The brunt of 'animal' passion

Through slickly made films like Animal, audience is incited to normalise alphas

Action-drama is a loved genre in India cinema. Over the last seven or eight decades, a steady stream of angry young men and women have fought bloody battles against the demons of corruption, lust, greed and power, to loud whistles, claps and coin-throwing from an enthusiastic audience. The deaths of parents have been avenged, the lost honour of sisters has been avenged, the poor and the downtrodden have risen up to take down their wealthy and powerful oppressors in film after film. Sunil Dutt, Sanjeev Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Sunny Deol, Rekha, Dimple Kapadia, Sridevi, Meenakshi Seshadri… the names just keep rolling off a long and loved list of angry young underdogs. But that has always been the key word. Underdogs. Traditionally, our angry young peeps are all dhool-ka-phools [prospering out of dirt], or as Disney’s Aladdin puts it so charmingly—‘Street rat with a heart of gold’. This is why we, as an audience, connect with them. Because they seem to be one of us—like Manoj Kumar Sharma in the recent, compelling 12th Fail, a young boy rising out of poverty to crack the UPSC, the toughest exam in the country. Hey, even in Shah Rukh Khan’s latest blockbuster outing, Jawan, the protagonist was an orphan baby raised in a women’s prison by a phalanx of female criminals.

But Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s cinema (now three movies old) is busily creating a new genre of hero. Not an underdog, but a topdog, or as he prefers to label them, alphas. These alphas are way too invincible to have humble origins, raped sisters or slain parents. They are rich, accomplished, handsome, successful dudes who have it all. They can be surgeons or scions of industrial houses, but (and this is very important) the world is their oyster. So why are alphas trending? Is it because we live in a world so fractured, uncertain and chaotic that anybody who aggressively projects strength and sureness immediately appears attractive?

Ranbir Kapoor in a still from Animal Ranbir Kapoor in a still from Animal

Or, is it because women are becoming more and more self-sufficient, both in real life and in films, earning their own money, buying and driving their own cars, bonding, drinking and taking girlie vacations together? And the new alpha archetype is a reaction to this trend?

I think it is a bit of both. To humanise this macho, hyper-masculine alpha, Vanga gives him a wound. So in Arjun Reddy/Kabir Singh, the alpha had girlfriend problems and in Animal, he has daddy issues. And because all is fair in love, our alpha then proceeds to run amok for three hours, destroying everything in his path and ‘justifying’ his violent, entitled, animal-like behaviour because love, na. Please adjust, and forgive the gratuitous violence because alpha pyaar mein hai.

All this is lavishly produced, gorgeously shot and brilliantly acted. And because it is all so raw and emotionally charged, it is highly addictive to watch. All toxic relationships are.

Meanwhile, the rest of the cast—kowtowing betas all—stand by and applaud him slavishly. Like literally. In Arjun Reddy there was a scene, early in the film, where a student aggressively shouts ‘stand up for the champion!’ and an entire class of medical students rises obediently to its feet and applauds. The scene is repeated, almost exactly, in Animal. And this is the most worrying thing of all. Of course the underdog hero is a trope, too. But it is a democratic trope. Literally any one of us can aspire to be an underdog. All you need to do is show courage under pressure. But not everybody can be an alpha. Alphas drop down from the sky, rich, fabulous and fully formed. Through slickly made, expensive films like this, the audience is being incited to not only normalise them, but offer them slavish worship.