Nobody can, nobody should miss a boldly significant message in Prateek Vats debut feature, Eeb Allay Ooo – which, though, has a documentary feel about it. A little unpolished, somewhat raw conveying that this is Vats' first tryst with fiction, having earlier done shorts, Eeb Allay Ooo -- which had its world premiere at the Pingyo International Film Festival and was then screened at the recent Mumbai Film Festival, where it got the top Golden Gateway Prize – has an arresting theme which underlines that animals in India have become more important than humans. We have seen this in the vociferous, even violent plea for Jallikattu in Tamil Nadu – where the advocates care two hoots about the young lives lost in this barbaric form of sport (in which a bull is chased into an enclosure and teased by several men into a frenzied state) that reminds me of what used to happen in ancient Rome! And let us also not forget how men are lynched in India by people who say are protectors of the cow.
There is one unforgettable episode in Vats' drama – which is basically about the monkey menace in New Delhi and how men are employed to scare them away, keep them away from important Government buildings. One monkey chaser is lynched by a mob after he accidentally kills a simian, because as we all know that the animal is worshipped as Hanuman.
Well, the movie is not quite about him, but his fainthearted friend, Anjani (Shardul Bharadwaj, who clinched the Best Actor Award), who travels to Delhi from his native village and shacks up with his sister and her husband. They find him a job as a monkey repeller. He has to mimic the sound a langur makes – Eeb Allay Ooo – which is the natural enemy of the macaque monkey. While the monkeys make merry, Anjani struggles to get the sound of the three magical words right. Also, he is mortally afraid of the simian. So, he thinks of other ideas to shoo the animals away by getting into a langur costume or using a sling to shoot the enormously bold creatures – spoilt and encouraged by people who keep feeding them. But when a monkey dies after being hit by Anjani's stone, he is in a spot of trouble with his bosses and animal rights' activists.
Eeb Allay Ooo has its moments of sheer humour, but it is more thought-provoking than funny, and raises a serious issue of man-versus- animal conflict. A case in point is the country's efforts to save the tiger, sometimes putting people in peril or ignoring their livelihood.
In the final frames, we watch Anjani's frustration and hopelessness as he stares at a bleak future. Could well have been from a Ken Loach work. But it also reminded me of the recent Joker, where he is pushed by an unfeeling society to commit the most heinous of crimes, and that includes murdering his own mother!
Anjani can well turn from timidity to monstrosity.
(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran covered the recent Mumbai Film Festival)
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