If someone told you that repelling monkeys was a profession in some countries, you’d probably think it was a joke but in New Delhi, India it is not only a legitimate occupation but a much-needed service. In recent years, the macaque monkey population has increased and grown increasingly aggressive in their search for food, invading government offices, private businesses and public spaces. Their constant presence has become a major nuisance and sometimes a physical threat to local residents and tourists (they carry the herpes B virus). As a result, New Delhi officials have employed a number of professional monkey repellers to try to control the situation and Anjani (Shardul Bhardwaj), a new recruit from the provinces, finds the situation overwhelming in Prateek Vats’s feature film, Eeb Allay Ooo!
The title, Eeb Allay Ooo!, is the warning sound a monkey repeller makes when confronting the troublesome creatures and it usually sends them scurrying because it resembles the call of a langur, a natural enemy of macaque monkeys. Unfortunately, Anjani is completely ineffective at mastering this skill and the monkeys sense his insecurity. When he tries to mimic that sound, the monkeys either stare at him blankly or charge him with teeth bared. It isn’t a job he wanted in the first place but since he has no work skills, he is lucky to have a paid position in a city where unemployment is a major problem. And the only reason Anjani got hired in the first place is because his brother-in-law Shashi (Shashi Bhushan), a cop, used his influence to get him work.
Eeb Allay Ooo! might sound like a comedy and it does have some humorous sequences but the film is much more successful as a neorealist, semi-absurd tragedy than anything else. Anjani is indicative of so many young men who flock to New Delhi for work but have no skills to offer. Even if he is one of the lucky few to find employment, he hates it all the same. The pay is poor, the monkeys are a genuine threat, and Anjani is harassed and teased by his co-workers for his meek nature; in one scene, they lock him in a cage and make him eat a banana before they will release him.
Compounding his misery is his living situation. He resides in a back alley hovel with his pregnant sister Didi (Nutan Sinha) and her husband, who have financial problems of their own including a landlord who threatens eviction. Conditions drive Anjani to extremes and he resorts to outlandish tactics to repel the monkeys such as planting photo placards of langurs in public places to scare away the macaques. Eventually he paints his face black and dons a langur costume complete with a comically mobile tail to scare them off but it only gets him locked up for scaring schoolchildren.
Eeb Allay Ooo! is presented as a series of vignettes and much of the film has a documentary-like flavor as we are treated to scenes of daily life in the bustling but often chaotic environment of New Delhi. The grinding poverty is omnipresent but so is the city’s class-conscious hierarchy and the often inept bureaucracy which emerges in scenes with Anjani and his bosses. Director Vat occasionally withholds vital information from the viewer which raises the question of whether it was an editorial choice or a matter of budgetary concerns. For example, we learn that Anjani’s only friend Mahender (Mahender Nath – a professional monkey repeller in real life) killed a monkey and was then beaten to death by a mob because monkeys are considered sacred animals in India. We also never learn how Anjani was able to afford the creation of several placards or how he acquired an elaborate langur costume since he is so poor.
None of this seriously detracts from the film’s narrative flow and the performances by the main characters, especially Shardul Bharadwaj as Anjani, are engaging and natural. Intimate glimpses of New Delhi culture are also a plus such as the exotic street festivals and parades, one of which closes the film and seems to suggest that Anjani has been reduced to the level of the monkeys he has been repelling. But maybe that is more liberating than being a human outcast.
Much more than a portrait of one man’s descent into despair and possible madness, Eeb Allay Ooo! is also a telling critique of a city on the verge of social and economic collapse.
Eeb Allay Ooo! premiered on Youtube as part of the “We Are One Global Film Festival which runs through June 7th. You may be able to still access links to view the film through that date and you should definitely check out the film schedule (all screenings are free) where you can see critically acclaimed new work like Joan Chen’s documentary The Iron Hammer or retrospective showings of classics like Shiraz: A Romance of India (1928) and the Czech absurdist comedy Adela Has Not Had Supper Yet (1978). The official website is http://www.weareoneglobalfestival.com.
Other websites of interest: