'Eeb Allay Ooo!': Film Review | Mumbai 2019

Courtesy of Mumbai Film Festival
An original social farce where men become the monkeys.

A young man gets a job scaring hordes of monkeys away from New Delhi’s government buildings in Prateek Vats’ notable first feature.

In India, monkeys may recall the great Hindu monkey god Hanuman, and they may be protected under wildlife laws, but when they infest downtown New Delhi, they have to be dealt with. The real-life solution has been to have human guards mimic the sounds made by their natural enemies, the langurs, to scare them away from the main buildings of Indian democracy. Prateek Vats’ first fiction feature Eeb Allay Ooo! takes the ironies one step further in a farcical story that is more thought-provoking than funny. Given the situation’s inherent comedy is kept in the background, the pic isn’t likely to prove as popular as it might have been, but the serious social themes that emerge should find festival acclaim for the effort. Eeb Allay Ooo! bowed at Pingyao in China before its Indian premiere at the Mumbai Film Festival.

Vats is known for his 2017 documentary about a 100-year-old body-builder, A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings, which won a special jury prize at India’s National Film Awards. Here his doc background stands him in good stead as he integrates casual shots of macaque monkeys swinging from trees and over-running buildings with an engrossing story written by Shubham.

Eeb Allay Ooo! follows Anjani (played by the boyish, easy-to-like Shardul Bhardwaj), a new recruit to the Delhi monkey repellers squad, who is totally unskilled and a bit of a loser. From a migrant family, he lives on the far outskirts of the city with his pregnant sister Didi (Nutan Sinha) and her traffic cop husband (Shashi Bhushan). Anjani only got the job via a push from his brother-in-law, and it’s soon apparent he’s deathly afraid of monkeys. The more experienced Mahinder (Mahinder Nath, a real monkey repeller cast in the film) teaches him the scary sounds he is to use in his job: “eeb,” “allay” and “ooo,” but he can’t make them convincing. To keep his job, Anjani tries using a slingshot (but it’s forbidden to harm the monkeys) and posters of aggressive langurs (his boss gets called on the carpet for this) until finally he hits upon dressing up in a costume as a human langur — but by then he has been fired as incompetent and shows signs of having crossed the line into a very disturbed space.

Slowly the attention turns to the hopelessness of Anjani’s life, which is representative of so many other unskilled young people trying to enter the workforce. He can’t speak English, cook or use a computer — so what can he expect? His brother-in-law the cop falls into another trap. In order to get a raise, he agrees to carry a rifle on his bicycle rounds. It makes for the kind of prop that sends shivers down the spine, since you're always expecting it to go off and ruin the little family. To the filmmakers’ credit, the gun figures in a very different way than is expected.

The final sequences have a sense of surreal tragedy and the social indignation of a Ken Loach film. A shot of Anjani standing behind a white mask recalls a devilish version of the Anonymous mask and even a whiff (coincidence, no doubt) of Joker’s supposed call for social uprising. Vats’ point that animals are legally protected but human beings are perfectly dispensable and easily replaceable will certainly not be lost on audiences.

Saumyananda Sahi’s eye-catching cinematography gives a keen sense of New Delhi’s ever-hazy atmosphere with its stately government buildings and chaotic but colorful backstreets where the characters live, while Anshul Takkar’s highly original score is based on sounds.

Production company: NaMa Productions
Cast: Mahinder Nath, Shardul Bhardwaj, Shashi Bhushan, Nutan Sinha, Naina Sareen, Nitin Goel, Kapil Madan
Director: Prateek Vats
Screenwriter: Shubham
Producers: Shwetaabh Singh, Prateek Vats
Director of photography: Saumyananda Sahi
Editor: Tanushree Das
Music: Anshul Takkar
Venue: Mumbai Film Festival (India Gold)

98 minutes