Every once in a long, long while, you come across a film that makes you want to run door-to-door with evangelical fervour, imploring people to watch it. One that makes you want to shout it from the rooftops. In Prateek Vats’ Eeb Allay Ooo, you have a film that even tells you how to shout its name.
In all my imploring and shouting, I keep being asked a question that stumps me. “What is it about?” I’m at a loss to respond. What is it about?
(Mild spoilers ahead)
This is a film about family. It’s about Anjani — he of the cursed name — who came to the capital to live with his sister. It’s about that sister, who laughs at her brother playing dress-up, just as she did when they were little. And her husband, ready to go to unthinkable lengths to look after his pregnant wife. And their neighbour, a young nurse who reads out a news story about dowry and asks Anjani, her pointed eyes belying her casual tone, whether he’d ever demand dowry. (“Will you give it?” he asks, with devilish grin.)
This is a film about power. It roams the famously well-heeled Lutyen’s Delhi in tattered shoes. It follows the monkey-shooers on duty outside the halls of government, damned daily by the monkey business that goes on within. “Monkeys rule Raisana Hill,” we are told, “if they brought down a single dome, and the government would collapse.” It’s a peculiar pecking order—the foreign dignitaries visiting on Republic day must be spared the sight of this lowly creature, but god forbid a native accidentally slights it.
This is a film about money. The hardworking lady of the house can scarcely make ends meet, and asks a godman when the achche din will arrive. The gentle chowkidaar is handed Checkhov’s homewrecking gun, in exchange for a 1500-rupee wage increment. (His resultant turmoil is made manifest in the film’s most delightful set-piece, aboard flying saucers.) The plucky young migrant from Bihar can’t find a job in the promised-land of 30 million jobs. The pride of the sarkaari naukri soon gives way to desperation for any naukri whatsoever.
This is a film that is bookended with the canned voice of a lady declaring “Because they are treated as gods, they are given food, they are corrupted, (…) the gods become pests”. We see a man feeding the monkeys, earthly avatars of his God. (Our hero, of lower station, is helpless to stop him.) We see monkeys partaking in manmade rituals as well—a clever edit has one slowly opening its eyes as a hymn comes to a close. We see a nation in mob-rule, praying to animal and preying on man. This is a film about religion as opiate, pitting the worshipper against the worshipped. But, when you least expect it, it’s also a film about religion as balm—providing an anchor to the angry, a sanctuary to the seething.
Ultimately, though, Vats’s film is about monkeys. His camera has us, like its characters, looking up at the monkeys—idling and idol-ing. One wonders how many of them he must have had to shoot to stitch together such sublime montages. They appear unannounced from every corner of the screen. Monkeys sleeping, monkeys sitting, enthroned above, our hero beneath. Monkeys mocking, monkeys hissing, lunging forward and baring their teeth.
Anjani’s initial reluctance gives way to resignation, and then to obsession. Trapped in a simian stare-down, he is a man possessed. “Why don’t you become their leader”, taunts his friend. “Start thinking like them, eating like them, living like them.” Aping their faces, mimicking their sounds, it’s almost as though Anjani wishes to turn back the clock and, quite literally, devolve.
Once freed from the burden of having to fight them, he sits amidst them, sharing his snack. As the film draws to a close, we see him embraced into their fold at last, heralded and garlanded. Eyes closed in surrender, limbs flailing in catharsis, he goes—there’s no other word for it—apeshit.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.