In Eeb Allay Ooo!, the plum job of a monkey chaser at the government secretariat in Delhi’s Raisina Hill is up for grabs, but Anjani isn’t quite making the cut.
Anjani (Shardul Bhardwaj) can’t complain that he hasn’t been properly briefed. Mahinder (Mahinder Nath) teaches the new migrant the abracadabra formula he uses to keep rampaging simians at bay. But try as he might, Anjani simply cannot utter “eeb allay ooo” with as much ease or confidence as Mahinder. The nonsense words get stuck in Anjani’s throat, drawing the scorn and wrath of his boss. Even the red-bottomed monkeys seem to be mocking their hapless relative on the evolutionary scale.
Prateek Vats’s feature debut, written by Shubham, is in the mould of Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake (2016). The 99-minute movie delivers a biting commentary on the absurdities of the capital’s state of employment and the despair of contractual labour. Eeb Allay Ooo! explores the meaningless rituals that allow Delhi to cloak itself in a semblance of normalcy and efficiency against a monkey menace. However, the imposing structures – Rashtrapati Bhavan, India Gate – do not impress or deter the wandering animals. Bureaucrats have sub-contracted the seemingly impossible task of animal control to a bunch of people who are forced to become animal-like themselves.
Anjani’s plight is mirrored by his brother-in-law Shashi (Shashi Bhushan), who works as a security guard at an amusement park. The daily drill includes a march past that must be conducted in perfect formation. Look professional at all times, it will help cover your mistakes, Shashi’s supervisor barks – the national capital summarised in a single sentence.
The verite approach includes cleverly constructed sequences that reveal Anjani’s street battles with the pesky beasts (the editing is by Tanushree Das). Elsewhere, Saumyananda Sahi’s freewheeling camera locates Anjani as a speck in Delhi’s mass of humanity. Dressed in full-sleeved shirts with a knockoff Burberry scarf around his neck, Anjani tries to give himself the dignity his job refuses him.
This object of empathy as well as mirth is memorably portrayed by Shardul Bhardwaj, especially in the scenes in which Anjani tries to crack the mystery of monkey management. Mahinder Nath, a real-life simian chaser and among the many non-professional performers in the cast, is also impressive as the master of the three golden words.
The satire holds up beautifully as long as it explores the ridiculousness of Anjani’s situation, but slips when the line between predator and prey begins to blur. The sub-plots revolving around Anjani’s love life and his brother-in-law’s own workplace headaches are inadequately realised. The film’s power is concentrated in the portions that place Anjani’s fumbling against a larger reality of institutionalised mediocrity and apathy. Raisina Hill is ruled by monkeys, a character says. We aren’t sure to whom he is referring. The sly and pitiless Eeb Allay Ooo! always keeps us guessing.