Two years ago, Prateek Vats' directorial debut Eeb Allay Ooo!, starring Shardul Bhardwaj in the lead role, premiered at the 2019 Pingyao International Film Festival.
Since its premiere, it has won the Golden Gateway Award at the Mumbai Film Festival and was selected for the Panorama section of the 70th Berlin International Film Festival in 2020. And now that it's finally streaming on Netflix, this comedy-drama should be on the top of your weekend watchlist.
Because Eeb Allay Ooo! is a rare gem that manages to present a novel perspective on a subject the Hindi film industry has been exploiting for ages - the harsh reality of class difference.
The directorial debut of Prateek Vats, Eeb Allay Ooo! has been written by Shubham and tells us the story of a migrant, Anjani, who gets hired as a monkey-chaser in Delhi. As absurd as it sounds, the job is as much a reality in India as the widespread poverty that pushes people to such odd jobs.
From fighting his inherent fear of monkeys to failing to ace the job's technical requirements (the sounds that chase away monkeys and give the film its name), Anjani struggles to come to terms with his job.
After all, an impoverished background can rob you of opportunities. But it does not take away your ability to experience emotions like fear, humiliation, anger, or frustration.
So just like any other 20-something working at a job, Anjani too struggles with a difficult boss and a harsh work environment. But while we, born in class privilege, more often than not have the freedom to escape our jobs over the weekends, seek respite from HR, or perhaps quit or change jobs, Anjani does not enjoy the same benefits.
Because, even though it is menial, absurd, and dissatisfactory, it's still a job. And more importantly, it's a job that brings home an income, no matter how meager.
That's exactly why his sister, struggling with pregnancy, still works late into the night. That why his brother-in-law works late-night shifts.
That's why entire communities work harder, longer, and in desperate conditions - because they don't have the options that we, with privilege, do. It's harsh and bleak, but it's the reality.
And, in Vats' world, it's told with an underlying sense of empathy and dignity. Vats does not judge, but rather observes and presents. By doing so, he allows the audience to draw their own inferences.
To some, it may appear an intricate story of grief, to others an honest look at the way the world functions, and some might just brush it off for being too 'artsy' to sit through.
For me, it was the sobering realization about how often we fail to separate the person from his/her job - especially when the job is not respected or hell, even easily accepted in society. We forget that a security guard, washerman, cook, or monkey chaser is a person's job, not his whole identity.
Of course, Shardul Bhardwaj delivers a stellar performance as Anjani, expertly taking us through his journey of transforming from an anxious but hopeful novice to a disillusioned and grief-stricken worker - one among the many migrants in the city.
He lends such authenticity to his role, that his struggle, his clownery, his unexpected bout with internet fame that costs him his job, his frustration, and ultimately, his grief, strike a chord deep in your heart.
Easily one of the finest Hindi films to release in recent years, Eeb Allay Ooo! works like a slow burn. It reels you in with a premise that feels inherently comical and absurd and leaves you reeling with multiple emotions by the time the credits roll. And it's well worth your time indeed!
All images from Netflix, unless specified otherwise.