A taut pulp thriller that makes more than a few astute observations on the quirkiness of human nature along the way, Vasan Bala’s Monica, O My Darling is a bright addition to the thin list of Indian noir.
A juicy adaptation of Japanese author Keigo Higashino’s mystery novel Burutasu No Shinzou, Bala intelligently localises the exotic ingredients for the Indian palate.
More than just a whodunit, the witty narrative is interspersed with delicious pop-culture references and infectious musical interludes. From Vijay Anand to Sriram Raghavan, Vasan Bala gives a hat tip to masters of Indian noir. In fact, those who have followed Raghavan’s work would almost feel the spirit of Johnny Gaddaar (2007) lingering around throughout the film.
In a smart display of self-awareness in writing, Radhika Apte, who plays a sassy cop Naidu, tells a suspect that a perfect back story always creates doubt: “Dheele chhodne ka, feel ke saath.” This is exactly what Bala does. He lets us enjoy the process of coming to the edge of our seats. Even if we know who he is, the whimsical journey to reach there is appetising. He lets the red herrings breathe and generates a feeling for each one of them by referring to real issues in between a fast-paced scenario.
Monica, O My Darling
Between the layers there lie references to manual control of machines, self-seeking corporate governance, and the new engineering graduates’ inability to look beyond coding. Easier said than done, but Bala knows how to ride his hobby horse. Very much like his protagonist Monica Machado (Huma Qureshi), who works as a personal secretary to Adhikari, the owner of a tech firm that makes robotic machines. Monica thinks she knows how to make robots out of men, until a snake crosses her path.
One of the men on Monica’s lust list is Jayant Arkhedkar (Rajkummar Rao). The self-obsessed, self-made techie, who is called Johnny by his sister’s fiance and colleague Gaurav (Sukant Goel), has risen from a place called Angola to be one of the directors of the company that is called Unicorn. Writer Yogesh Chandekar wants the audience to know a bit of geography and business terms to get a hang of Jayant’s rise. With the owner’s stylish but spoilt daughter Nishi (Akanksha Ranjan Kapoor) in his kitty, Jayant is unable to match his modest past with his opulent present where life feels like his machines that could be controlled through his smartwatch.
But life like Monica always has a different plan up her sleeve. She wants to blackmail Jayant, but even before he can decide, the techie discovers that he is not alone in this game. The owner’s son Nishikant (Sikander Kher) and accounts head Arvind Manivannan (Bagavathi Perumal) are also sailing in the same boat. The three hatch a plan and in turn, we get a coquette of a film that flirts with our emotions and teases our curiosity. At crucial junctures, Bala allows divine intervention to kick in. At one point, Bala literally shows the mirror to Jayant in between a beautifully-crafted scene. The sprinkling of multiple dialects by different characters with peculiar surnames makes the storytelling all the more flavourful.
Double XL was released last week, but it is here as Monica, that Huma peddles an engaging story with a drool-worthy performance. As a dude who is almost reduced to a bystander by circumstances, Rajkummar once again aces a multi-dimensional part. His dance moves are as arresting as his deep look into the eyes of a cobra. Back to Netflix, Radhika, as a police officer, gets to deliver the truth of the story through some tongue-in-cheek dialogues. It is good to see yesteryear’s villain Shiva back in action as well. Be it Sukant, Sikandar, Akanksha or Zayn Marie Khan, everybody in the ensemble cast adds spice to the dark universe but actually, it is the writing that makes even the minor characters stand out and leave their scent.
The compositions of Achint Thakkar have the jazzy flavour of R.D. Burman and the lyrics by Varun Grover provide a sense of human greed and the ephemeral nature of life in a fun way.
At times there is an overdose of self-awareness and doffing of the hat, but Monica... is not to be missed.
Monica, O My Darling is currently streaming on Netflix