Monica O My Darling aspires to Sriram Raghavan levels



Huma Qureshi is Monica in the dark thriller Monica O My Darling. Photo: Netflix / Publicis-Consultants Asia

The credit titles thank Sriram Raghavan, the thriller genius behind Ek Hasina Thi, Johnny Gaddaar, Badlapur and AndhaDhun (we will forget the aberrational Agent Vinod), as a guide and inspiration. The film is a thriller (with our tendency to label films and songs nowadays in the wannabe-Western mode), it is labeled as a neo-noir thriller-comedy. Whatever!

But having said that, the movie falls well short of the Raghavan standards—there is even buzz that the film was offered first to him. Vasan Bala, who made an unpalatable mess of his episode, Spotlight, in the web anthology, Roy and helmed the esoteric and wannabe-commercial disaster that was Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota, directs this retro-flavored thriller that owes its existence to the 1989 Japanese novel “Burutasu No Shinzou” (“Heart of Brutus”) and yet credits its story (!) to Yogesh Chandekar!

For a change, I grant that the plot essentially is different and fresh. But the execution is inconsistent in many places, the narration convoluted on occasion, and the weird overtones that marked Bala’s Mard… and Spotlight come in force here as well, in terms of treatment.

It also requires some racking to figure out the last of the twists, and I am not yet sure if I am bang-on! However, thanks to having read some James Hadley Chase novels and blending their core philosophy with this film’s wonderful theme song, Yeh ek zindagi and its operative words, Kitna bhi tu begunnah maafi nahin hai (However innocent you may be, there is no escape), I do feel that I have figured it right!

And this is also the primary difference: Sriram’s twists are terrific, whether midway or at the climax, hugely intelligent but also sharply clear.

The film opens with the chilling murder of a man being murdered by a robot operated by his rival suitor, Gaurav (Sukant Goel)—both love Sarika (Zayn Marie Khan) who loves Dev Prakash. It is later assumed, though not shown, that Sarika has married Gaurav.The robot is the property of a huge Pune firm, Unicorn Robotics, headed by Satyanarayan Adhikari (Vijay Kenkre) and the security officer, Faridi (Faisal Rashid), is sacked for what is looked upon as a lapse.

Jayesh (Rajkummar Rao) is a young man who hails from a poor family in a village and has made it through hard work. He is ambitious, not scrupulous on the way up, and has impressed Satyanarayan enough to come on his board of directors. Satyanarayan’s rather dense daughter, Nikki (Akansha Ranjan Kapoor), is his ladylove, who will obviously be his passport to bigger goals in life. Hating him for his progress are Nishikant (Sikandar Kher), the CEO’s son, and accounts officer Arvind (Bagavathi Perumal), who also aimed to reach where he has in the firm.

Monica Machado (Huma Qureshi), the company secretary, is another ambitious woman, physically attractive, and soon wants Jayesh, with whom she has a physical relationship, to compensate for his child, as she says she is pregnant through him! But Jayesh soon finds that Nishikant and Arvind, who is happily married, are being told the same thing. For obvious reasons, Nishikant says that Monica must be disposed of, and hatches a plan, complete with a murderers’ agreement on paper, wherein the three draw lots: one will kill, the second will transport and the third will dispose of the body.

The plan seemingly goes well, but soon, Jayesh and Arvind find Monica hale and hearty, while it is Nishikant who is missing. Soon, other murders happen, and fingers seem to point at Jay. Enter the cops, led by whimsical ACP Naidu (Radhika Apte), whose frequent laughs and giggles and guffaws elicit less amusement and more trepidation. Finally, Jay is declared innocent after several twists, but after that, something scary happens.

Going the whole hog with different content is the film’s strength, and what the script includes are originally conceived hark-backs to classic songs or just their lyrics (including the film’s title, which is a cult song from the 1971 Caravan). There is a sequence reminiscent of Parwana, the 1971 thriller that did not work then.

Achint Thakkar’s background music is totally old-school and thus helps in enhancing moods and atmosphere. His wonderful abovementioned composition, Yeh ek zindagi, with Mikey McCleary’s only-too-evident orchestral touches, is probably among the less than handful of worthwhile original film songs in this year!

The script’s biggest flaw of many (no spoilers here) is the general behavior of a pregnant woman, including her liberal consumption of alcohol and other ‘no-nos’ in incipient motherhood! Given the material and the quality needed, the film could have been a bit (says 20 minutes) shorter, and so the editing (Atanu Mukherjee) seems laidback. The ‘dialogues’, especially those given to Radhika, are superb, and Vasan’s handling of the surreptitious meeting between Sikandar, Rajkummar and Bagavati is fabulous in its dark humor.

Radhika Apte plays the quirky ACP Naidu in Monica O My Darling Photo: Netflix / Publicis-Consultants Asia

The performances rank from good to better. Despite being male-oriented in its narration, it is Huma S. Qureshi who comes off best with flying colors in her mix of the vulnerable, audacious, seductive and ruthless. Radhika Apte steals every scene she is in, and gets almost all the best one-liners of the movie in her quirky role. Sikandar Kher is exceptional in his brief role as Nishikant. It is only after these three that Rajkummar Rao, in an author-backed long role, ranks. He gets most of his act right, but on an overall level, does not make the impact needed.

From the rest, Zayn Marie Khan as Sarita is good, Vijay Kenkre as the CEO is impressive in his casual authority, and Faisal Rashid as Faridi intense. Bagavathi Perumal is amusing, but Sukant Goel overacts as the obvious villain, and so does Shiva Rindani as Tamang.

Rating: *** (When it could have been much higher!)

Matchbox Shots’ Monica O My Darling Produced by: Sanjay Routray & Sarita Patil Directed by: Vasan Bala Written by: Keigo Higashino, Yogesh Chandekar & Vasan Bala Music: Achint Thakkar Starring: Rajkummar Rao, Huma Qureshi, Radhika Apte, Sikandar Kher, Akansha Ranjan Kapoor, Bagavathi Perumal, Sukant Goel, Zayn Marie Khan, Shiva Rindani, Vijay Kenkre, Faisal Rashid, Sp. App.: Radhika Madan




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