Prateek Vats, in his satirical, uncomfortable yet real world of Eeb Allay Ooo!, presents the life of the working class in the capital of the country. The tale Vats narrates is laden with metaphors, a scathing critique of nationalistic fervour, religiosity, the hypocrisy of the rich, and the clear class divide.
It is the story of a Bihari immigrant, Anjani, who comes to Delhi to earn a livelihood, staying with his sister and her security-guard husband in their tiny house. Anjani manages to get a contractual job as a monkey-repeller, a position his sister is proud of. “Sarkari naukri hai,” she boasts to her gynaecologist. Anjani is given a charge of the Raisina Hills, the centre of Indian politics, brimming with government offices and officials. Mahinder, Anjani’s friend and mentor, teaches him techniques and sounds (eeb, allay, ooo) to scare away the monkeys. But Anjani, being afraid of them, cannot do his job correctly, often becoming a laughing stock for his colleagues and targeted by his contractor. The film captures the struggles of such young immigrants who find it hard to find their feet in the urban jungle’s work culture, end up being frustrated with their jobs and themselves, becoming humiliated and losing their dignity every day. Scenes like the one where Anjani is caged by his fellow workers and made to behave like a monkey to be released, or the one where he tries to frighten the monkey while the lady sweeps the floor but in vain, bring out his anger and frustration. He ends up complaining every day to Mahinder, “Kaha narak mein laakar phenk diye hain“.
The film is a critique of the country’s sarkari system, run by bureaucrats’ rules. No matter what ideas Anjani presents, be it using the posters of langoors or dressing up like one, they are all met with rejection from his contractor and higher officials because they do not wish to move out of the system that has been in place for years. These officers do not want monkeys around since they destroy their files, create a stir, and act as a disturbance to ministers and bureaucrats living in their bungalows. Yet, they become an obstruction to Anjani’s job because they want to share a part of their wealth with their God. “Arre bhai, apni mehnat ki kamai ko Hanumanji ke saath baant rahe hain,” says one when Anjani questions him for feeding the monkeys. Metaphors and political commentary run throughout the film and these monkeys are often used to criticise these officers’ work culture.
“Because they are treated like gods, they are given food, they are corrupted, they are….they are made to think they don’t need to forage anymore, so they become bold, they start entering, they start demanding. Then the Gods become pests.” This dialogue, a part of the English presentation shown to these workers, can be taken as a commentary on the entire corrupt political-bureaucratic culture that is no longer accountable to its citizens, demanding favours for duty.
Vats manages to use background noise as a tool to communicate more than what is in the frame. In one of the scenes, while in the frame, Anjani fails to scare away monkeys; in the background, a news report on television says that India has jumped 30 points in World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report. It further quotes the Prime Minister congratulating and applauding his government’s efforts, mentioning it to be the outcome of the reforms of Team India. The country that boasts of its reforms and corporate power on a global stage cannot find meaningful jobs for its youth. The setting of Delhi adds reality to every frame, with no character being a feel-good fictional one but rather some who are struggling in their lives and others who are enjoying all the luxuries. On one side is the Raisina Hills and on the other is the other side of the train tracks, land of the working class, struggling to earn their daily bread. Scenes in the metro and lengthy shots of trains passing before people can cross these tracks present a monotonous life that these people live. These local trains carry many other Anjanis, disturbed by their inhuman jobs, yet forced to do them to earn their livelihood.
The film assumes a darker shade in the second half when monkeys continue to assert their strength and humans are further dehumanised. It is not the victory of the monkeys but the failure of the system that Vats brings out in a dark, absurd manner. The same people who hired Mahinder to protect them from monkeys lynch him for accidentally killing one. The film ends in the uncomfortable darkness, leaving many unanswered questions. Anjani embraces his hopeless inhuman darkness and the land where the calls of eeb, allay, ooo are unheard by the monkeys of the system, and guns and gulels (slingshots) are the answers to any question.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.