In Scarface, Tony Montana wanted to rule the world. Tony also wanted you to say hello to his “little friend”. Ranvijay Singh wants to impress his daddy. He also wants you to know that his friend isn’t little at all.

Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Animal lays out its phallocentrism in its very first scene, which revolves around an off-colour joke about the things that men do because only they can. Animal is stacked with references to Ranvijay’s prowess both in the bedroom and the battlefield.

The director has never met a smart idea that he couldn’t flog until it fell apart. One of Animal’s set-pieces involves is a gazillion-barrel gun wielded by Ranvijay with the glee of the sexually precocious schoolboy.

Blame it all on daddy: Ranvijay (Ranbir Kapoor), better known as Vijay, is so starved of the affections of his father Balbir that he spends his whole life desperately trying to compensate. He is possessive of family ties and his wife Geetanjali (Rashmika Mandanna), has a propensity to take bazookas to knife-fights and is unable to listen to reason. When Balbir is targeted by his rivals Asrar (Babloo Prithveeraj) and Asrar’s brother Abrar (Bobby Deol), Vijay predictably goes thermonuclear.

Anil Kapoor in Animal (2023). Courtesy Bhadrakali Pictures/T-Series.

To a wafer-thin plot, Vanga brings his alarmingly intimate understanding of the bro code, even as he rummages through a library of older films about anti-heroes. Stuffed with carnage, peppered with overt emotional abuse, and seething with primal feelings, Animal doesn’t set itself up to be liked. But in its unabashed exploration of an emotionally damaged alpha male, the movie is hard to dismiss.

The screenplay, by the director, Pranay Reddy Vanga and Suresh Bandaru (with dialogue is by Saurabh Gupta), promises to get to the root of male violence. The toxic father is a great place to begin – and several previous films have memorably tackled the long-standing damage caused by terrible dads.

Animal’s problems begin with Balbir, who, apart from being absent, straining his vocal cords, and landing a few slaps, is barely a vicious patriarch. Anil Kapoor has been more menacing in Dil Dhadakne Do or even the web series The Night Manager than in Animal. He comes off as a businessman too busy piling up the billions to worry about his sensitive son. Balbir’s wife Jyoti (Charu Shankar), despite being as ineffectual as her spouse, doesn’t figure in Vijay’s twisted matrix.

As a justification for bloodshed, the absent-father motif is flimsy. As an excuse to explore the psyche of a proudly unreconstructed man on the edge of his sanity, Animal is on the money.

Despite Vijay’s numerous perversities, there’s enough leeway to let you decide for yourself if he is demented rather than dutiful, worthy of disgust rather than admiration. A candidate for intense psychotherapy, Vijay staggers from adolescence into adulthood with the lack of self-reflection typical of members of his tribe.

His swaggering has moments of grace, many of them supplied by Rashika Mandanna. In a film that has Ranbir Kapoor in nearly every frame, Mandanna has some terrific scenes. You have to give it to her. Vijay’s courtship of Geetanjali includes the inviting observation “You have a big pelvis. You can accommodate many babies.”

Geetanjali’s response to Vijay’s seduction is as credible as her flare-up when his behaviour spirals out of control. Except for Mandanna, nearly every actor in the sprawling cast – which includes Suresh Oberoi, Shakti Kapoor, Saloni Batra and Triptii Dimri – is reduced to a being a part of a dim constellation around Ranbir Kapoor’s coruscating star.

Bobby Deol in Animal (2023). Courtesy Bhadrakali Pictures/T-Series.

One of the cameos is electric despite coming in late. Bobby Deol’s Abrar has a back story and a twisted present that will presumably be further explored in the threatened sequel.

Not content with a 203-minute runtime, Vanga is still churning out scenes as the end credits roll and even afterwards. The director demands complete submission. He isn’t going to let you off just because your bladder has reached bursting point.

Vanga works too hard to valourise Vijay’s beastly ways. The film is set mostly in Delhi, where bodies drop to an alarming degree but there isn’t a cop in sight. Balbir’s company bears the Swastika symbol, but Vijay doesn’t allow us to make too much of it. (He’s always telling everybody around him how to behave, so why should viewers be any different?)

Vanga, who edited the logic-agnostic movie himself, could have made his point even after excising several scenes. The exploration of Vijay’s base instincts in full flow reflects the mood created by Vijay’s hubris. It’s unrelenting, as riveting as a train wreck – and just as messy.

The discombobulated narrative gains a semblance of purpose in its later portions, where Vijay finally meets an adversary worthy of him. The feeling that Animal is a lost opportunity, too fixated on its whiny hero to understand where he actually comes from, lingers all the way till the post-credits scene.

If Animal didn’t have Ranbir Kapoor at the helm, it would have collapsed, like the men who dare cross Vijay’s path. Kapoor is on fire, inhabiting to a frightening degree Vijay’s delusional personal war. Reptile-eyed even at his smouldering best, Kapoor’s career-best performance makes Animal tough to stomach, but equally difficult to ignore.

Animal (2023).

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