He may have won many a war but can gentleman SamBaha-dur stand up to the raw ferocity of Animal? On opening day, the box office certainly didn’t give India’s first field marshal a choice. Animal was like a beast unleashed gobbling up all in its wake. At Rs 100 crore, it is Ranbir Kapoor’s costliest film to date (not including Brahmastra) while the producers kept the budget modest when Vicky Kaushal stepped into Sam Manekshaw’s jackboots at about Rs 55 crore. The ticket counters went wild with Animal, collecting over Rs 40 crore on Day 1. The audience tread more warily to watch Sam with no discernible sizzle in sales. Everything about the two films was different.
Meghna Gulzar showed SamBahadur to the media on Wednesday afternoon. The restless Animal wanted critics to go to the theatres on Friday at an unearthly 7am.
Meghna researched her biopic for four years, not basing it on any single book. “We have drawn from various resources, material and conversations with several people, especially with the field marshal’s daughters and other family members.”
It was daunting to tell Sam’s story in its entirety. “His life is so vast,” agreed Meghna, “and accuracy so important.”
Animal, on the other hand, is wild fiction, the maker requiring no accuracy or research except to search the dark recesses of his own mind and watch a Tarantino film for further inspiration.
A legend vs a beast. Fact vs fiction. A gentleman who went to battle but had no bloodlust vs an unchained human who bludgeons because of daddy issues.
Sandeep Vanga Reddy, the man behind Animal, had made Kabir Singh in 2019, a film bashed by feminists and severely critiqued for its male toxicity. But crossing Rs 370 in ticket collections, it was Shahid Kapoor’s biggest-ever hit and made heroine Kiara Advani a star.
“Kabir Singh changed the way people saw me,” agreed Kiara after playing Preeti in it. “Every single person, every producer, director messaged me and that gave me a sense of reassurance and acceptance.” The commerce drowned the criticism of misogyny.
“You have to accept the good and the bad,” Kiara reasoned. “I respected the criticism. But you can’t discard the love the film got.” She didn’t see the toxicity of Kabir. “I saw it as the love story of two people, not as characters representing society or making a statement. I saw it as a character-driven story. I also saw a strength in Preeti for not running back to Kabir when she finds herself pregnant... That worked for me.”
Strangely, Animal has transformed its hero Ranbir Kapoor. One always knew him as a placid guy. Be it his sister’s wedding, the release of his debut film Saawariya or the high-stakes Brahmastra, there was an unflappable equanimity in him. That has vanished with Animal.
It’s like he has discovered the headiness of multi-crore stardom, a market opening up in territories where he’s barely known, and relishing his introduction to the North-South formula of extravaganzas like RRR and Jawan. Slashing his price, doing theatre rounds to ensure that the technical quality will give the audience an enhanced cinematic experience, watching the raw footage and satisfying himself that the inordinate length of three hours 21 minutes is justified, keeping tabs on show timings that required rescheduling because of the uncommon running time, he has gone beyond his brief as hero of the film.
That obsessive animation is a Sandeep Vanga speciality.
Mention the toxicity and veteran actor Suresh Oberoi, who is common to Kabir Singh and Animal, laughs, “You know Vanga. His films are not about sophisticated anger, it’s raw anger.” Vanga’s palpable animation has rubbed off on Ranbir and from the team to a youthful noir-admiring viewership, however mindless and incessant the blood spill. But save a salute for well-mannered Sam amidst all this manic energy.