Screen grab from 'Eeb Allay Ooo!' (2019) / Netflix
Screen grab from 'Eeb Allay Ooo!' (2019) / Netflix

The quintessential prey

Care, coexistence and predation in a recent Hindi film on human-animal relations.

Like millions of other migrants on whose backs cities like Delhi are built on, Anjani is desperate for a job. Any job. His sister, whom he lives with in a one-room home in a basti on the outskirts of Delhi, is pregnant and very keen – in that somewhat fierce, yet caring and overbearing way – that Anjani takes up a slightly unconventional, albeit, 'government' job (sarkari naukri) to chase away monkeys from Lutyens' Delhi. There is something simultaneously absurd and farcical yet also endearing about Anjani's new job. Even as it is located on Raisina Hill, the literal and metaphorical centre of Delhi and India's power, the monkey-chasing job is on a contractual basis and has none of the perks of a real sarkari naukri. Its premise is both ridiculous and requires, as a job description, a fair amount of ridiculing. But like most jobs, this one, too, is a matter of survival. The film Eeb Allay Ooo! directed by Prateek Vats is woven around what might be perceived as a fairly simple plot: monkeys are a menace in central Delhi and because they have the potential to disrupt government meetings and formal dinner parties at the offices and homes of ministers, a set of monkey-chasers, who belong to Delhi's urban poor, are employed to chase them away.  Within a few minutes though, we enter into a world of metaphor and metonymy embedded in the lopsided materiality of Delhi and its various human and nonhuman inhabitants. This is a film that revels – from start to finish – in a deeply disquieting form of dark humour.

Anjani is bad at his new job. He is also justifiably scared of the monkeys that he is meant to scare away. In contrast, Mahinder is a man whose livelihood, passed on generationally, has been to chase away monkeys. Mahinder gives Anjani tips on how to become a better predator. The crucial skill is to produce three sounds: eeb, allay, ooo, which come from the pit of the stomach or possibly from some concealed cove in the depths of the human soul. It is these immense long-drawn-out guttural calls with which the film begins. They are animal-like and yet all too human. They could be sounds of deep anguish, akin to the howls of being caged. Or perhaps they express the very specific cries of an embodied freedom knowable only to workers such as Mahinder. They are open-ended openings into the lives of others.

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