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“Eeb Allay Ooo! is very much situated in the universe we are living in right now.”

Prateek Vats Talks About The Conceptualisation Of His Film, Satire And What Working With Monkeys Entails.

Eeb Allay Ooo!, won two awards–The Golden Gateway Award for Best Film in the India Gold category and the Young Critic’s Choice Award–at the recent Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star 2019. Prateek Vats’ social satire is set in Delhi and talks about the challenging life of monkey repellers. His previous film, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, was screened at Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star in 2017.

Mumbai Academy of Moving Image organised a special screening of Eeb Allay Ooo! for the members of MAMI Year Round Programme, Mumbai on 12th November 2019. Prateek Vats (Director), Neel Mani Kant (Line Producer), and Bigyna Dahal (Sound Designer) joined Smriti Kiran (Artistic Director, Jio MAMI with Star) for a post-screening Q&A session as part of the MAMI Year Round Programme, Mumbai. Excerpts from the session below:

Smriti Kiran: How did you and Shubham (story/screenplay) see a whole film in this?
Prateek Vats:
How could you not? Monkeys are taking over Raisina Hill! It has to be interesting enough, I thought. We spoke about this for a while and we had this idea. There was always this danger of it becoming an odd-job film and where do we go with that? So, it took us a lot of time to situate this – to understand what was happening around us and how to place the satire in a social-political environment. Because satires don’t work otherwise – if they don’t transcend the immediate plot, especially with the setting it had. For us it was always a feature film; it was just about figuring out how to look at this business of Central Delhi from a working-class point of view and a class which is prone to hire and fire, and the contractual systems.

SK: One of the fears that creators have is that will the audience get it. The challenge often is not to over-cook the material. How did you curb the need to explain?
This film is very much situated in the universe we are living in right now, so there is no explanation required. I feel everything is very familiar – starting from North Block and from the people, to the Basti, the location. Explaining takes away from the humour. The ellipses need to work. The jumps need to work. And only then the humour will come out. There’s always this danger – how much of the humour do you explain and how much do you hold back. And again, it’s not like a comedy, but a subtle humour.

SK: The humour really helps but you laugh with a heaviness in your heart. The absurdity leaves a bitter aftertaste. In the writing of the film how did you balance the humour with the harsh reality?
Shubham and I wrote the film. Shubham wrote the initial story, the initial script, the dialogues, and then we sat and developed a screenplay. In the whole process, we knew where we were going and we thought that the subject lent itself to satire really well. Now, for satire to work, it is very important for humour to work so that at some point we can transcend that humour and talk about profound tragedy. For the tragedy to work, the humour becomes more important, otherwise there was always this danger of it becoming a very grim film which maybe it evolves into by the end but to reach there, the initial humour was very important for us, and we knew with the monkeys there was always a possibility that we could push that. So, it was very important that the humour worked.

SK: Let’s dive into the logistics of the film. The monkeys at the centre of the action are a big variable and the locations are in the heart of the seat of power. You wanted everything to be real and natural. How did the creative vision and hard-core production and process get in sync?
Neel Mani Kant:
In the beginning, we had to figure out certain things in terms of how people were behaving in those public spaces and how we needed these people for the streets. But eventually, when we spent time there, they were all familiar, they were all supportive, and they actually made the film possible. It all came together.

PV: The beautiful thing about being able to shoot in a public space is there are always more possibilities than you have thought about. Also, there is always a certain procedure for getting these permissions done. The only problem with these spaces is that permissions are cancelled overnight. You reach the shoot location and a VIP movement is happening so you can’t shoot. It was quite normal. We pre-empted that, and there was always a plan B, plan C. If nothing worked out, there were always monkeys to shoot.
At times, you are disappointed because you planned the sequence in a certain way and you are not able to shoot it, but Shwetaabh [Singh], Neel, and everybody in the forward unit, were ready to shoot in other locations of the day. So, if one got cancelled, there’s another one, and if that gets cancelled, there’s another one. We knew we could not afford to not shoot, and had to shoot in a certain number of days, in a certain season, so not shooting was not really an option. The great thing about Central Delhi is that it is a part of a space which has a certain protocol of getting permissions. It’s only about how you shoot there. Permissions are not a problem, but how you negotiate with the everyday people – the office going people.

SK: It is time to open the house for questions…
Audience Q1. Migration is an issue that has been in the news recently and I was curious about how much of that you had in mind when you were writing the film.
I am a second-generation Bihari who has grown up in Delhi, so I see this as something which is very close to my heart. We were negotiating with this all the time when we were growing up in Delhi. It was a starting point in the sense that it had to be a migrant family coming to terms with this big capital city in their own terms.

Q2. I was wondering about the theme of masculinity in the film. The male characters are shown to be quite sensitive. I know you might have wanted to leave it up to interpretation but I was interested in that angle.
Some themes are very universal. You don’t look at them separately, be it labour, nationalism, or gender. That’s when the problem starts to occur – when just want to isolate one thing and look at the other thing. Therefore, it became important thing for us to include. That’s why the placement of the gun and how it displaces the family. We are so used to images of a gun being flashed around in a very hyper-masculine way. So, it became an interesting point for us to look at how we use the same idioms and try and invert it in a way. That’s why the choice of characters are around which we were trying to do this and trying to look at the same things which we’ve seen in cinema since its beginning but just trying to look at it in our way in the lens of the film and in the universe of the film and trying to say this is what we see it as. I think it’s coming from there.

Q3. While writing, were you conscious about how you would direct the monkeys? Did they listen to your instructions well?
Looks like it. Shubham and I spent a lot of time in these areas – from morning till evening. Being on the roads and looking at the monkeys, going through MDMC, talking to Mahinder [Nath], and anything we could pre-empt. The good thing about shooting with animals is that when you’ve thought of A, it doesn’t happen, B happens. We didn’t want the monkeys to be a documentary element. We wanted to have a sequence with them, a shot, counter shot, lensing, so that it became more human and personalised. There was a lot of discussion between me, Bigyna [Dahal], and Somo [Saumyananda Sahi], who’s the cinematographer – how do we record because we cannot dub. The whole point of recording sound became more, if not, as important as how do we shoot these sequences. I think if you are making a film with monkeys then you better be prepared to shoot with monkeys. A lot of work went into it, lots and lots of thinking, and talking, and trial-and-error.

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