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ANIMAL: In the Defense of the 15-20 Jokers

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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at MUJ chapter.

Content Warning: This piece is a critique, and not intended for defamation by any means.

“Separate Art from the Artist.”

The most vehement hogwash delulu people feed you

Sandeep Reddy Vanga. A name you’ve most likely heard many times in the past few weeks. But if you haven’t, let me introduce you to this character. He is a South-Indian film director who is known to make films men love and women(well, most) hate. He recently made his second release, ANIMAL which has been doing extremely well at the box office, woefully so.

The director has been receiving rash criticism recently for his portrayal of violence and frankly zero-dimensional representation of female characters. But why is he the only one that receives such criticism especially when violence seems to be an integral part of Indian filmmaking? Because the glorified violence always has a moral aspect. While this moral aspect is evident in the way Ranvijay, the lead of ANIMAL displayed towards his sister’s college bullies(due to them touching her without consent) – the purpose is entirely defeated when he does the same to his wife in the latter half of the film(in which she clearly asks him to stop hurting her).

“When you are deeply in love and deeply connected to a woman (and vice versa), if you don’t have the liberty of slapping each other, then I don’t see anything there.[sic]”

Sandeep Reddy Vanga (during an interview post Kabir Singh (Arjun Reddy Hindi remake) release with Film Companion)

Interview link.

Content Warning: The following paragraph contains non-professional advice, consider an expert’s opinion on the same. 

This is the philosophy both male leads Arjun and Ranvijay follow. Are you surprised that these fictional characters(written as heroes) share the same beliefs as their creator? I would assume not. And that’s because Art is a reflection of the Artist’s mind. And respectfully, if you share this belief, please do consider therapy. Because there are other ways to show your love to your woman, besides abusing her. Many Asian children are conditioned to believe abuse is love under the notion of ‘tough love’. It may be beta of me to say that love doesn’t need to be tough, but it’s a belief I carry proudly. This criticism goes to all the films that show women slapping male characters too. Abuse is abuse, no matter who the recipient is.

“Those who are asking me to visit a psychiatrist should consider visiting one instead.”

Sandeep Reddy Vanga(during an interview post ANIMAL release with Komal Nahta)(translated)

Interview link.

There is no shame in getting professional help to battle your insecurities. Everyone carries generational trauma, and therapy is a great way to ‘break the cycle’. It’s considered a good habit to pay a visit to your therapist even when everything seems fine. A general check-up, just the way you would for your physical body. So yes, I’d be delighted to visit a mental health professional. 

Personally, the rugged violent acts aren’t a cause of concern for Vanga alone. The whole ‘little boys will take inspiration from this violence’ holds true for everyone! And when a film is rated PG, or A – it is the parents’ due diligence to keep their impressionable children away from such content. But what is unacceptable at least from this “feminist joker’s” point of view is the way Vanga tends to portray the women in his films. Were there no female scripters present in the room? How exactly do you think women’s minds work?

I don’t even have to draw far and wide to know Vanga’s films inspire young men. No, I’m not talking about impressional children – I’m talking about impressionable adults. The female leads in both his films aren’t even one-dimensional; they’re dimensionless. In Arjun Reddy, the self-titled lead ‘claims’ Preeti, like she’s food in the office refrigerator. She’s even afraid of him initially but later falls in love with him. The proper label for this would be Stockholm Syndrome. Many of my own peers believe that Arjun Reddy is a great love story. If you genuinely believe Reddy is an inspiration to pick up girls – you’re heavily mistaken, and you might even get in trouble. Whereas in ANIMAL, Geetanjali falls flat for Ranvijay the moment he fed her bogus about how the women in our ancestry would choose alpha males to hunt or whatever. Women in our ancestry also used to jump into the pyre of their dead husbands. I’m not overly thrilled to be just like them. In today’s world, women buy the food they want, and the only animals they need are their pets. 

Many argue that Arjun Reddy is just fiction and it just portrays how the self-titled character ruins his life. Then why does he suddenly lose addictions because of shaving his beard? A clean look does not fix substance addiction. Preeti had suffered a lot of abuse during her relationship with Arjun, yet he is forgiven easily. Women don’t forget the horrible things you do to them if you clean up a little. Their brains work like normal human brains – believe it or not. Films need to stop portraying women as ever-so-forgiving beings. They have anger too, and they can act on it too. It’s almost as if the word ‘No’ doesn’t even exist in their vocabulary! Fiction can be fake, but it shouldn’t be misleading. Substance abuse has dire consequences. 

There are other films like ‘Joker’ starring Joaquin Phoenix, an adaptation of the iconic DC villain. The storytelling in that film is in such a way that you can understand why he had turned out the way he did – but you wouldn’t use that as an excuse.

“Arjun Reddy, or Kabir Singh – both had the visual grammar of glorification that Joker did not. Joker literally just showed us like – facts, facts, facts. At no point did I condone the character’s decision to kill everyone.”

Parvathy Thiruvothu (Best Performances of the Decade Decoded with Film Companion)(paraphrased)

Interview link.

 A pattern that is evident in ANIMAL as well, Ranvijay mulls through a psychotic break because Daddy didn’t show him enough love growing up and it has led the audience to justify his behaviour! This comes purely from the portrayal of the character as a hero(Note that the term used here was hero and not protagonist). His origin story is that he had everything in life; money, luxury, status. Simply put, daddy issues alone made him that way. Get a cooler backstory, dude!

“Misogyny is disrespect to women. This is the actual definition, right? So, no. Even Kabir Singh, even Animal, even me as a person. I always feel […] my production house name is Bhadrakali Pictures and I don’t know why people think…not too many people, only these 15-20 jokers. But it’s a wrong word to use on Kabir Singh, Animal.[sic]”

Sandeep Reddy Vanga(Interview with Baradwaj Rangan on Galatta Plus)

Interview link.

Actually, misogyny isn’t just about disrespect. It’s about prejudice too. Prejudice refers to a preconceived opinion that isn’t based on experience. Like thinking a woman with a bigger pelvis would bear good children(not to be gross, but the other party of baby-making needs to be good too, just saying). Oh and yes, disregarding concerns presented by a minority group about said group and calling them a bunch of jokers counts as prejudice too. If only the ‘I named my company a man’s name so I’m not a man-hater’ excuse worked for women who stand up for themselves too.

Now, I’m not saying a movie with violence needs to be boycotted or anything. In fact, I’m not asking you to boycott ANIMAL either. You can choose what you want to watch and judge it for yourself. And I get it, action sequences are cool. But, if you’re going to call a movie good – it needs to have more than action sequences. An interesting backstory, and poetic dialogues. Films should provide doors to escapism. Entertainment should not be at the root of someone’s violation. That’s what a good film is. And A-rated films can achieve that too. Many people have defended ANIMAL for the thought and attention to detail put into various scenes. I don’t really get what part of ‘man drives plane by having sex’ is considered attention to detail, but pop off, I guess.

 “Because these guys are calling this[Arjun Reddy/Kabir Singh] as a violent film, I’ll show them what violent film will be.[sic]”

Sandeep Reddy Vanga (Interview with Film Companion)

Interview link.

 And that you did, brother. So much that you forgot to give the film a plot. Don’t worry, you’ll figure the balance out in your next one :)

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"Even all the scars from your mistakes make up your constellation." -BTS (Answer: Love Myself) Note: Vyjayanthi was the Senior Editor, later turned Editor-in-Chief of HCMUJ in the 2023-24 tenure. She will continue to contribute as a writer for HCMUJ during the 2024-25 academic year after which she will graduate! :) My day job is being a full-time B. Tech CSE student at Manipal University Jaipur, while my more so evening-time-job is being the Editor-in-Chief at this chapter. I occasionally dabble in expressing my opinions in literary form. I'm an ardent supporter of feminism, especially in the LGBTQ+ community. I'm passionate about making my mark by creating a voice for things I care for. In my free time- I enjoy reading, writing poetry, and basking in over-analysed fan theories and song lyrics. What can I say? I disguise my covert narcissism as altruism :)