ANIMAL : MOVIE REVIEW
4 STARS / 5 (EXCELLENT)
DIRECTOR, WRITER, EDITOR : SANDEEP REDDY VANGA
IMPRESSIVE CAST : RANBIR SINGH, RASHMIKA MANDANNA, TRIPTI DIMRI
ANIL KAPOOR, BOBBY DEOL, SHAKTI KAPOOR
HINDI (ENGLISH SUBTITILES AVAILABLE), 2023
SANDEEP REDDY VANGA IS THE NEW SELVARAGHAVAN
Unlike any other movie in the history of mainstream Hindi cinema, systematically shattering the shibboleths of this genre with transgressive acts, provocative language and enough shocking blood-'n'-gore to spray all the white marble bright red from Delhi to Andhra, 'Animal' erupts as a true alpha beast, visionary insane king of its own modern Indian jungle.
Sandeep Reddy Vanga Is The New Selvaraghavan. And Ranbir Kapoor is the most electrifying, most shameless, most fearless male superstar in the whole of Hindi filmdom down the decades.
Pic is not consistently flawless, its action-thriller-comedy template plumbing its nadir at the 90 minute mark, with risible jokes and gratuitous rotary cannon fire making one think that this movie will degenerate into "KGF" trash that has infected the local audience, but it promptly picks up with its multi-pronged powerful family angle and more targeted bursts of gripping action.
Also, at a time when U.S.A continues to be ripped apart by gun-shooting violence with copy-cat killers haunting other countries, 'Animal's use of machine guns to threaten and kill people in public places is shameful and must be urgently discouraged, this toxic, irresponsible pattern also seen in global hits like 'Joker' (2019).
But director, writer, editor Vanga excels in all the key domains of this ambitious Rs.100 crore 3 hour 20 minute jaw-bruiser, executing a powerful script with inspired direction. The son-father and wife-husband dynamic is explored with stunning power and naked honesty, dialogue is cracker-jack, select fight sequences are superb, and the impressive cast is alpha-led by Ranbir Kapoor in a performance of tremendous emotional charge.
Ranvijay Singh (Ranbir Superstar K.) is the scion of the country's richest family. Alas, his roaring gumption and warrior nature put him at odds with his business tycoon father Balbir Singh (Anil Kapoor). Ranvijay adores his father to bits, a mania of love with him particularly going nuts on each of his father's birthdays. This touching and fascinating emotion is not reciprocated by Balbir who cares for his son but is unable to show it, consumed by his business, ignoring his son, and scolding and rejecting his son's bursts of avenging violence as criminal behaviour which the father is shocked and revolted by.
Ranvijay's uninhibited animal charisma steals Geetanjali Singh (a superb Rashmika Mandanna) who elopes to marry him and they share great chemistry and two kids. But Geetanjali does not fully know that she has married a true human animal. As if family members eagerly tearing asunder each other was not enough, this tycoon family has other wolves and hyenas circling from Delhi to Istanbul to Scotland, igniting a circus of bloody vengeance.
Film's structure and scene arragement are another expert spin. The black-'n'-white prologue is plenty weird, connected grinningly to pic's bookend. Chronology is shuffled, not radically, but often with the succeeding sequence shedding light on what happened prior. Seemingly unacceptable developments are shoe-shined by what later transpires. Graphics and Movie Title appear well into the first half weaving amidst standing men chatting and eating biryani. Ending credits roll while key parts of the ending are still to finish - people got up and were walking out and my friend called out, 'Bait-jao Bhai!" and the chap sat down somewhat confusedly resuming to watch the last effluvia trickle out on screen.
Being editor gives Vanga several advantages, not the least of which is permitting a kingly 200 minute runtime, which to his immense credit and thrilling last minute story developments, could run for another 3 hours and no wonder Part 2 (the blood-drenched 'Animal Park : Come - Visit Soon' !) is magnificently lined up.
The way 'Animal' detonates and satirizes rosy Hindi pikchar family scenes shows Vanga at wicked work skewering Barjatya's ilk. Festive ensemble songs have been murdered. Early on, a suited Ranvijay attends a lush family gala amidst multi-crore settings of gardens and pavillions but instead of cozy familial togetherness, he has continual run-ins with his brother-in-law, sister and father - an amuse bouche of what's to come of the writer-director's dark troubled demi-mondes. Indian cinema in the last two decades has seen enough of lip kisses, thanks to early adopters like Emraan Hashmi, and Vanga is an avowed advocate of this, foreign to the Khan brigade's shyness, encouraging his heroes and heroines to lip lock. Ranbir and Rashmika become quite orally acquainted with each other here, but damnit!, their kisses are tepid-'n'-timid (Ranbir-Rashmika - Stop behaving like teenage first-timers hesitantly smooching)
Dialogue by Saurab Gupta and the screenplay by Bandaru and the Vanga brothers is bolder, with the F-word and frank talk about sex flying all over the place. Karva Chauth - when women in North India gaze lovingly at their husbands' faces through seives on moonlit nights, is given the Satya Harishchandra treatment here, with the resultant blazing, lancinating fireworks being the true stuff of dark Diwalis.
'Animal's pre-teaser is one of the greatest ever, a 1 minute explosion where the hero takes an axe and goes ballistic in a corridor of gold metal-masked assailants, with the ferocious sonic mayhem of butchered flesh and metal rebound. It's completely unapologetic in its murderous blast, daring prospective viewers in and giving advance notice to the squeamish to stay at home. The film however, does not give adequate deployment to this fantastic sequence,marooning it in a sea of underwelming protracted action, further compromized by my personal experience where some asshole was flashing a mobile light trying to search something (Hundredth Request - Do not ruin your co-viewer's experience by taking your cellphone out).
Bobby Deol as one of the key villans is terrific, bringing a cunning smile and savage violence to his mute muscular character named Abrar Haque (Three Cheers to another toxic pitting of Hindu Vs Muslim Villains). The hand to hand fight between his and Ranbir's character is cleanly, powerfully choreographed - one of the movie's best scenes, set to soaring Punjabi folk song. The background music is especially brilliant and frisson-inducing in another scene of shocking, blood-spewing carnage that closes out the movie. An early scene where Ranvijay sees how radiantly beautiful Geetanjali with make-up is, is set to a superb remix of 'Kaadal Rojave', with thanks expressed to A.R Rahman. The helmer's movie sentimentalism is on full display here, as he brings back 80s and 90s fixtures Anil Kapoor, Shakti Kapoor, not hesitating to go into the 1960s to bring back onscreen 88 year young Prem Chopra in a brief act.
Cross-cultural angles are interesting to note. Writer-Director Sandeep Reddy Vanga is from Andhra Pradesh, but he deep dives here into the Punjabi language, turbaned bearded blokes and even a sustained jaunt in the Punjabi countryside, as though he's determined to acculturate by hauling bags of the Punjabi flavour that suffuses so much of mainstream Hindi cinema. He manages the leap well with the help of his dialogue writer Saurab Gupta, sprinkling this spunky aggressive beast of a movie with continuous doses of humour which the audience positively responded to, enabling them to better digest so many graphic outbursts. Vanga obviously likes his Hollywood touches - the plagiarism was outright when Zemeckis' superb 'Flight' (2012) was cadged in the latter half of 'Kabir Singh' sinking its first-half brilliance. Thankfully such borrowings are kept to nods in 'Animal', a spread-eagled strangulation done early on by Ranvijay being a clear transfer of Javier Bardem / Anton Chigurh dispatching a police officer in 'No Country For Old Men'.
Ladies soar as much as men in 'Animal' and clearly Vanga is atoning here with female resurgence, trying to make up for toxic male chauvinistic pig shades and female servility he was rightly accused of in 'Kabir Singh'. Rashmika Mandanna is brilliant, her smiling, pristine, radiant face sometimes disclosing an exquisite sarcastic knife-edge, reaching her zenith in a scene of hysterical lashing anger at her cine husband. Tripti Dimri is another wonder - with just a few movies, she's established herself as a polymorphic heroine - looking different and almost unrecognizable in each movie - as a beautiful poignant bride in the landmark 'Bulbbul', then a different kind of haunted young lady in 'Qala' and now in a delicate, layered performace as a young attractive doe bewitchingly released into a den of lions.
Anil Kapoor, as the senior tycoon in a troubled relationship with his rampaging son, is competent but he reiterates what the last two decades have shown us - he was great as the charismatic hero of 80s and 90s films, but as a character actor he lacks the nuance, and may indeed be doing subtle damage to his iconic legacy, though to a lesser degree than the more clueless Jackie Shroff.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room - more precisely, the charismatic marauding lion of this animal kingdom - Ranbir Kapoor. Charm, magnetism, passion are perhaps impossible to teach - and Ranbir has it in spades. After 'Rockstar' and 'Tamasha' - two of his finest works, here is R. Kapoor in rip-roaring form - an angry young man, his tender wise face annointed with a touching vulnerability, which again can ignite with a volcanic rage, intensity and passion that marks him out as a true king. Among his dozen daring thespian flights in the movie, witness the scene where he movingly pleads schoolboy-like in a soft voice with his father to act in a role-reversal play, then paces like a slowly emerging lion and then erupts in a savage snarl to become the supreme animal that lurks in him at any given instant.
Sandeep Reddy Vanga is at an early stage of his thrilling career and he shows the qualities of the visionary Selvaraghavan. Baradwaj Rangan cautioned not to put pressure on young film-makers by prophesying that they do non-stop great things. I agree. Probably Vanga should just lie dormant, and just leave it to God to re-awaken the animal in him at an opportune time.
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