Animal: Did Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s film plumb the depths of male depravity?

In a recent tweet, renowned poet, lyricist, and singer Swanand Kirkire expressed his disgust and disappointment at the Ranbir Kapoor starrer Animal. Commenting about the problematic aspects of the movie, he said, “Mehboob Khan’s Aurat, Guru Dutt’s Saheb Biwi aur Ghulam, Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anupama, Shyam Benegal’s Ankur and Bhumika, Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala, Gauri Shinde’s English Vinglish, Shoojit Sircar’s Piku and many such films have taught me how to respect a woman. But after watching Animal, I really felt pity for the women of today’s generation.

Now a new man has been prepared for you, who is more scary, who does not respect you that much, and who aims to subdue you….’’ What also shocked Kirkire is Ranbir Kapoor’s dialogue that those men who are not able to become alpha, they become poets to impress women.

As a poet, Kirkire felt that such regressive dialogues demean and belittle poets and writers, which runs counter to the fundamental principles or norms of a civilised society.

Animal has potential to foster negative social dynamics

It appears the movie Animal has the potential to foster or exacerbate negative social dynamics and attitudes among those who watch them. It can also influence or trigger negative behaviour, attitudes, or reactions among people who watch it. This could include promoting harmful stereotypes, glorifying violence, and romanticising destructive behaviour, that can have real-world consequences.

Movies have a powerful impact on audiences, shaping opinions, perceptions, and sometimes even actions. If a film perpetuates harmful ideas or encourages behaviours that are detrimental to individuals or society as a whole, then it warrants serious consideration and thoughtful reflection.

In Animal, Ranbir Kapoor’s character displays traits of an alpha male and exhibits shades of a Byronic hero, existing within a morally ambiguous or grey area. They engage in questionable actions and distance themselves from social structures and norms to maintain their sense of autonomy.

Worrisome factors in movie

What is worrisome is that such movies that propagate male dominance and uphold patriarchal values can potentially influence viewers to mimic those behaviours or adopt similar prejudiced attitudes, leading to negative consequences in society. In the movie, Ranbir Kapoor’s character, characterised by defiance and rebellion, reaches a new low in male depravity. He can be seen talking down to his father and justifying his violent tendencies after almost beating six boys to a pulp simply because they harassed his sister in college.

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Right from the beginning, a sense of self-righteousness informs his behaviour. He believes that in order to survive in this world, a man has to be assertive, violent and aggressive. In other words, he believes, one should not be emotional, reflective or conscientious, as these virtues are considered unnecessary burdens which should be discarded.

In the storyline, Ranbir Kapoor’s character exhibits obsessive and abusive behavior towards the heroine (Rashmika Mandanna). He makes derogatory remarks about her body, mentioning that her larger pelvis can supposedly accommodate healthier babies. Additionally, he resorts to physical violence by slapping her at one point. It is a crass display of warped male sensibility and a twisted mindset.

The underlying message

The underlying message is evident: In our society, boys are often raised to perceive themselves as superior to girls, enabling them to get away with such transgressive behaviour. Be it Kabir Singh or Ranbir Kapoor’s character in Animal, their understanding regarding matters, particularly those related to gender, is skewed and abnormal in some way. Perhaps qualities such as decency, sensitivity, and sobriety of a hero while interacting with a girl no longer hold importance.

Filmmakers often stress the need to suspend disbelief while watching commercial movies, arguing that male aberrations and perversions depicted in reel life are detached from real life. What a load of codswallop! Movies like Kabir Singh and Animal appear to glorify male dominance and entitlement in our society.

There are innumerable instances of possessive and pathological young men resorting to extreme measures, such as killing a live-in partner or attacking a girlfriend in broad daylight, if their demands are not met. An emotionally vulnerable hero might not attract audiences into the theatre because people may not be interested in watching a character who is perceived as weak or struggling with inner conflict and insecurities. What defines a hero if not someone who embodies abuse, aggression and a disposition filled with bitterness?

Changing dynamics of Bollywood

The changing dynamics of Bollywood can be observed in the declining trend of portraying heroes as poets, indicating that this particular portrayal has fallen out of favour. Who can forget the character of Rajendra Kumar as a creative and budding shayar in the movie Mere Mehboob (1963); Amitabh Bachchan as a romantic young poet in Kabhi Kabhie (1976) whose character falls in love with a student of his class (played by Raakhee) in college, and Raj Babbar (Haider) as a poet in Nikaah (1982). Perhaps we live in an era dominated by OTT movies that normalise abuse and sexual violence to an alarming extent.

Animal brings to mind the dreadful prospect of the hero archetype being celebrated for qualities that civilised society vehemently opposes.

(The article is published under a mutual content partnership arrangement between The Free Press Journal and Connected to India)