One of the most powerful moments in Eeb Allay Ooo, Prateek Vats’ film about the monkey-repellers of New Delhi, comes right at the end. Anjani, the happy-go-lucky-ish protagonist learns that there are real risks to him, from the job, from his employers and from the people who occupy Lutyens’ Delhi – even for people like him who keep Lutyens’ Delhi functioning the way it should. Anjani comes to terms with his reality, even as life goes on around him in the government building, in the market, in his employer’s dealings with the official government machinery. Suddenly, it’s no longer the fun and games of the first one hour.
Anjani (Shardul Bharadwaj), a high school dropout (“11th pass”), arrives in New Delhi, where his brother-in-law (Shashi Bhushan) has found him a job scaring away monkeys in Raisina Hill. This is a delicate job. Monkeys are sacred, as incarnations of Hanuman, so he cannot harm them. They must be scared away with Langur sounds (the Eeb, Allay and Ooo of the title) and no more. Anjani is taught the ropes by Mahender (played by the real-life monkey repeller, Mahender Nath), but try as he might, the monkeys don’t run away from him. This leads Anjani to try out a few creative solutions to the problem, to great comic effect.
It’s hard not to draw parallels between Eeb Allay Ooo and Parasite, Bong Joon-Ho’s Korean film about class distinctions. Like the Kim family, Anjani’s sister (Nutan Sinha) and brother-in-law live in a tiny set of rooms, with barely enough space for the family’s side business of sealing masala packets. Anjani and Mahinder cannot help themselves to the snacks served at a party where they are at work, just as the jjapaguri is out of reach to Kim Chung-Sook at the Park family residence. And most importantly, just like the Kim family, Anjani needs to keep his work hidden. The sacred monkeys must disappear, but we cannot see them being hurt in any way.
But if anything, the gap between Anjani and those that occupy Central Delhi is even wider. Anjani is a contract worker (and not a government employee, as he reminds his sister), making him even less visible to the powers that be. It’s his bullying contractor Narayan who receives complaints and the right to “correct” them with Anjani.
The Kim family speak Korean, the language of their employers, and even enough English to get their feet in the Park family door. Their problem isn’t the lack of skills; it’s the lack of opportunity to use them. The protagonist of Eeb Allay Ooo on the other hand, may never have had the chance to find out what he’s missing.
Anjani’s sister points out to him that he doesn’t know how to drive, or cook, or write code, or anything that could get him any job that isn’t monkey chasing – heck, he can barely navigate an online job search himself. And as people from a village in the Hindi heartland (“internal migrants” as we’re calling them now), in the city for low-level jobs, Anjani’s families are always at the receiving end of barbs and taunts from the better off.
Whether they are the brother-in-law’s employer at an amusement park, the gynaecologist who blames the sister’s family for her anaemia or the gentleman who insists on making offerings of food to Hanuman, it’s normal, even expected to insult Anjani’s family. Parasite was about how the biggest fear of the wealthy is that the lower classes may one day infiltrate their lives and spaces. Eeb Allay Ooo is about everything the rich do to prevent that from ever happening.
Eeb Allay Ooo has powerful performances even in the smallest roles. Nitin Goel’s contractor Narayan goes from grovelling before the officials who employ him, to terrifying with his own employees, in seconds. Naina Sareen provides an excellent foil as the nurse Kumud, whose patience can only be tested so far.
For his part, Shardul Bharadwaj is eminently believable, as the young man who honestly just hates his job. But for me, the stars were the cinematography by Saumyananda Sahi and visuals of Delhi, from the government offices and monuments, to the Republic Day parade, to the shots of monkeys who have made Lutyens’ Delhi their home.
And when it’s all done with the – ah – monkey business, Eeb Allay Ooo forces you to think. As I write, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are making their way home across the country. Eeb Allay Ooo tells us why they were in our cities in the first place, and asks why their work needs to be kept out of sight wherever they go. It’s clever and witty, but deeply compassionate too — a tremendously timely film right now.
The Eeb Allay Ooo review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.