Director: Prateek Vats
Coming from the Mumbai Film Festival, Eeb Allay Oo, a tragicomedy about a monkey repeller in New Dehli, is a striking addition to We Are One, the Film Festival currently being held on YouTube. Beautifully shot, this story of migrant workers trying to make ends meet has been compared to the works of Ken Loach, but underneath the social realism is a layer of fantasy or magic realism that makes this film unique.
Anjani has got a new job. He’s responsible for shooing away the monkeys that have overrun the Government district of the city. Monkeys are seen as Gods, and so they cannot be killed, so instead are coaxed and tempted to go to other parts of the city. Anjani is not good at his job, and is scared of the monkeys, who never move when he flaps his arms. The other monkey repellers only need their voices to scare the monkeys away. When they see a monkey, and there are plenty of them in the trees or scaling the buildings, they simply shout ‘Eeb Allay Ooo’, and the monkeys vanish.
‘Eeb Allay Ooo’ replicates the sounds made by langurs, another kind of monkey that are the natural enemy of Anjani’s monkeys. He tries to shout out these words when he sees monkeys sitting on a wall or terrorising a street vendor, but Anjani is too shy, and too afraid that the words will come out wrong. He prefers to use his hands to shoo them away, but the monkeys simply outstare him.
There’s gentle comedy to be had watching Anjani, played gauchely by Shardul Bharadwaj, roaming round the city, avoiding eye-contact with his prey. Bharadwaj gives a strong performance as the reluctant city employee, especially when the camera lingers on his face, stolid and yet hopeful too. He’s more free on the streets than he is at home where he shares a tiny shack with his pregnant sister and her husband on the other side of the railway tracks. Despite the trains that bisect the city, and the pollution that rises up from the roads, full of people and mopeds, there’s an allure, particularly in the scenes that director Prateek Vats films at night.
Eventually Anjani does find a way to see off his monkeys, but it comes at a price and the film’s comical scenes are replaced by moments of wonder, and as the city gears up for Republic Day, Anjani’s journey becomes spiritual as a way to escape the inequalities of India. There’s excellent work too by Mahinder Nath, who plays Anjani’s cheeky and loyal friend, and by Shashi Bhushan, his brother-in-law who wearily faces his own struggles in his own job.
This haunting film was only available for 24 hours on YouTube, but most other films in the festival remain online for seven days. While we wait to see if the London Film Festival will go ahead in the autumn We Are One is giving us a huge range of films that we may otherwise never be able to see. Let’s hope that Eeb Allay Ooo obtains a wider release. It certainly deserves it.
We Are One Film Festival runs here until 7 June 2020. Donations welcome.