Eeb Allay Ooo! movie review: An absurdist gem; one of the best Hindi debuts in years is now on Netflix
Eeb Allay Ooo! movie review: Shardul Bhardwaj embodies the desperate dignity of a migrant worker in Prateek Vats' stunning social satire, now available on Netflix.
The absurdity of Eeb Allay Ooo! is established in its opening frames. A man looks directly into the camera and makes strange noises — he sounds like a yodeller that just burned his hand. It’s the sort of scene that could induce giggles, but also an odd desire to stifle them. The man’s job, we are told, is to shoo away monkeys from perhaps the most fortified area in India — Lutyens’ Delhi.
These monkeys aren’t democratically elected, but they’ve certainly been put on a pedestal. And it is the job of a group of young men, including our protagonist Anjani, to shriek at them until they go away. We never see this, but you could almost imagine the ‘sarkari babus’ sitting in their offices, annoyed at the sounds of monkeys and migrants on the streets below. To them, it’s all just noise; it doesn’t matter who’s making it.
Played by Shardul Bhardwaj, Anjani is new to the Capital. He lives across the river — or, ‘jamna paar’, as it is colloquially known — with his sister and her husband, in a slum way beyond NDMC lines. Like the millions of men and women who keep the Centre of Power running, he is an outsider from another state. Eeb Allay Ooo! is about his Kafkaesque metamorphosis into a primate, willed along by those who refuse to perceive him as anything else.
Anjani probably didn’t imagine he’d be chasing monkeys when he came to Delhi dreaming of a better life. He recognises the inherent ridiculousness of the job that he’s stumbled into, and that is key. Anjani never fully accepts that this is what he is supposed to be doing, and Bhardwaj, through his performance, never stops rattling the cage that society has confined him in.
Religion, and not basic decency, is the primary reason why Indians revere so many animals. There are temples here in which rats are respected; there are communities that worship dogs. And the reason why Delhi has such a rampant monkey problem, as an orientation video that Anjani is shown reasons, is because people, in fits of blind faith, have been feeding them leftovers.
Having been given this vote of confidence, the monkeys of Lutyens’ Delhi terrorise the citizenry. They have, Anjani learns, developed a sense of entitlement. In one scene, he timidly approaches a man who is leaving some food out for the pests. “If you feed them, they’ll come back,” he says, a hint of exasperation in his voice. The man, like so many men in Delhi, counters by flaunting his made-up credentials, and threatening to complain to Anjani’s boss.
This is a tremendous directorial debut by Prateek Vats, among the finest our country has seen since Kanu Behl’s Titli half-a-decade ago. Incidentally, both films are among the most keenly observed depictions of New Delhi — perhaps one of the most cinematic cities in the world, but rarely ever depicted as such. Thanks to recent shows such as Paatal Lok and Delhi Crime, the city’s reputation as a smog-covered cesspool of blowhards has, unfortunately for the time being, been cemented.
While most of Eeb Allay Ooo! plays out along the broad, tree-lined avenues of Central Delhi, there is a visible change in tone and colour palette when Anjani trudges back home, on the outskirts — sometimes on foot, and on one unforgettable occasion, on the Barapullah flyover at nighttime. He belongs neither here nor there.
Anjani knows this, but not everyone else is as self-aware. No one is born in Lutyens’ Delhi, you see; everyone is just passing through — regardless of the square-footage of their government accommodation.
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Eeb Allay Ooo! is the rare social satire that has the courage of its convictions. Through sweeping use of metaphor, Vats addresses themes as prickly as nationalism and religious bigotry; the plight of the marginalised, and the entitlement of the elite.
Happily for us all, it will be absolutely indecipherable to the sort of people who file police complaints against films, especially the ones available on streaming platforms. The recent Tandav became a victim of its own stupidity; had it been a little smarter, it would’ve slipped under the radar. Eeb Allay Ooo!, in this age of clampdown, subverts the system with style.
Eeb Allay Ooo!
Director - Prateek Vats
Cast - Shardul Bhardwaj, Shashi Bhushan, Nutan Sinha, Naina Sareen, Nitin Goel
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The author tweets @RohanNaahar