Humour, irony, mockery, absurdity, it takes a cohesive use of many such elements to put together a satire that successfully ridicules the shortcomings of its subject. In the field of literature, time and again, especially since the rise of the novel form, satires have reflected the flaws of the socio-political conditions of the era they were written in. Take Gullivers Travels for instance, that managed to ridicule not just eighteenth century England, but humanity at large with its depiction of Yahoos. Prateek Vats’ debut feature film, Eeb Allay Ooo!, which opened the Dharamshala International Film Festival this year, manages to ridicule India’s current socio-political climate in a similar fashion, with its employment of human langurs instead of yahoos.
The topological setting is New Delhi and the issue at hand is the infestation of monkeys. The Government now employs men as monkey repellers instead of employing langurs due to animal rights violation, and the film’s protagonist, Anjani, played masterfully by Shardul Bhardwaj, is given the job. One might read these former lines and suddenly think that this is a fictional setting. Ironically, this is the stark reality of the capital of the country. As Anjani delves into this fight between man and monkey, learning to make the voices eeb, allay, ooo, to scare away monkeys, the absurdity of this situation significantly takes centre stage. Especially, the irony of the fact that this is essentially a Government job is not lost on anybody.
All of Anjani’s attempts to repel the monkeys are in vain, and the situation of a pregnant sister does not do him any favours. He clearly cannot depend on her and needs to keep at his job. What follows is Anjani, literally donning the attire of a langur and acting like one to repel the monkeys. Not only does he enact the role of a langur perfectly, he also manages to scare away monkeys. Ironically again, this comes across as more absurd to his employers than the very job that they had employed him for and he comes really close to losing his job. Overtime, his ineptitude as a monkey repeller catch up to him and soon, he loses his job. The director does not give a neat ending to Anjani’s story. The climax scene is especially visually enchanting as hoards of men dressed as monkeys, langurs and what not, during a performance of Ram Leela, assimilate Anjani and turn him into the langur again. Who is Anjani now? What will become of him? The answers are left for the audience to conclude.
In terms of story, Prateek Vats has managed to create a universe that is so heavily seeped in reality that when you laugh at the scenes in the movie, you suddenly remember that you are laughing on the very reality that surrounds all of us. ‘The narrative is shaped by an extensive use of non-fiction elements, while incorporating non-professionals alongside trained actors. Veritè footage is mixed and crafted into the rise en scène, to weave a revealing account seeped in a reality, which is as stark as it is absurd,’ says Prateek. His words resound true through his work that uses all the familiar areas of Delhi, and possibly all the familiar monkeys as well.
L: Director Prateek Vats
R: Film Poster
The thematic concerns of the movie take in to account class divisions and how deeply they affect a man’s existence and ambition. The reality is jarred and jaded. Anjani is somehow only eligible for a monkey repeller job and he fails at that as well. One of his friends who is also a monkey repeller is killed by a mob after he kills a monkey because monkeys are worshipped as god Hanuman in Hinduism. A line that is said in the beginning and is repeated in the end of the film is ‘when gods become pests.’ You realise how this absurd situation is a man made creation. The question then arises is, whether this absurd reality that we all live in is a direct consequence of the actions of humanity at large. Whether humanity has caged itself and only the monkey is truly free.
The genius of Prateek’s work is that he manages to touch upon such contemporary issues without preaching about them. The audience is left with visuals and words that they clearly understand but they are never told what is right and what is wrong. This realisation of black and white is left for the audience to decipher or decide. Everything in the film, from Saumyananda Sahi’s brilliant cinematography to Anshul Takkar’s original score, that is stripped off any melody, helps in maintaining the texture of the film that is very intrusive yet delicate. This work of absurd fiction works truly encompasses how reality is sometimes stranger than fiction and Prateek’s film is an urgent investigation of the absurdity of our reality which reminded me of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros.
Personally, the ending scene of the movie reflected the true craft of the filmmaker. The sequence is almost surreal yet very real because I have seen it countless times myself. Yet, as Anjani gets engrossed in the mass of monkey men, his creepily smiling, black painted face behind the absurd white mask felt like a true reckoning of man’s existence today, dark, chaotic, yet smiling behind a mask.
Text Nidhi Verma