Synopsis – Which a young man desperately tries to make it big with some unlikely allies and a dastardly diabolical plan to pull off the perfect murder.
My Take – Though films like Ek Hasina Thi (2004), Manorama Six Feet Under (2007), Johnny Gaddaar (2007), Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (2015), Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016), and Andhadhun (2018) have found widespread appreciation among cinema auteurs, the demand for the neo-noir crime comedy sub-genre in Hindi cinema continues to remain on the low side for reasons I understand not.
Thanks to Netflix, this latest from director Vasan Bala, whose last feature was cult Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota (2018), is a bright addition to this small but quality list. Adapted from the 1989 Japanese novel Burutasu No Shinzou by Keigo Higashino, here, director Vasan Bala and writer Yogesh Chandekar (Andhadhun) have cooked a delectable whodunit murder mystery that gets better and better with every minute thanks to its twists, liberal doses of comedy and nuanced references.
Resulting in unique eerily funny experience that has more personality, thematic class and integrity than the sort of films that usually dominate Netflix’s top 10 list. Taking inspirations from iconic thrillers of the ’70s and ’80s, the film works as a twisty thriller filled with excellent performances, foot-tapping numbers, a super catchy background score and interesting visual storytelling that tie together brilliantly.
The story follows Jayant “Jay” Arkhedkar aka Johnny (Rajkummar Rao), a robotics expert from a small-town who has wormed his way into the corporate charmed circle, and has now being given the huge responsibility of being one of the Board of Directors of Unicorn, a robotics company. He is also set to marry Nikki (Akansha Rajan Kapoor), the CEO’s daughter. Yet, unknown to Nikki, all this time Jay has been maintaining an affair with Monica Machado (Huma Qureshi), the top honcho’s secretary.
However, things begin to complicate when Monica announces that she is pregnant with his child and starts blackmailing him for money. To further complicating events, Jay is shocked to find that Monica has not only been triple-timing him with Nishikant (Sikandar Kher), the CEO’s son and married Accounts Officer Arvind Swamy (Bhagavathi Perumal aka Bucks), but has been also using her pregnancy to blackmail them for money.
Forcing the three to join forces to get rid of her. But once their plan for the perfect murder goes awry, Jay finds himself in an unknown territory with eccentric cop ACP Vijayashanti Naidu (Radhika Apte) eying him as the main suspect behind the whole setting.
Yes, much early into the film we are given the obvious person who might be behind the killings. But even when it is indicated who might be responsible for the rising body count, the guessing game and the surprises do not stop. In fact, the more the film discloses, the more steam it gathers.
Here, director Vasan Bala shows total control over the narrative that intertwines lust, greed, power play, love, jealousy, betrayal, and even class differences. Every single character is aptly grey-shaded, and this leaves us with a choice of siding with the comparatively lesser evils. Venomous cobras and lethal robotics also have significant roles here.
That is hardly surprising considering what the film is seeking to project – humans that are as hazardous as reptiles and as machine-like as robots. The rawness of the corporate politics, the awkwardness of the romance, the sexism in the atmosphere, and the murderous streak running through all these characters are palpable and seem like things we see in our everyday lives. And that makes the narrative an apt mixture of real-world tribulations and something that’s too wild for us to comprehend.
But if you dig a little deeper, it’s about the complacency that comes with nepotism. It’s about how ambition can sometimes become toxic. It serves as a commentary on how so-called modern cities have a clear insider and outsider bias. And it talks about the lengths women have to go to and the professions they’ve to choose in order to acquire a grain of success or control over their own lives.
And aided by a terrific screenplay and a tremendous cast of actors, director Vasan Bala assembles all that a twisted thriller should ideally have and then adds his own singular flourishes in the form of wonderfully organic, homegrown elements fueled by an unbridled love for popular cinema and a sensibility that can turn familiar into fresh with minimum fuss.
More than just a whodunit, the witty narrative is interspersed with delicious pop-culture references and infectious musical interludes. In fact, the titular song by RD Burman also plays a huge significance and keeps playing in the background in the most perfect way possible. From filmmakers like Vijay Anand to Sriram Raghavan, director Vasan Bala gives a hat tip to masters of Indian noir.
Performance wise, Rajkummar Rao is his usual natural, once again acing a multi-dimensional part. As the impoverished techie who’s discovered the good life, Rao perfectly works through the misfortune that befalls him. Huma Qureshi matches him note for note with a suitably enigmatic persona, fleshing out out Monica in all her splendor, a woman who revels in twirling men around her fingers. Though she appears for a comparatively shorter screen time, Radhika Apte takes to the role of a chatty policewoman who is always a step ahead of the rest like a fish to water.
In a supporting turns, both Sikandar Kher and Bhagavathi Perumal aka Bucks are hilarious, while Sukant Goel, Akansha Rajan Kapoor and Zayn Marie Khan manage to stand out. On the whole, ‘Monica, O My Darling’ is a wildly entertaining neo-noir crime comedy thriller that is smart, funny and gripping throughout.
Directed – Vasan Bala
Rated – TVMA
Run Time – 129 minutes