The Misunderstood Animal: Why Ranvijay Singh Balbir is a Feminist

Misunderstood Animal - Kartik Dayanand Boddapati

In this age of short attention spans Sandeep Reddy Vanga has done the unthinkable with his latest film Animal—he has not only managed to hold our attention in the theatres with a film that’s three hours twenty one minutes long, but also managed to sustain that attention by turning the movie into a topic of intense debate that’s still going on.

 

Like everyone else I have an opinion too, rather opinions, and have been tweeting intermittently about them, but the film’s success as well as the criticism it has been receiving calls for deeper introspection.

 

Through this post I hope to touch upon some of the aspects that I found interesting about the film; both good and bad.

 

In the process I’ll also try and explain why I feel Ranbir Kapoor’s character in the film Ranvijay Singh Balbir is a feminist and not a misogynist. I suspect many others feel that way too but don’t realise it yet or are able to say it out loudly. Hear me out and then you can either agree or disagree with me. Whatever it is do let me know in the comments.

 

And a small warning; just like the movie this is a long blogpost. I hope to have your full attention till the end.

 

Here it goes…

Non-linear Approach:

 

There have been many movies in the past that have employed a non-linear approach to storytelling, where the story unfolds in a random order and not in a linear fashion. Flashbacks are one of the tools employed to make this a possibility, in the process giving us a back story too; Prashant Neel took this approach to an extreme in KGF Chapter 1.

 

I watched KGF Chapter 1 multiple times but till date I can’t recollect which scene appears after which one; the sequence is all jumbled up in my mind. That’s how the narrative is structured and it has us hooked to the proceedings with a high amount of unpredictability and anticipation. I wrote a detailed post about that phenomenon last year; you can read it here.

 

Animal does something similar too, especially in the first half. Try as hard as I can I am not able to recollect the exact sequence of scenes in the first half. The only difference between KGF and Animal is that KGF manages to squeeze in multiple scenes and timelines into a single scene but Sandeep Reddy Vanga has a single-minded focus on any given scene—some of them running into many minutes, without worrying if the audience will get bored. But the overall structure is fractured deliberately and stitched together so that the audience is not bored.

 

If other filmmakers try to ape the success of Animal this is one aspect they need to keep in mind; they don’t have to go all out like a KGF but the Animal path seems like a more practical approach.

 

I’ll try and structure this blogpost in a similar fashion too.

 

Let’s jump to our next topic.

Toxic Awareness:

 

One of the complaints the movie has been facing is that it presents a toxic human being as a hero; which is a valid concern.

 

But what intrigues me is that the movie also goes to the root of the behaviour, about why he has become what he has become—and it has to do with bad parenting.

 

The movie has been presented as a father-son relationship drama, and the trailer has that hard-hitting papa papa scene. That one scene has done more good than harm to society by highlighting the perils of neglecting the needs of one’s children.

 

That’s a very powerful message one needs to take away from the overall premise of the movie. If it can change the thinking of even one parent then Sandeep Reddy Vanga has accomplished quite a lot.

 

Having said that; I felt that the father-son relation was not exploited to its fullest and the film meandered into some territories that I found unnecessary. Let’s look at them now.

Uneven Equations:


There are two characters that stand out apart from the main leads. They are the Jija (brother-in-law) character and the Bhabhi 2 character (Zoya). Let’s spend a minute talking about them. Both those characters are two sides of an uneven equation for me.

 

At this point I have to tell you my biggest complaint against the movie—it’s the cinematic liberties taken to move the story forward.

 

So the Jija character is a very important one, plotting against the family, and his phone is already tapped. It is just a matter of time before knowing who else is involved, but our Animal Ranvijay, with full swag goes ahead and kills him.

 

He doesn’t interrogate his Jija to go to the root of the issue.

 

However, what bothered me more was—the same Animal Ranvijay goes to great lengths to build a relationship with Bhabhi 2 to find out what he could have found out from his Jija.


That irked me to no end; I had a similar experience when I watched Rajinikanth’s Jailer where the entire second half is based on a silly quest given by the villain. What could have been solved by tapping one phone is achieved by testing our patience.

 

In Animal’s case it goes a step further. There are hundreds of assassins on the loose trying to kill Ranvijay and his father. They all get slaughtered in the war machine sequence. I had two issues with it, one in the moment and one as an afterthought.

 

In the moment I was wondering who all these folks were, and why they were ready to die like this. There was no emotional connect during that brilliantly choreographed fight sequence.

 

That aside, what bothered me later is how conveniently this act of violence escapes the gaze of law enforcement. Where is the police? Where is the investigation behind who those people are? Which age are we living in? And why does Ranvijay need Bhabhi 2 to crack this mystery when there are so many other ways to do this?

 

But, I found my answers to them too. They came via an interview that filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma gave about the movie.

RGV's Solution:

Ram Gopal Varma has been an active champion of Animal. He not only tweeted praise about the movie but gave two very insightful interviews about the film.

 

Not someone who believes in being diplomatic he clearly mentioned that Sandeep Reddy Vanga probably did not have a story and was focused on each scene at a time.

 

He also mentions about the age-old wisdom that most filmmakers follow—to make every scene in a movie add to the story, else it is an unnecessary scene.

 

RGV goes on to say that Sandeep Reddy Vanga threw that rule in the dustbin and instead wrote scenes to take us closer to the main character, even if it means there are scenes that do not add anything to the actual story. It’s a new approach and it worked wonders for the film.

 

That line of thinking kind of opened my eyes too, and post that I was in a forgiving mood to excuse all the lapses in logic or the storyline.

 

This is one formula that other filmmakers can attempt, but success is not guaranteed.

 

There’s another formula they can try. It originally belongs to an iconic filmmaker from India.

The Mani Ratnam School of Filmmaking:

 

Be it in extraordinary situations or regular conversations there is a certain rawness and charm in the way scenes are written in Animal.

 

We have the lead characters talk about things like sex, and it just comes out like any natural conversation, with a freshness and shock value that we don’t witness often on screen.

 

Sandeep Reddy Vanga has mastered the art of writing such scenes; he did that in his earlier Arjun Reddy & Kabir Singh as well.

 

Mani Ratnam’s movies had this quality since decades, and they have worked brilliantly in his favour. Not many filmmakers are able to emulate this kind of realness.

 

How many of you remember the line mouthed by Priety Zinta’s character in Dil Se, where she casually throws this question to Shahrukh Khan: Are you a virgin?

 

That’s what I am talking about.

 

Interestingly Sandeep Reddy Vanga has a tribute to Mani Ratnam in the film where he introduces both Ranbir and Rashmika’s characters through the remixed tunes of songs from his Roja. I wonder if the name Geetanjali is also a tribute to Mani Ratnam’s 1989 film of the same name.

 

Speaking of which I must talk about the current trend of Pan-India movies and how Animal approaches that.

Pan-India:

The term has gained widespread attention after the success of S.S. Rajamouli’s Baahubali series. Other filmmakers have since been trying to crack a similar formula. They tried by mixing actors from different regions and cross-pollinating elements from across regions.

Sandeep Reddy Vanga does something interesting in Animal.


His hero is based out of Delhi, and with family and cousins from Punjab; his heroine is a Telugu girl; the intro song has a tribute to Mani Ratnam and A. R. Rahman, which instantly appeals to everyone across India but especially to Tamilians since Roja was originally a Tamil film; and then there’s that Marathi Dolby Walya song in the interval fight; and is the name Geetanjali a Bengali sentiment—that’s national integration from North to South and East to West in a very subliminal way. On top of that he also manages to bring in characters from all faiths into the mix and then the Jamal Kudu song which is all the rage now. That’s an interesting stamp of the director.

 

However, what I am going to share next is the real signature of the director. It’s probably what makes Sandeep Reddy Vanga unique from all other filmmakers today.

 

This involves an interesting mind game that seems to mess with the audience. Once I share more details you will also see why I say that Ranbir’s character is a feminist in the movie.

The Dichotomy of Sandeep Reddy Vanga:

 

I have been working on a book called Movies Beyond Stars and one of the chapters speaks about Arjun Reddy & Kabir Singh and how Sandeep Reddy Vanga creates a dichotomy in our minds.

 

I also tweeted about the same when Animal’s teaser was out. Here’s the gist of what I said:

 

Every director has a unique signature, style, or let's just call it a stamp; and it becomes evident as their body of work expands.

 

For those who remember the Arjun Reddy teaser and have now watched the Animal teaser—the stamp of Sandeep Reddy Vanga must be very evident. It involves a dichotomy. A conflict between what's said on screen at different points of time and what's shown on screen.

 

In the case of Arjun Reddy it was the introduction of the hero by the lecturer—as the topper of the class, topper of the university, etc. while showing visuals of the hero doing drugs, drinking, and so on—ending with the line that says zero in anger management or something like that.

 

It creates a conflict in our minds, turning the protagonist into an enigmatic figure that we want to figure out further. It worked brilliantly for Arjun Reddy and later Kabir Singh.

 

The Animal teaser does something similar.

 

Geetanjali states something about Ranvijay's father that seems to imply that Balbir Singh (Anil Kapoor) isn't a good father. But Ranvijay is offended by that statement and instead calls his father the best father ever. At the same time we are shown visuals of him being slapped by his father; forcing us to believe that Geetanjali is right. It's a dichotomy again.

 

What's the truth? We have no clue. And that's what turns everything in that world into an enigma that we want to explore further.

 

The dichotomy that Sandeep Reddy Vanga creates through the structure of his storytelling, especially when promoting his films via the teasers/trailers, is a masterclass in marketing a film and its characters. That's his stamp.

 

He did that with the trailer too, starting with the role reversal of papa and the beta characters.

 

Now let’s see some examples of how he employs this technique in the actual film.


Chinni Chinni Aasa


One of the most iconic songs ever composed about a woman and her wishes is the Chinni Chinni Aasa song from Roja. It’s kind of an anthem for over three decades now. However, in Animal, our hero is introduced with this tune, and he’s on a motorbike, smoking to glory, exemplifying machoism in its truest sense. This is dichotomy at play.

 

Papa Dialogue Role Reversal


We already spoke about it. This role reversal is very impactful. It’s possible only because of the dichotomy of them switching roles for those few minutes.

 

Guns & Schools

 

The loudest cheer in the movie was reserved for the scene where Ranvijay walks into a classroom with a machine gun to confront bullies. But if we take that scene at face value it is a terrifying reality that no one would be willing to give a stamp of approval. We’ve heard of many cases of gun violence in the US and we know what it can do. Yet, here we are, cheering for teenage Ranvijay not just brandishing but also firing a few shots inside a classroom full of students. That’s dichotomy again.


Infidelity

 

This was a bit cliched eventually, but Ranvijay’s objection to his cousins’ extramarital activities finds a jarring echo in his involvement with Bhabi 2. That’s an attempt at dichotomy that I did not enjoy much.

 

Burqas & Smoke

 

Burqa clad women are shown smoking at a wedding. They are the first and second wife of the man who’s getting married for a third time. Are they truly modern women, or are they orthodox? Whatever it is, it makes for an intriguing frame of reference.


Murder in a Wedding

 

Abrar’s introduction looks like an item song, but is followed by murder. We expect this as an audience, but it still makes for an interesting contrast. The final fight also sees Abrar’s death but also the birth of his twins. Dichotomy of sorts.

 

Songs & Fights

 

The most violent massacre in the film has songs in the background—the Arjan Vailly and the Dolby Walya songs. The climax hand-to-hand combat is accompanied by an emotional song instead of the regular sounds we are used to.

 

Also think of the costume that Ranvijay wears during the interval fight; it’s the opposite of what we expect a person to be dressed in at that point of time. And in the climax where we expect guns to go off we are presented with a hand combat.


Aatmanirbhar Bharat

 

And coming to the classic Aatmanirbhar Bharat line—do you know why that line excites us? No, it’s not because of politics.

 

It’s because when we speak of sophisticated weapons we are tuned to believe that they are imported. Every movie we’ve known so far has shown that weapons dealers are from the west, but Animal turns that concept on its head and proudly brings in a Made in India element into the mix. That’s classic dichotomy at play.

 

There are many more such instances in the film, and this is Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s unique stamp. We could probably call it his trade secret.

 

This brings us to the major topic, about why Ranbir’s character is a feminist. This is the biggest con that Sandeep Reddy Vanga was able to pull on us—this is dichotomy on steroids. This is what he did with us.

Ranvijay Singh Balbir the Feminist:

 

Here are the dictionary definitions of a feminist.

 

“Someone who advocates social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.”

 

Another source provides this as the explanation:

 

“A feminist is someone who supports equal rights for women. If your brother objects strongly to women being paid less than men for doing the same job, he's probably a feminist. If you believe that women should have the same political, social, and economic rights as men, you are a feminist.”

 

Even before referring to these definitions the meaning of a feminist is pretty clear in our heads. It is about aspiring for a world where men and women are treated equally.

 

Let’s now see how this plays out in the movie. We’ll pick two examples.

 

Geetanjali’s Alpha

 

Ranvijay and Geetanjali meet on the terrace immediately post her engagement, and we later get to know that Ranvijay has been in love with her since school days.

 

Their conversation on the terrace has two elements to it.

  1. Geetanjali is marrying someone she just heard of a week ago, and met just a day or two back. Something similar to Simran from DDLJ. She’s just following what her parents told her to do, with no real mind or choice of her own.
  2. Ranvijay shares that whole Alpha male theory; he trashes men who use words to impress women, which seems to resonate well with Geetanjali and sets her thinking.

So as an audience we are thinking—Ranvijay is the Alpha male and Geetanjali is the damsel in distress who needs saving. But this is what happens next:

 

Ranvijay has ignited Geetanjali’s mind; in effect empowered her to make her own choice. A choice that’s so powerful and out of her own accord that she leaves home to be with Ranvijay.

 

And what did our Alpha male Ranvijay do; no, he did not use his fists or might to win her—he did what Raj did with Simran at that train station in Europe.

 

Ranvijay actually used words to impress Geetanjali, doing exactly what he told her weak men would do.

 

And mind you, Geetanjali is no Simran who looks for her parents’ validation. She’s a strong independent woman who made a choice and continues to display the same behaviour throughout the movie, even up to the stage where she doesn’t hesitate to leave Ranvijay.

 

She tolerates Ranvijay’s nonsense in the second half to a large extent, to keep her family together, but when she feels enough is enough, it’s game over. She’s the stronger one among the two.

 

I wonder where is that misogyny that the critics of the movie speak about—where the woman is subjected to pain and she tolerates that as a doormat. That doesn’t happen in the movie without repercussions, at least with Geetanjali.

 

Even the point where Ranvijay says to Geetanjali not to marry anyone in case he dies can be reconstructed in a way where he thinks she’s independent enough to lead her own life, with her children, instead of depending on another man. It’s all a matter of perspective and why not entertain that thought and give the writer/director the benefit of doubt.

 

And at this point I have to mention how brilliant Rashmika was in that role. It’s a role of a lifetime for her along with Ranbir’s role. I especially was stunned with her fake smile in the engagement that looked so off and yet so real, to display her plastic emotion at that point of time; I really don’t think many actresses could pull that off so convincingly.

 

Let’s look at the next key example.


Reet's Respect

 

One of the best written scenes in the movie is the escalating conflict between Ranvijay his sister Reet and Jija, at their father’s birthday party.

 

On the surface it looks like Ranvijay is rude to his sister and Jija, but what is he exactly upset the most about—it’s about Reet being mistreated by her husband.


He is once again vouching for women’s empowerment—he doesn’t want his sister to be taken for granted and be treated like a doormat. That’s the underlying current of that whole scene, about why his sister Reet is taking that abuse from her husband.

 

The audience sees Reet getting upset at Ranvijay for his behaviour; which implies that he’s at fault—but what’s at play in the background is that he’s actually rooting for her respect to be intact. That’s the dichotomy staring at us once again.

 

And this is not the first time that he wanted Reet to stand up for herself. The whole gun in the school scene is nothing but a manifestation of the same emotion.

 

Ranvijay is an anti-ragging crusader here—so what does that make him—a HERO!

 

And we clap for him.

 

Sandeep Reddy Vanga toys with our emotions in a grey zone of what’s acceptable and what’s not, and that excites us as an audience—thereby making it the single biggest reason for the craze of the movie.

 

If we look at the emotion behind the action on screen, we will realise that Ranvijay is a feminist at heart. That’s probably what the majority of the audience has been feeling too.

 

At this point I am not sure if the critics misunderstood Animal, or if they misunderstood the feelings of the audience who understood the film quite well.

 

Can we also assume that Sandeep Reddy Vanga is a feminist too since he’s the mind behind the creation of all those characters.

 

Let me know what you think.

 

In conclusion I want to briefly touch upon the aspect of films influencing society and where Animal stands in that equation.

Sphere of Influence:


Films are a piece of fiction and often there’s a chicken and egg type debate about their influence on society. But one thing I am sure of is that films influence other films.

 

Once Mahendra and Amarendra Baahubali decapitated the bad guys in the Baahubali movies, we’ve seen a spate of movies follow suit, especially down south.

 

Almost every big action film this year has a scene of the hero decapitating a bad guy. Think of a Jailer (Rajinikanth), Salaar (Prabhas), Waltair Veerayya (Chiranjeevi), Veera Simha Reddy (Balakrishna), Dasara (Nani); I am sure there are more…and Animal (Ranbir) is one of them too.

 

Our heroes doing such things on screen was rare, but now that process has been normalised.

 

Sandeep Reddy Vanga revived and normalised one such trend that was long forgotten: The hero who smokes on screen.

 

His Arjun Reddy is singlehandedly responsible for bringing smoking back into fashion on screen. Every hero has followed suit since then. Even Rajinikant, Shahrukh Khan, Vijay and Mahesh Babu need that today. They all used to smoke on screen in the past, but then migrated to chewing gum, etc. but are now back to square one.

 

Are people being influenced by their onscreen persona; I am not sure about that, but films are definitely influencing films and in this aspect…Sandeep Reddy Vanga is a social engineer pushing our filmmakers and society to try things that are outside their comfort zone.

 

So, let the debates around Animal continue. Whether we like it or not, thanks to this movie, change is inevitable in the way our movies are made and consumed henceforth.

 

Would love to hear what you think. Let me know in the comments.

 

Till then,

Cheers!!!

Kartik Dayanand Boddapati



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