Berlin Hidden Gem: 'Eeb Allay Ooo!' Depicts Satirical Look at Professional "Monkey Repeller"

Berlin International Film Festival
Migrant worker Shardul Bhardwaj (right) is tasked with keeping wild monkeys away from government buildings in New Delhi.

Director Prateek Vats says his film about the monkey business in New Delhi has parallels to social unrest around the world: "It's a story about the times we live in right now."

Are animals more precious than humans? For his debut feature, Eeb Allay Ooo!, Prateek Vats lets the audience decide what to make of the real-life monkey menace that has long plagued the high-security areas around government buildings including the parliament in India’s capital, New Delhi.

Against the backdrop of this surreal satirical premise, the story revolves around Anjani (Shardul Bhardwaj), a migrant from rural India who can’t find employment in the city and ends up working for a monkey repeller squad (think Ghostbusters for monkeys) under government contract.

"It’s a story about the times we live in right now," says Vats, pointing out how frustration with the establishment is boiling over in many regions, such as Hong Kong and India, which has recently witnessed massive protests against the government’s revised citizenship law. "The film is mostly set in the high-security areas of Delhi where authorities can’t control monkeys, which is so ironic," he adds.

Inspired after reading an article about a real-life monkey wrangler Mahendra Nath, Vats decided to do some further research, which led to a few startling discoveries. "At one time, langurs [longtailed monkeys] were used, since [other] monkeys fear them, but animal rights groups protested, which led authorities to find other solutions, such as including some monkey repellers dressed like langurs," he says.

Nath became deeply involved with the project and was also cast as Anjani’s guide to learning the unique art of vocalizing the sounds of the langur, which became the film’s odd-sounding but catchy title.

The film’s tight crew mostly consisted of alumni from the Film and Television Institute of India, like Vats, including lead actor Bhardwaj, co-producer Shwetaabh Singh and cinematographer Saumyananda Sahi, who had to overcome the constraints of filming in high-security areas on a shoestring budget.

Vats sees parallels between the struggle to get his film made and the plight of his main character as he goes to increasingly desperate lengths to merely do his job. “Across cultures, the world situation is the same — the system will crush you, the system will push you to become a loose cannon,” he says.

The director is aware that the film could be interpreted as a lighthearted representation of Indian exotica, but he wants audiences to grasp its deliberately serious subtext. "It starts funny, but it ends with a critique of the system on socioeconomic realities,” the filmmaker explains. "Corruption is like a monkey that you can’t seem to control."

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Feb. 22 daily issue at the Berlin Film Festival.