'Animal': Sandeep Reddy Vanga 2 – Liberals 0

K Balakumar

Dec 02, 2023, 06:27 PM | Updated 06:27 PM IST

Screengrab from the 'Animal' film trailer
Screengrab from the 'Animal' film trailer

It is not known whether the protagonists in Sandeep Reddy Vanga's films — by the way, he is just two films old — are in-your-face offensive because he is that kind of character in his everyday life.

It could also be the case that the Animal director has embraced a provocative persona in a bid to add an extra ring of conviction to the leading men in his films.

You never know these days; the line between reel and real has become vague because of the performative compulsions of our media-dominated lives.

Whatever may be the case, Vanga seems to revel in churning out bad boys, while also being one. That is the artistic slot that he seems to have deliberately picked.

When he arrived on the scene with Arjun Reddy (2017), apart from the usual spiel to hard-sell the film — mind you, it was a film bankrolled by his dad and brother — Vanga was relatively less prickly.

The film, if you remember, had the critics effusive in their praise, even if they noted its rawness and unconventional characterisation.

But once the film caught the eye of the woke and liberal gang, the narrative began to include the now-boilerplate words of 'misogyny' and 'toxic'.

Those labels seemed to spur Vanga into an offensive that he had not exhibited until then (at least in press conferences). And by the time Kabir Singh (2019), the remake of Arjun Reddy in Hindi, was made, Vanga had found his niche.

The more the liberal gang hated his film — and him, by extension — the more he felt a strange vindication, and revelled in being an enfant terrible of sorts. Or so it seemed.

The writer Manu Joseph once postulated the idea that the rise of right-wing politics around the world owed as much to the ideology as to the innate desire of many people to — pardon my French — piss off the liberals.

Vanga certainly seemed possessed of that feeling, and there was no doubt what kind of film his next one would be. If anything, he was going to double down on the raw and visceral sensibilities that were on show in Arjun Reddy.

Animal is to wokes what Pathan was to the right wing

Starting from the title Animal, Vanga seems to have gone for the jugular, as it were, and left no one in doubt about his ideas and ideology.

In press conferences, he was willingly contumelious and scornful (of the liberals). If the Arjun Reddy characterisation was a page from his past life, then somehow the Animal lead was said to be cut from his own cloth.

How come? Clearly, he was taunting the woke types and playing to their gallery.

Why? Perhaps, he hated them and their posturing. Or he had smartly sussed that his kind of movies need the kind of publicity that they inadvertently but inevitably bring.

The Animal trailer seems to have the clear idea that it would trigger the woke cabal. The decidedly 'obnoxious' and 'repulsive' bits were cherry-picked to make the cut (aggressively holding the neck of a lady, letting loose a volley of abuse, and so on).

It aggrieved the bleeding-heart types who waited with metaphorical sharpened pens to pounce on the film.

And voilà, on the first day of the film's release, they were all over the film with Pavlovian predictability, tearing Animal apart with beastly gusto.

In the process, they also provided the film with all the buzz that it needs on social media platforms. Animal seems to have garnered some extraordinary numbers across the globe.

Where I watched, the audience seemed to be as many hate-watchers as many whistling 'incels', the kind that Vanga's movies are said to be made for.

In a sense, Animal is to wokes what Pathan was to the right wing. The mediocre Shah Rukh Khan film is believed to have made its money based on the silly protests of the right-wing brigade.

Animal was always going to be the film that it is now being criticised for. The opinions were already there, ready in the folders. And all they needed was for the 'publish' button to be hit.

It is a typical performative charade. But Vanga will not be complaining. He troll-baited the woke gang, with both his press conferences and the film, and it all played into his hands.

How politically correct must fictional characters be

How is Animal as a film? It is near-impossible to make an objective assessment in the current impassioned milieu, where people adjudging the film are judged themselves.

Of course, the hero is a, well, alpha beta. He has plenty of gremlins in his mind because of his fraught relationship with his dad, who has little time for his son.

And when the dad is in peril, the son steps up and lets loose his inner demons on the bloody attackers.

The dialogues are raw or vulgar, depending on your viewpoint. The action is gory or intense, based on your perspective. The hero is misogynist or impertinent, as defined by your sensibilities. He is toxic or in-your-face, as you choose to see.

The film is compelling in certain portions, but Vanga drowns this over-long film with his outrageous idiosyncrasies. But Ranbir Kapoor, with his experience of having played Sanjay Dutt (a man who had a fetish for guns and drugs), is apt for the role.

Anil Kapoor is also sterling. But the rest of the cast have little to do in the overall scheme of things.

But Animal also reopens the old debate about how politically correct fictional characters should be. The expectation that make-believe personalities should have acceptable character traits is silly, and also amounts to cultural fascism.

The very same leftist gaggle are usually up in arms when 'their literature' is sought to be 'curtailed'. But when somebody like Vanga comes up with characters full of affront and chutzpah, the liberals are not ashamed to play censor. That is why they are increasingly getting called out.

Of course, they have every right to dislike the film or express displeasure at the plot or direction. But to evaluate a film based on the political correctness of the characters is not what good film criticism is all about.

To expect edgy and new characters on one side, and also police what is kosher in art, is a sure way to kill it. Alas, that's what is happening.

In a sense, the joke is on the left liberals. And that is what is making the likes of Vanga to laugh all the way to the bank.

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