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Ranbir raj in Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s jungle – Beyond Bollywood

Ranbir Kapoor is mighty impressive as the alpha male yearning for his father’s love and respect.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (3 / 5)

By Mayur Lookhar

A puncture wound, few fractures, six bullets, one of them nearly kissed his heart. He wakes up from coma 14 days later to learn that his heart has taken a pounding from the deadly assault, and it needs to be replaced. An ordinary man would take it easy, but our protagonist needs his smoke. His peeved father severely reprimands him. Tensions galore. If it was an ordinary man, the heart would have exploded but our hero/anti-hero is no ordinary man. He is the only son of the richest man in India. What’s the big deal, throw big bucks and there’d be plenty of needy people queueing up at the Balbir Singh bungalow with theirs hearts in hand. 

It doesn’t work like that. The father closes the argument. Though hyperventilating, the son is confident that he will survive. Surely, it’s not the big bucks or power, so where does this animal instinct come from? It’s beyond the realm of ordinary men. Maybe, he isn’t human. He is Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Animal [2023].

True to his word, the man miraculously survives after finding a suitable heart. The deceased donor was the fiancé of a pretty woman Zoya [Tripti Dimri], who soon can’t resist the overtures of the recipient. Before it, the man walked butt naked in his lawn, much to the chagrin of his family. Few weeks ago, he couldn’t bear his own sight. Here is he now almost celebrating his rebirth. We come into this world naked. Why should the rebirth be any different?

A new heart. A new life. What hasn’t changed is the complex father-son equation. Having killed his brother-in-law, and later near 300 men, Ranvijay (Ranbir Kapoor) remains a criminal for his father Balbir Singh [Anil Kapoor]. At 36, Ranvijay still yearns for his father’s love and respect.

A lovelorn Sandeep Reddy Vanga film protagonist is usually self destructive. Ranbir doesn’t drink like Arjun Reddy or Kabir Singh, but all three of them could have done with some help. Reddy and Singh were surgeons, yet they pressed the self destructive button. Ranvijay Balbir Singh was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He sure can afford the best healthcare. A psychologist does turn up. She, leaves, as quickly as she arrived after Ranvijay rebounded her query on sex life.

TOXIC MASCULINITY. Phew, there we go again. Hold your horses. This is not your typical Sandeep Reddy Vanga film protagonist. He has a feminist side to him too but more on it later. There is an unknown threat to the family. Ranvijay feels he alone can save his father, wife, kids, sisters.

The earlier assassination attempt on Balbir Singh led to Ranvijay losing faith in the existing security apparatus. He knows loyalties can be bought easily in big cities. So, the Delhi man goes to his pind (Punjabi word for village) in search of the trustworthy, strong men. His motivating words move the presumably unemployed but strong-as-ox mustandas (brawny men). There he also learns that the enemy is perhaps someone close.

There is no time for self destruction. The man, the ‘Animal’ Ranvijay must hunt and kill the beast before he mauls his family.

At 12, Ranvijay wielded a gun in the classroom to eke out the names of his sister’s eve teasers. The animal in Ranvijay, though, took birth when he squeezed the life out of his scheming brother-in-law Varun (Siddhant Karnick). Fittingly, Vanga chose that moment to roll out the film title. This after a good 30-40 minutes into the film.

No matter the conflict, or time, every action of Ranvijay is aimed to eventually win the love of his father. That belies logic. Here is a man who has longed for his father’s love from childhood, but all he had received is neglect, punishment. Wouldn’t such a child be traumatized by his/her own father? S/he would want to be nowhere near his shadow once turning independent. Papa hehte hai bada naam karega. Ssshhh! That was in the 80s. In the millennium. Balbir Singh could foresee that his son would take a dark path. Despite the fractious father-son relationship, Ranvijay still adores his papa. Therein lies the complex. Summon the psychologist. Oh, didn’t we mention earlier how that boomeranged?

It’s well documented how Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s earlier films – Arjun Reddy (2017) and its Hindi remake Kabir Singh (2019) were partly inspired by Vanga’s own experiences in medical college. Is there something personal in Animal too? Only he can answer it. Highly successful but also controversial, Vanga’s preceding films were called out for its toxic masculinity. The real controversy though came with the sexist, chauvinist comments in a famous interview to a popular media network.

Four years on, Vanga seems keen to change that image with an Animal. Ironical it may be but Vanga’s protagonist showing shades of feminism comes as a pleasant surprise. Being raised around three women (mother, two sisters), a man learns few feminine things. He also had to bear the ignominy of his childhood crush calling him bhaiyya, tying rakhi – courtesy the girl’s nauseating mausi (aunt). F##k it, who needs more sisters when you have two blood sisters? (Your reviewer has four. Maybe, that’s the reason why he is still a bachelor)

For a Vanga film, Ranvijay is way too protective about his siblings, mother, wife. He has a bittersweet equation with the eldest sibling Reet (Saloni Batra), but he cares for her. Ranvijay is all cold when he confesses to Reet about killing her traitor husband Varun. “Don’t worry, this time, I’ll find a better guy for you.” Later on, the same man tells his wife to not remarry if he doesn’t comeback alive after the final confrontion. There goes feminism out of the window! Having vowed fidelitiy, why did Ranvijay cheat on his wife? Was Vanga then merely mocking his critics?

No! In reality, it wasn’t feminism at all. In trying to be overtly protective of his family, Ranvijay was inadvertently imposing himself on his sisters and wife. All along, the mother Jyoti (Charu Shankar) is a silent spectator to the chaos in the family.

Animal lulls you into believing that Vanga has embraced certain feminism. Honestly, a man going against his nature would be farce. We critics can have our say, but after three films, one must accept Vanga the way he is.

There is definitely a marked improvement in Vanga’s storytelling, writing. The first half is near flawless, highly gripping, thrilling, with a dash of dark humour. For a Telangana man to represent Punjab, even Maharashtrian dare is truly remarkable. More than the biggest foe, the Animal Ranvijay would shiver at the baritone of Maharashtrian Tiger under garments, also arms trader Freddy (Upendra Limaye). You Punjabis may have big bodies, but never mess with a fiesty little Maharashtrian. A Freddy is needed to create mass appeal. Gun humour is edgy but Vanga shows great sensitivity in subtly pointing out the ‘pind’ culture. There is this business magnet’s prince returning to his pind after ages. The men are suspicious, but the pretty kunwari kudis (bachelorettes) are harboring NRI dreams at the mere sight of Ranvijay.

Animal hooks you to its world in the first half. Jeez, when was the last time an interval came at the 120th minute? These two hours are among the finest a viewer has experienced.

A certain lull was expected after a peak, but the final 81 minutes are a bit of a dampener. Animal doesn’t fall off the cliff, but the average second half screenplay drags it down by few notches. Bulk of the problem is the poor finale battle.

Ranbir Kapoor, Bobby Deol in Animal [2023]

Bobby Deol’s self-muted Abrar Haque is a beast to begin with. That gave rise to a potential epic battle of the beasts. In such a dampener, Deol’s screentime reduces him to a henchman. The OTT version is reportedly over four hours. We hope Deol gets justice there. What could be the reason for such a character being underplayed? The backstory takes a subtle dig at our noisy neighbour. The barbaric nature, and the culture in the Abrar household runs the risk of stereotyping a community. If you think Abrar is a beast, wait for the bloodbath in the after climax.

It began as a complex father-son story, Animal ends with the expected repentance. Surely, the richest Indian and his traumatized son could have eked out some time for a honest conversation much earlier.

Rashmika Mandanna

The veteran Anil Kapoor continues to reinvent himself in this stage of his career with such intense roles. Meanwhile, Rashmika Mandanna impresses after few disappointing films in her young Bollywood career. Unlike Arjun Reddy or Kabir Singh, the woman here has a voice, and a strong one too as Geetanjali (Mandanna) doesn’t hesitate in questioning her husband. This time it’s the girl who slaps the man. Feminism? Nah, domestic violence of any kind is bad. Geetanjali’s rage though is understandable. Few minutes after raising her hand, the couple is making love.

Music was a key component of Kabir Singh’s [2019] success. Animal’s music pales in comparison. It, however, is appealing in the respective context. Punjabi Tappe (folk) melody being turned into a combat theme isn’t appealing. The background score, production design, the action choreography is top notch. Yes, there is a slight Oldboy (2003) hangover, but Vanga has given the desi touch to the particular action sequence.

Much of the cast does its job, but Animal inevitably belongs to Ranbir Kapoor. Three hours and 21 minutes, we’re still enamored by this character. Gifted, sharp mind, highly knowledgeable, toxic, dark sense of humour, and a self made man.

Was dad’s neglect so strong to turn him into the Animal? Make-up / certain digital de-aging helps Kapoor to get the teenaged look right, but it counts for nothing if there is no soul behind it. Looks or act, Ranbir is convincing in every phase. Jeez, how can Kapoor comfortably speak stuff that would make most people uncomfortable? He embraces the trauma of being a Vanga’s protagonist. He regales in its chaos, and compells you to acknowledge him. Viewers will have their say but Kapoor perhaps delivers his finest performance.

His late old man was his biggest critic. Barring Sanju [2018], he seldom approved of his son’s choices. So, a Ranbir can partly relate to Ranvijay. Up in heavens, Rishi Kapoor would raise a toast to his son Ranbir Raj‘s raj (rule) in Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s jungle.

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