reddy Vanga. The need to answer and provoke compromises a fairly interesting plot. It is problematic, it is violent, it is visceral, and it is funny, but the cardinal sin of “Animal” is that it is a slog. There is a tease of a sequel with the antagonist eerily resembling Rolex from “Vikram” in terms of violent insanity, but by that point, you will have had enough of this zoo.