Eeb Allay Ooo! Movie Review: Prateek Vats’ Berlinale Panorama Selection Is A Surreal, Powerful Satire On The State Of The Nation

Director: Prateek Vats

Cast: Naina Sareen, Shashi Bhushan, Shardul Bharadwaj, Nutan Sinha

Anjani (Shardul Bhardwaj) has just come from his hometown to Delhi, and he’s staying with his sister (Nutan Sinha) and brother-in-law (Shashi Bhushan). The sister is pregnant. Anjani takes her to a nursing home for a check-up, and the doctor asks what he does. The sister says, “Sarkari naukri hai. Bandar bhagata hai.” Wait! What? He chases away monkeys for a living? But the strangeness of the occupation doesn’t seem as important to the sister as the fact that it’s a sarkari naukri, a government job. There seems to be a small amount of pride in her smile. To her, it still means something.

I don’t think the sister would have flashed a smile at Prateek Vats’ Eeb Allay Ooo! This isn’t a sarkari movie. Quite the opposite, in fact. The film opens with the card: Special thanks to the monkeys of Lutyens’ Delhi. Yes, the plot revolves around the real-life menace of monkeys that plagues government buildings in the capital — but could it also be that the animals represent those that run the System? I mean, listen to this line: Monkeys rule Raisina Hill. When Anjani applies for the job of a monkey repeller, he’s asked to watch a documentary on monkeys that’s entirely in English. But it doesn’t matter whether he gets what’s going on. He’s just a cog in a giant, rusty machine. It’s important that we get what’s behind this narration (italics mine): “Because they are treated as gods, they are given food, they are corrupted, they are… made to think that they don’t need to forage anymore. So they become bold… They start demanding. Then the gods become pests.” 

Eeb Allay Ooo! Movie Review: Prateek Vats' Berlinale Panorama selection is a surreal, powerful satire on the state of the nation

Could all this not apply to our netas, too? Look at the powerful man who feeds the monkeys, despite Anjani’s protests. (He thinks he is keeping these Hanuman-avatars happy. The monkeys have been amazingly shot, and some of them even seem to be giving reaction shots.) Could he not be the equivalent of someone bribing an all-powerful politician, who’s the modern-day’s answer to a god? Note the tableau in a procession, with a flesh-and-blood Bharat Mata. Note Anjani’s sister’s question to a roadside baba: How and when will the “achche din” arrive? Note, too, the fact that Anjani is a migrant, just “11th pass”, with barely any useful skill set. Heck, he should be an MLA by now!

Eeb Allay Ooo! (written by Shubham) is a surreal satire on the state of the nation, where humans are reduced to animals and animals are elevated to the status of gods. When electric fences were tried out to control the monkey menace, people protested that the creatures were dying. (The medical facility a monkey is brought to seems posher than the one Anjani brought his sister to.) And when langurs were used to frighten away these smaller monkeys, animal rights groups protested, which made the authorities decide that people should do this job. The soundtrack erupts, periodically, with a didgeridoo. I think it represents a “monkey state”, a kind of mental unhinging.

Anjani is too meek. He cannot forcefully emit the three sounds that make up this film’s title — the sounds that are supposed to repel the monkeys. He is humiliated by these sounds. He is humiliated by the monkeys. He is humiliated by his boss. He is humiliated by his colleagues, who shut him up in a monkey cage and feed him a banana through the bars. At one point, he paints his face black and wears a langur costume to scare the monkeys away. And he slowly descends into the “monkey state”, with the didgeridoo accompanying his dehumanisation. Let’s pause for a second and reflect on the irony of his name. “Anjani” is itself from the Hanuman legend. Clearly, just being named after a god isn’t enough.

Eeb Allay Ooo! Movie Review: Prateek Vats' Berlinale Panorama selection is a surreal, powerful satire on the state of the nation

Now, let’s look at Anjani’s sister (Nutan Sinha gives a fiercely committed performance). The woman is a small-time entrepreneur, selling spices. She has accepted the status quo. She knows this is how it’s going to be in this hovel surrounded so thickly by other hovels that you can scarcely see the sky. Yet, she has her quirks. The outside (her neighbourhood, her city, her country) may stink, but inside, she wants things to be clean and nice. She’s like many of us. We can’t change the big things, but maybe we can at least make our lives liveable.

Now, look at her husband. At first, he is this genial chap. He’s a security guard and he’s excited about the prospect of a salary raise of about Rs. 1000. But he, too, is not qualified for the job. Like Anjani, like many of the people in the System, he is a contract labourer who’s doing something not because he is good at it but because this is what he got. And when he’s told he has to now handle a rifle, he’s terrified — he begins to unravel like Anjani. Both Shardul Bhardwaj and Shashi Bhushan are superb at conveying a bland kind of pleasantness, which makes their subsequent descent into “madness” not only convincing but chilling.

The few moments of grace come from Anjani’s neighbour, played by Naina Sareen. There’s some ultra-mild flirtation, but this is the kind of movie that’s more concerned with Mahender (Mahender), whose family has been screaming eeb and allay and ooo! for seven generations. He’s the “skilled worker”, if you think about it. What happens to him — and more importantly, why — may be the film in a nutshell. Too grim? I’ll leave you with a joke. At one point, Anjani decides to prop up photographs of langurs at various places to repel the smaller monkeys. One of these pictures is found in front of Vigyan Bhavan, the house of… science and knowledge. Ours is indeed a country of great contradictions.

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