Parental love and loyalty

What Animal Tells Us About Desi Men and Daddy Issues - (Parental love and loyalty)

It was Bobby Deol's (Abrar Haque) casual demeanor - as he smoked on Ranbir Kapoor’s (Ranvijay Singh) back, nonetheless - in the "Animal" trailer that intrigued me enough to take a break from work and parental responsibilities for an afternoon show to explore parental love and loyalty the desi toxic way.

There’s no other way to say it. Yes, the film delves into problematic themes - from unfair judgments of Rashmika Mandanna’s (Geetanjali) family - to multiple attempts at justifying infidelity. "Animal" chooses to portray them as societal realities that are problematic and have been normalised.


I’m not here to give you my two cents about the film. This is not a review. I repeat: this is not a film review. Critics haven't spared the movie, criticising it for its misogynistic undertones, which become evident five seconds into the film. Cringe-worthy moments include a psych evaluation that would have you eye-rolling, multiple scenes where the only thing driving the plot are intimate details about Ranvijay's sexual relationship, and that infamous bit where ‘someone decides that the only way to truly express your love is by having your shoes licked’ - words that I never thought I would construct together.  


Let's delve into the film's most apparent issue — the portrayal of love and loyalty to one’s family, irrespective of the trauma each can cause in extremes (and oh boy, will you be surprised). "Animal" (rather unfortunately) perpetuates the belief that parental love is the most important form of affection, and individuals must strive to "pass" this test. This narrative extends beyond the film, influencing real-life decisions such as career choices, selecting partners, and even shaping one's relationship with their own body. Ranvijay's alteration of his appearance for his father's approval mirrors the extremes many go to, subjecting themselves to excessive workouts and restrictive diets to meet parental ideals, completely ignoring the fact that this ‘cathartic journey’ is definitely taking a toll on physical and mental well-being. All too often, women come into therapy with body image concerns perpetuated by their mothers. There is a wealth of research that talks about the dietary habits and parent’s own self-image that influences their child’s body image. As humans, we observe and replicate. The rest of the story writes itself.

Ask yourself this: Why do we, despite being fully aware that our parents are capable of inducing trauma, find this relationship the toughest to navigate? 

Ranvijay categorically states that his father was not the world’s best father growing up - and he proves it by reenacting a scene from his childhood identifying his father’s problematic behaviour - you get the gist. But does that stop him from loving him unconditionally? Does it stop him from performing his child duties of parental love and loyalty? Does he stop caring for him? Worse, does he stop yearning for his approval? No. 

There is ample evidence that states there is a strong link between negative parenting styles and mental health struggles. Rohner, a psychologist who researched this, stated that the parental acceptance-rejection factor is one of the major factors influencing children’s mental health. His research, conducted in 9 countries, stated that fathers were more rejecting and less accepting than mothers. He found a strong association with adolescent psychological disorders. Let’s be clear; Ranvijay needs therapy and is definitely disturbed - and although it may be hard to identify what psychological concern he may have, there are clear indications of a personality disorder and unhealthy attachment styles. 

Ranvijay’s actions cause hurt, pain and trauma on others. His character shows a lack of awareness and insight about his own emotions and its impact on others.You can say he seems a bit self-absorbed. In fact, he’s a lot like his father Balbir Singh - a man who did not consider his son’s emotions when he shipped him off to boarding school, made him apologise to his brother-in-law for no fault of his own, or continuously ignored him as a child. Research states that emotionally immature parents tend to rear children who feel emotionally neglected and develop an insecure attachment style. A tale as old as time, no?

Attachment styles affecting your romantic relationships are easily evidenced by Ranvijay’s insecurity in his relationship with Geetanjali - when he thinks she will leave him post his surgeries, he resorts to repeatedly snapping her back with her bra strap - ‘whipping’ her, for mistakes she’ll never make Even though Vanga may have tried to make amends for the scene as a juxtaposition of his vulnerability, let us not forget that this is a form of emotional and physical abuse brought upon his by own insecurity and need for control. 

It’s a pattern that repeats itself over the course of the movie: when Geetanjali dares to assume that Ranvijay does not want to be a father like his own, or later in the movie, when she chooses to speak up against their unhealthy relationship, she is met with a sharp, aggressive, and unforgiving partner. The notion that we can endure personal insults but cannot accept any suggestion of wrongdoing towards a parent is a stark reality. The truth is, no parent is without mistakes, but accepting this reality - especially when it comes to the Indian parent - seems like an incredibly challenging feat.

The narrative imposed on us — that there is no one greater than our parents — almost feels like a sin when questioned. We're told they are meant to accept us unconditionally, but if they don't, can we truly be accepted by others? Do we even allow ourselves to accept who we are? 

Unfortunately, the answer is often no.

We desire their validation and are willing to go to extremes for it. Fighting for parental honour is considered the greatest thing a child can do, even if they are wrong (making one feel that they will finally be accepted by their parents). Real-world family disputes force everyone to pick sides, leading to strained relationships even between the closest of cousins. The movie portrays Ranvijay waging what feels like a war to protect his father, with threats to his life arising from the inherited pain his cousins feel for perceived wrongs committed against their father. Each side has its version of truth, leaving us to wonder — when does it stop? Does it stop with an apology or an assurance? Or is the loss of our sanity and life worth avenging these perceived ills? We carry forward this trauma and often lens our world. 

To restate, questioning parents in Indian households is often frowned upon. Most desi-kids are raised in homes with restrictive rules, and any disobedience often results in punishment. This internal dialogue - that our parents are the ultimate authority and right - in ingrained from the very beginning. We are not allowed to question, or even the thought of questioning their authority is a sign of disrespect and often met with punishment. 

Why? Because we are taught that parents and teachers are manifestations of God. They must be respected, feared and are always right. But they seldom are. 

The assumption that the Indian parent holds “Mein tera baap hu” is enough to accept an order, command, or an instruction. The biological relationship gives them the upper hand at everything everytime, or so we are told

But the real question is: so what if you are my father?

Many people are acutely aware of deeply rooted problems with their parents but choose to do nothing about it. They allow unhealthy responses to behavior to persist, perpetuating problematic behaviors through their silence, and the belief that they should always stand by their parents.

While we may understand in theory that such behavior is unhealthy, we are able up to identify these problematic patterns, and I can only offer clichéd words of wisdom about self-love and acceptance. However, the journey is arduous. 

These beliefs are deeply ingrained in our thought patterns, and despite years of therapy, moments of cognitive fatigue may lead us back to old, maladaptive thinking. But should one cease their fight against this pattern? Absolutely not! 

I firmly believe that intergenerational trauma must stop here. While mistakes will inevitably occur, causing hurt and pain, we must consciously refrain from perpetuating actions that harm us. So, when Geetanjali’s character decides to leave for the USA with her kids, I understand her perspective — she may always love Ranvijay, but subjecting her children to a traumatic environment and parental figure is simply not worth it, and it must stop.

Vanga has made a visually appealing movie which is excruciatingly problematic (as instances of physical abuse or marital rape are cleverly disguised under the illusion of gorgeous cincematography and nuanced characters). Most individuals, especially ones who do not have their filters in place, will not be able to see through it. As a therapist, I would have liked a deeper dive into the relationship between Balbir and Ranvijay’s relationship - this would have enabled a lot of patriarchal families to understand the importance of a father’s role in their children’s life is much more than merely being a provider. 

Also, I think Indian cinema, the biggest influencer in India, needs to acknowledge that they have the power to control and influence the minds of people, their relationships, their allegiance and their perception of themselves. With such great power comes even greater responsibility (thanks for those words, Spiderman) and maybe it’s time they act responsibly towards building a healthy world for the next generation.

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Meet The Author

Meet the Author

Priyanka Varma

Priyanka believes emotional and mental health care are at the very core of us experiencing happiness in our life. Priyanka enjoys working with young adults and understanding life as it changes with intrusions like the internet and the pandemic. Above everything else her true love is homemade chocolate cake.

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