• Golden Globe Awards

Eeb Allay Ooo! (India) – Interview with Prateek Vats

Eeb Allay Ooo! is a political satire addressing the heavy political atmosphere in New Delhi, the capital of India. Director Prateek Vats’s daring and hilarious film exposes the political flaws of the system as seen through the innocent eyes of a young boy who is hired to get rid of the monkeys which populate the official governmental buildings. We spoke to director Prateek Vats about his debut film.
Why were you drawn to this subject matter?
A few years back I found out about this newly constituted job of a ‘monkey repeller’ in New Delhi. It was the latest in a series of steps taken by the civic authorities to deal with the monkeys who were wreaking havoc in our highest offices. The monkeys had been emboldened by the recent ban of the use of captive langurs – their natural enemy. Young men were being hired on contract basis to mimic the sounds of an aggressive langur to keep the hordes of rhesus monkeys away. The inherent absurdity of this situation drew me in – the biggest democracy in the world is employing exploitative contractual labour to secure the highest offices of her democracy from the nuisance created by a holy animal. For me, it sums up the prevalent situation in my country – a nation state propped up on the dehumanized, quite literally in this case, labour of its citizens. Eeb Allay Ooo! is a response to the world around us – a world which is hard to make sense of, a world where being a monkey is far more liberating than being human.
Talk about the challenges working with monkeys?
These monkeys are not captive or trained. They are very much in the open. However, just like the government employees in the buildings that they infest, they have a very precise schedule and route of movement. In that way they are very human. We spent a lot of time following their daily routine with Mahinder (the real life monkey repeller who plays a version of himself in the film), trying to understand their habits and patterns of behaviour. This was crucial, as I wanted to have the distinct character and presence of monkeys in the entire film. They had to be filmed in the context of our protagonist and they had to be active participants in the unfolding drama. To attempt this, one has to move beyond the ideas that have come to define film shootings. So the only way for us to approach the filming was by letting go of the anxiety of being in control. We would trace the monkeys as they slipped between the cracks in the security of the national capital’s power centre. In that sense, we were pretty much becoming what we were shooting!
Was it your goal to expose the social issues in India through this film?
In some ways the job of a monkey repeller is unique. But in many other ways, it is like any other contractual job where employees are devoid of any agency. Our focus was to look at how the inbuilt corruption of the contractual labour system played out in the context of this particular job and to then situate it in the world around us. A filmmaker or an artist cannot provide a solution to today’s political problems, but surely can identify them. This is the first and most important step: to make your audience aware of systemic errors in any system. The tragedy of migrant workers is not new. We have been witnessing it for years but refuse to acknowledge it. The chaos caused by the pandemic has exposed the fault lines in the system. In that sense, the pandemic has not really caused the tragedy, it has revealed an existing one. The images of women, men and children walking back to their homes after being abandoned by the cities, which are built on their labor, will haunt us forever. It is not difficult to picture our characters amongst them. I hope the film can help us in viewing this monumental tragedy as a logical conclusion of the system rather than a result of the system collapsing.
How was it shooting in the real locations of Delhi with all the population around?
Every shooting location has its unique challenges – be it the posh areas of Central Delhi or the unregulated colony where we shot the sequences of the family. One has to constantly think on the feet and adapt.
As far as the North block/Rajpath area is concerned, it was the perfect backdrop for the satire that we were trying to weave.  It houses all the important Government offices, including the Parliament House, and functions as the nerve centre of Indian democracy for all practical purposes. It is probably the most tightly guarded area in the country in terms of security.
It was paramount that the film was shot in the seat of power that it is situating itself in. However, (writer) Shubham and me wanted to look at this part of Delhi from a migrant working class gaze, meaning being both familiar and unique at the same time. We wanted the film to a have a certain matter of factness about it and to transform the physical spaces into cinematic and psychological landscapes. Only shooting permits cannot ensure that. One has to move beyond the ideas that have come to define film shootings. It wasn’t an intrusive shoot where we were invading our locations, but rather a shoot where we learnt to negotiate consent and carefully consider the space and time when we were shooting. Actors, rather than just concentrate on the written scene and dialogues, would try and match the energy of their surroundings and be a part of the overall mise-en-scene. This approach came with its own set of surprises and shocks. An accident would suddenly add value to the frame, and sometimes it just destroyed the whole planned scene. It was nerve-wracking experience that made us think on our feet and constantly question our ways. I think the collective experience of making documentary films really helped us in finding solutions on an everyday basis.
Which directors have influenced your work?
As far as Indian filmmakers are concerned, I have been a great admirer of Ritwik Ghatak’s films along with those of Satyajit Ray and Sayeed Mirza. As for filmmakers outside India – Werner Herzog, Azghar Farhadi, Alfred Hitchcock, Abbas Kiarostami, Jia Zhangke and many others have been figures of inspiration over a prolonged period of time.