DIAL A SHRINK SAY THE GIRLSby Vinta Nanda December 6 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 7 mins, 42 secs
Animal is not only a retaliation to the women’s demand for equal rights, it is the callousness of testosterone driven marketers who don’t give a damn about the consequences of the success of such a film, writes Vinta Nanda.
A social media post justifies Animal and tells outraging men and women to loosen up because, it says, the men have been at the receiving end of hyper feminism far too long. The hyper feminism in reference here is of the bra burning and the ‘Mills and Boon’ era when the tall, dark and handsome man, the commentator says, was a trope. He also asks why there is so much anger towards the film, and compares the box-office collections of Animal with Sam Bahadur - the former, he says, has netted over Rs 200 crores in three days and the latter is struggling to cross the Rs 25 crores mark!
This post has prompted me to write the piece because the Mills and Boon and the bra burning feminism that is looked down upon by critics of equal rights movements are things of the past, nonetheless extremely important in context to the feminist history arc.
Recently a young executive asked me for a story for the channel she works for. I requested her to give me a brief and she said, "The story should give audiences an adrenal rush at least six times in every episode". When I asked another young creative director why television and films are going from the absurd to bizarre, she said, "Ma'am I was presenting a story, at a network in which the woman protagonist is pregnant, and the executive told me that it needs meat, more flesh. When I asked her what she meant, she said 'perhaps the protagonist should give birth to a crow'. In such a scenario what do you think writers should do? I have rent to pay, and bills too".
Feminism has evolved and women are demanding equality in all spheres of life today. Never have the feminists claimed that women are protectors of men, hunters or providers, and should therefore dominate, and men must be subservient to them. I wonder, then, why this primal masculinity dragooning the emotions of a section of men feels threatened by the word 'equality'. When the word offends, can you imagine what will happen if women are to ask for a ‘superior’ status? I know that the answer to this question, of those who trivialise the discussion, will be, “But women are superior to men. They give birth to a child. Can men ever do that?” To them I say, “Stop spouting platitudes and get a life!”
Placing women on a pedestal and worshipping them as goddesses trammels the discussion, confines it to binaries and conveniently relegates the demand for equal rights to the ‘hysterics of a few disgruntled men and women who have nothing better to do in life’. We have seen in the last ten years how words like intellectuals, activists and journalists have been twisted, and honourable people are saddled with the portmanteau of uncouth vocabulary like libtards, intellectual mafia, urban naxals and presstitutes. The anger of status quoists is palpable and their assault on the liberal discourse, including women’s rights, is the result of it.
The word ‘equality’ irritates the inflexible masculine nerve in the same way that it sounds criminally audacious to the alpha Brahmin when a Dalit in India demands fairness, especially in the so-called Hindi heartland. And, that's also where women stand in the equal rights discourse now. By this I don’t mean that we haven’t made progress. We have, and how! Which is why with every step taken, the revanche of this particular bastion that minimizes women’s issues is unmistakable.
Coming to the collections of Sam Bahadur versus Animal, let's be clear - ten, twenty, fifty years later, audiences will watch Sam Bahadur because, besides being immensely entertaining, it records history and documents an important time and space. Whether Animal will be visible on the cinema history map, we have our doubts. Why would anyone in the future, who wants to visit the violence of the 19th and 20th centuries, see Animal, when Godfather 1, 2 and 3 are available? Animal is a poor version of the global blockbuster and its sequels, unfortunately descending upon a clueless India 50 desperate years later. Neither is Anil Kapoor Marlon Brando, nor Ranbir Kapoor (whom I see as one of the most promising actors of Indian cinema) anywhere close to Al Pacino as yet, so what are we talking about here?
Collections of superhit films roll in instantly. We know that films like Pathaan, Jawan and Tiger 3, released earlier this year, which broke all previous box-office records, are already dumped in the dustbin of time. As for the memory that will remain, for those who don’t know of the good writing and filmmaking of Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, and have access to only Mr. Vanga’s creativity, if at all Animal is recalled, it will be for violence, misogyny and sexism - words that didn’t have much relevance when Godfather was made as they have now. And, contrasting to that, the memory of Sam Bahadur will be of an experience about a rare man who set benchmarks for valour and commitment.
So, why compare the business of a good film that doesn’t work at the box-office with that of a bad film, which does, is the question I am asking here! To answer this question, we need to go slightly back in time.
I remember when Doordarshan was the only television channel in India (mind you, some of the best storytelling graced the airwaves then) critics often said that the channel will only improve if it has competition. When competition arrived and scores of channels were launched simultaneously via satellite in the early 1990s, we saw the progress for a few years and a wide range of storytelling challenging the monolith collapsing under the weight of bureaucracy called Doordarshan. But then, along with the first term of the BJP government in 1998, led by former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, a savage politics and capitalism interrupted the momentum and started to control what India was thereafter going to be permitted to watch. It’s not as if there was no gatekeeping when Doordarshan was India’s only television network. But despite the hegemony and severe monitoring, a Krishi Darshan and Chitrahaar ran alongside everlasting top-quality serials like Hum Log, Idhar Udhar, Buniyaad, Ramayan, Mahabharat, Nukkad, Circus, Khandaan, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi and more.
Compare that to the tsunami of Saas Bahu serials, which monopolised the entire landscape of storytelling in 1999. All of a sudden women were portrayed as subservient beings, witches, snakes and what else not, and men were characterised as passive onlookers to endless kitchen politics. The television now sitting in every home became a Hindu universe and India’s diversity was eclipsed by the hyperbole that preceded this injustice upon audiences. Storytelling was crushed by callous marketers, newly minted in business schools - the brief to them was simple: earn more wealth for your masters.
Channels competed with each other thereafter, but to grab eyeballs and definitely not to develop better entertainment, powerful stories reflective of people’s lives, which would’ve impacted audiences in profound ways. Conscious storytelling was always as important to the commercial storyteller as it was to the art cinema maker twenty five years ago. Today, because of mindless, crooked and corrupt marketing, sadly, the chasm is so deep that the two ends shall never meet.
The Prime Minister of India celebrated the BJP’s triumph of the three Hindi speaking states, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh only yesterday, and hailed Nari Shakti (The power of women), giving the credit for his victory to women. Does he know that the release of my film #SHOUT, which traces the feminist history of India and the #metoo movement, has been blocked by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), and that I have been asked to eliminate large portions of the truth that we’re telling in the film? Why this hypocrisy? Why such lies? Doesn’t he know that the very same CBFC has certified Animal, a film shamelessly denigrating women? Of course he does! What Nari Shakti and Sashaktikaran is he talking about here?
Scores of girls, fans of Ranbir Kapoor, went to see the film, but walked out mid-way complaining of nauseousness. I will leave you with one more post on social media, of filmmaker Sharada Ramanathan. It reads: “Talking of this new toxic beast that is wrongly titled "Animal"....Ranbir Kapoor is like a metaphor for Israel. Because he be like: I have daddy issues so I'm gonna carpet bomb Gaza and revel in the gore till you get nauseous and throw up. (Yeah, I know folks who actually threw up). This is neither art nor cinema. Repulsive hyperventilation is not ‘performance’. If you are attracted to such a film, you desperately need a shrink”.