On a long weekend break, I happened to enjoy Prateek Vats’s Eeb Allay Ooo! and my mind could not help replay the close-shots of monkeys from the movie over and over again for weeks. Bemused, frightened, disinterested, ferocious, sometimes slouching, sometimes cowering: the movie is brimming with images of anthropoids in various moods and postures. Monkeys, being the closest ally to humans in the evolutionary graph, become troubling neighbours when they have to co-exist with us. One can neither befriend them nor get rid of them completely. There’s an uneasy bond that exists between humans and simians. It is precisely this uncomfortable bond that Vats tries to explore through his layered satire. The thought of monkeys as these undefinable, uncontainable forces helps the movie make metaphorical connections while their very real presence in the cinematic world highlights the nuances of human-animal conflict in a country like India.
Vats’s Eeb Allay Ooo! is as much the story of Anjani (ironically the name of Lord Hanuman’s mother in the Ramayana), the migrant worker, as it is of the monkeys he is assigned to shoo away from the seats of power in Lutyens’s Delhi. Given the various layers of meanings, the monkeys in the movie can be interpreted through various metaphors: as a personification (or rather animal-ification) of a decadent bureaucracy (a line from the movie literally says, “Monkeys rule Raisina Hill”), or as brethren to the class of migrant workers that the likes of Anjani represent: outsiders who are perpetually considered ‘troublemakers-to-be-put-on-a-leash’ for the upper-class urban community. Twice in the movie, our protagonist is put behind bars – the first time, in the trap-cell used for catching monkeys by his colleagues as a joke; and the second time, in jail for committing an offence as minor as scaring children under the masquerade of a ‘langoor’. The effort to curtail this person belonging to the ‘monkey’ class of outsiders is further underlined when Anjani is constantly rebuffed and humiliated by his superiors, his sister and most crucially by himself over his inability to produce the monkey-scaring sounds of “eeb”, “allay” and “ooo”. Saumyananda Shahi’s cinematography effectively reproduces the suffocating existence of these outsiders through cramped shots of their living quarters, well-segregated from urban Delhi. Towards the second half of the movie, the metaphor becomes more and more pervasive. Anjani continues to live a ‘caged’ existence in the city while his partner and mentor Mahender gets lynched by a mob for killing a monkey. Could these marginalised-monkeys be accommodated better within our gated societies?
But a director of Vats’s calibre does not remain content with abstractions and metaphors. He grapples with difficult and material questions of human-animal conflict. This is where the ‘reel’ becomes disturbingly real. One can neither kill them nor make peace with our co-existence.
And very fittingly (or rather jarringly), the sense of unease with both the metaphorical monkey as well as the real monkey reaches a crescendo in the last scene where we see an eerie procession of Anjani dancing and grinning wildly with a black-painted face. The scene cuts abruptly but the uncomfortable questions keep jumping into the minds of viewers, along with plentiful images of monkeys.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.