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.
Prateek Vats' debut feature film, Eeb Allay Ooo, is a satirical masterpiece. He 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 you. The thematic concerns of the movie take into account class divisions and how deeply they affect a man’s existence and ambition. The reality is jarred and jaded. 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.
We connected with the filmmaker to know more about the critically acclaimed film.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how were you led towards the world of filmmaking?
Nothing remarkable to say really – grew up in Delhi, graduated from Delhi University and studied film direction course at FTII Pune. The idea of being able to create a complete universe while making of a film was something I was fascinated by. It still is the most exciting aspect.
What and who are some of your formative influences in terms of movies and directors?
FTII gave us exposure to different kinds of cinema from all over the world. It helped shape a worldview. Difficult to pin point films and directors but the fact that we were all learning from each others' takes on all these films was greatly nourishing. The opportunity to learn collectively and make mistakes at FTII was a real privilege. Looking back, the time spent at FTII is the real influence. It taught us how to make films without the fear of failure.
How would you describe your cinematic sensibility?
Still discovering it myself.
What inspired the making of your debut film, Eeb Allay Ooo?
The world around us, which is increasingly getting hard to make sense of. A world where all of us have been reduced to being involuntary participants in a monumental farce which is unfolding around us. A world where young university students, teachers, lawyers and poets are being arrested on charges of treason while workers are dying on the long road home. A world where religious and national identities are being merged by force and coercion. A world which thrives on depriving its people of their dignity. A world where we still ask – Where is Najeeb?
Could you please take us through your creative process behind this film?
The main aspect was to be able to look at the universe of the film through working class gaze. This aspect was the main challenge. We relied on numerous conversations with various people involved with the task of handling the monkey menace in the capital. Our main focus was to look at how the inbuilt corruption of the contractual labour system played out in the context of this particular job. The rest was about choosing a form – we chose satire because it seemed apt for what we wanted the film to be.
What kind of challenges did you face with this film?
Many challenges – like any film, which aspires to be shot at real locations and with animals. However, the greatest one has been to put out the film for the public at large.
The film has been a part of and won many awards in film festivals. What was your experience like and what did you wish the viewers take away from the film?
The experience has been enriching. From China to Berlin, we have had a wonderful response to the film. In India, the response has been phenomenal. Viewers take back whatever they feel like from a film. However, I would personally want people to look at the tragedy of the contractual laborers as a logical conclusion of a system, which has been weaponized against them. We need to call out the systemic problems and take a proactive interest for things to change.
More and more independent films are now being released on digital streaming platforms. Are you venturing to do the same with Eeb Allay Ooo?
We want the film to reach the maximum possible audience. Digital platforms have the potential to be perfect vehicles for that. We are exploring all options as of now. In the changed scenario we all need to be flexible and re-calibrate.
How have you been coping with the pandemic and what will be the new normal for you post it?
Looking around, one can only be thankful for the privileges one enjoys. The pandemic has revealed the apathy that our systems and politicians have towards our own people. It is a haunting truth that we all have to deal with. So its been an anxiety ridden time where human suffering has revealed itself in the most shocking and numbing ways. Difficult to say anything for the new normal. Will it be worse than the current normal? We will know. For now, it surely threatens to be.
Lastly, what are you working on next?
Too early to talk about it as of now. Ideas are there. What form they take, I can’t say as of now.
Text Nidhi Verma