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Ranbir Kapoor and Bobby Deol pose for a picture after an interview with 'Gulf News' for their upcoming movie, 'Animal'. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

“People who get easily triggered should stay away from this film,” pronounced Bollywood’s Ranbir Kapoor while promoting his upcoming film, ‘Animal,’ in Dubai. And those with a history of a rough childhood with their dads should sit this one out too, he cautioned.

As far as caveats go, this one is a wacky keeper.
‘Animal’, spurred by brutish players Ranbir Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, and actor Bobby Deol, is directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga, easily one of India’s most polarisng directors. His turbulent romance,‘Kabir Singh’, spawned from his own divisive Telugu blockbuster ‘Arjun Reddy’, was called out for romanticising hyper-masculinity, misogyny, and perpetuating the idea that young obsessive love is desirable.

In Vanga’s rose-tinted-yet-bloody world, a lovers’ spat featuring a good-looking pair of mercurial lovebirds often sees a slap or the guy strangling his girl’s neck before they succumb to unbridled passion. And even that heavy backlash from his moneymaker ‘Kabir Singh’ (which took home over Rs370 crores in 2019) hasn’t disarmed him, but given him more teeth.

‘Animal’ — relatively bloodier and more savage than ‘Kabir Singh’ and produced again by T-series — doesn’t seem to stray from his usual flawed hero template. A violent wealthy patriarch of a dad (Anil Kapoor), a needy and brooding son who’s desperate for his emotionally stunted dad’s affections (a bulked-up Kapoor), a teary woman who loves this disturbed alpha-male of a son grappling with deep-rooted dysfunctional daddy issues (Rashmika Mandanna), boasts the signature Vanga flourishes.

“It’s the A-rated version of ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’,” said Kapoor with a wicked glint, alluding to Karan Johar’s glossy, star-studded, stunningly costumed, and sappy 2001 movie on a wealthy family hammering out their split.

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Ranbir Kapoor moves out of his comfort zone in 'Animal'. Image Credit: Supplied

Kapoor’s perspective

If we go by Kapoor’s reductive analogy, there’s more guns, gore, and gut-wrenching agony than the cloyingly vanilla K3G in ‘Animal’, out in UAE cinemas on December 1. His co-star Bobby Deol, who was a part of this interview, also throws his weight behind his peer. On screen they play enemies, but in real life, Deol seems to have Kapoor's back.

“But aren’t movies based on what human nature is? We see good and bad people … We are good because we control the bad in us, but these are all feelings. Sandeep shows those good and bad sides to a character which everybody feels and even relates to, but they don’t want to be open about it. And that’s what makes him so special as a director because he brings those ugly elements and tells the truth,” said Deol.

But does that equate to being progressive, we ask. “Did you like ‘Kabir Singh’,” shot back Kapoor. While my answer was something on the lines of: ‘yes, but later observed its problematic undertones, plus was in the minority of critics who enjoyed it,’ the seasoned actor was visibly validated.

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Ranbir Kapoor in 'Wake up Sid.' Image Credit: Supplied

“It made more than 300 crores, and a lot of people liked it. You are not alone. I think there’s a certain small section of audience which plays to this narrative of films being toxic. But a movie is a movie. It’s about a certain character and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be that person or you need to endorse that personality he plays … But you need to make movies about everybody, and ‘Kabir Singh’ was about that character and ‘Animal’ is about these characters,” observed Kapoor.

And his finishing testimonial?
“It’s cinema. We are not trying to save the world or fly a rocket ship to the moon. We are here just here for entertainment.”

The son of actress Neetu Kapoor and the late actor Rishi Kapoor knows a thing or two about cinema being an entertainment powerhouse. He was born into the distinguished Kapoor film dynasty and has thrived in Bollywood for over two decades. Despite a middling film debut with Sanjay Leela Bhansali in ‘Saawariya’ in 2007, Kapoor has proved his versatility, displaying superb command over his craft in movies like ‘Wake Up Sid’, ‘Tamasha’, ‘Rocket Singh’, ‘Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’, and ‘Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’. Often, he plays this endearing man-child who learns to adult, with a nudge from his partner, with aplomb.

Personal Connection to Roles

But he seems to have gone out of that relatable-dude zone in ‘Animal’. His character is seen spraying bullets into those who wronged his strict father and swearing vengeance, while telling off his wife for commenting on his troubled childhood.

Bobby was way braver than me. After the shoot, I used to meet him, and he used to tell me about how they shot a [expletive] scene, and I was shocked at how audacious it was.

- Ranbir Kapoor

According to Kapoor, art should have the power to upset, provoke, and perhaps pontificate.
“You don’t necessarily agree with my character, but this is how some people talk and behave. You as a viewer can judge me and have an opinion, but that doesn’t mean we should give ourselves the right to censor it in any form. It doesn’t mean we should only make films which are sanitised. We need to make art that has a certain freedom attached to it. We are conscious as artists that we don’t do something which will take the audience in a different direction or trigger them to get violent or negative. But as filmmakers, there should be a certain freedom afforded to them,” said Kapoor.

Interestingly, Kapoor, married to actress Alia Bhatt and parent to Raha, may champion the cause of democratising art, but claims he had a violent reaction when ‘Animal’ director narrated the script for the first time. Like most viewers who were rattled and perhaps even enraged to know that Kapoor who’s known for his benign, emotionally charged roles had switched to the proverbial dark side by attaching himself to a director known for a violent brand of cinema, Kapoor had an unsettling reaction too.

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I want to not play safe, says Ranbir Kapoor. Image Credit: Supplied

“I said: ‘Excuse me,' and I went to the bathroom. I looked at myself in the mirror and I was so scared, maybe not scared but rattled. A lot of people have this perception that ‘Animal’ is about a psychopath or a cannibal … But it’s not about that. It’s about how human beings can go within complex areas and go to great lengths to protect the people they love … At first, I was scared and told him that I don’t think I can do this part. But as an actor, it was the first time I ever felt like that, and I want to not play safe.” Deol, who cannot speak much about his role, echoed this sentiment. 

In less than 24 hours, the verdict on whether Deol and Kapoor's drastic creative gamble paid off will be clear, but they appear confident of their choices. “I have reached a stage in my career where I want to change my image. I have done stuff which is out of my comfort zone like 'Ashram'. And what makes you do your best is when you break out of that comfort zone playing characters that are interesting and so complex. I was always wondering how I portray them … Our characters in ‘Animal’ are well-written … For me, a negative role can have some heroism in it," said Deol. The son of Dharmendra is an actor who seems to have re-invented himself in his 40s. After playing romantic roles and almost fading into obscurity, he made a comeback with a series of grey roles in web series like 'Ashram', in which he played a duplicitous Godman.

While Kapoor prays that the audiences who get triggered watching violence and dark movies steer clear from ‘Animal’, the actor in him revelled in the grey matter handed to him. “I am an artist, so I want to be triggered … As an audience, if you have a personal backstory with your father or a partner, and if cinema in general triggers them, then avoid this film because this film deals with a lot of different relationships – father-son, sister-brother, brother-brother … They are complex relationships and Sandeep has dealt with it in a very complex manner.”

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Ranbir Kapoor explains why he gravitates towards father-son movies. Image Credit: Instagram

Child is the father of man?

Apparently, his relationship with his own father, the late actor Rishi Kapoor who died of cancer, was far from ideal. “Somewhere, all of us, especially my generation — we have a very particular relationship with our fathers. There was a little bit of distance and there’s a lot of love and respect. We weren’t the best of friends or those buddies who hung out. But when my father passed away, my biggest regret was that I didn’t spend enough time with him. I could not just sit down, hang out, and just chat openly. And if you see all my films, there’s a recurring father-son conflict in my movies. I lean towards them because I feel that shortage in my life or something. I don’t do it consciously, but I just gravitate towards them.”

He has just one request to this journalist and all his legion of fans who may be quick to judge the book by its bloody cover. “Go with an open mind,” said Kapoor.

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Rashmika Mandanna and Ranbir Kapoor in 'Animal'. Image Credit: Supplied

But before we let Kapoor and Deol off the hook, we had to needle Ranbir about a scene from a romantic song that invited an avalanche of memes and trolls on social media. The scene goes thus: he teaches his bride-to-be to fly a plane as he leaves the cockpit to have a quick shower. He’s off to the mountains with her to get hitched. “Having memes to your names means you are relevant in the pop culture scene … About that scene, he’s an aeronautical engineer who studied abroad and he has this fleet of private planes which he flies himself. So, there’s this auto-drive button which will make the plane float … Sandeep wanted to show that this man loves her so much that he trusts her blindly and will lay his life in her hands while he showers,” explained Kapoor. While his skewed logic behind that scene reminds you of those oft-derided Mills & Boon novels where skewed love is glorified, Kapoor was ready to fly with his director’s vision.

“I would really be floored and charmed if I could fly someone to the mountains to get married and then come back.”

While it’s too early to judge if ‘Animal’ would crash-land or skyrocket their careers into a new stratosphere, Kapoor and Deol are in for a bumpy ride since singing up a Vanga film is like plunging down without a parachute called collective goodwill.

And their true goal?

“It’s all about the money. Remember, movies are about entertainment. We are not here to satisfy your intellectual needs. As artists, we want to be part of films that are popular and lots of people around the world will see. ‘Animal’ is a step towards that," said Kapoor. We hear him.