In 1971, the movie Caravan featured a song “Piya tu ab to aaja.” in which the incomparable Bollywood dancer and actress Helen dances to Asha Bhosle’s seductive voice and R.D. Burman’s music. The song tells the story of a woman longing for her lover. The man beckons Helen’s character with words that became the titular phrase for Vasan Bala’s latest film, “Monica, O My Darling.”
Genre Mash Done Right
It is very difficult to classify this movie into one neat box. Based on Keigo Higashino’s Japanese Novel, Brutus No Shinzou (Eng: Heart of Brutus), this neo-noir, crime comedy thriller is also a love-letter to Bollywood. Vasan Bala skillfully transposes a Japanese story to Pune, with very Indian characters. He seamlessly transitions between genres, while paying homage to various movies, including his own “Mard ko Dard Nahin Hota.”
A Whodunnit with a Twist
The plot revolves around a man from Angola called Jayant Arkhedkar (Rajkummar Rao), who has made the big league. He’s been promoted to the board of directors of Unicorn, a robotics company and is the CEO’s blue-eyed boy. He is also engaged to the CEO’s daughter, Nikki Adhikari (Akansha Ranjan Kapoor). Jayant is proud of his achievement but has a chip on his shoulder. Quite understandably, his success and attitude have stirred resentment in a few people – the CEO’s son, Nishikant Adhikari (Sikandar Kher), the accountant Arvind Manivannan (Bagavathi Perumal), and his colleagues , a veteran Tamang Rana (Shiva Rindani) and a junior and longtime friend, Gaurav More (Sukant Goel).
But Jayant has a secret that can destroy his meteoric rise – an affair with the CEO’s secretary Monica Machado (Huma Qureshi) who is no shrinking violet. Monica is keenly aware that she is a woman in a man’s world. She has dreams and has no qualms about using whatever means necessary to get what she wants. The toxic brew of greed, ambition and hurt egos soon bubbles over and leads to a slew of dead bodies. That’s when ACP Vijayashanti Naidu (Radhika Apte) steps in. The rest of the movie features Jayant’s increasingly desperate attempts to extricate himself from the mess he’s in.
With its star cast, Monica O My Darling guarantees spectacular performances. Rajkummar Rao is flawless as a man whose pays a heavy price for his big dreams. He is alternatively arrogant, sincere, brusque, desperate, scared, and confident. Most of the movie is through his perspective and he doesn’t disappoint. Bagavathi Perumal made me laugh every time he was onscreen. I did not recognize him as the creepy cop from Super Deluxe. Sukant Goel is great as the quiet, invisible Gaurav. Akansha Ranjan Kapoor is adequate in her underwritten role. Huma, as the beauteous Monica, is absolutely brilliant. She sinks her teeth into this role, playing seductive and sensual, and tough as nails. Radhika Apte’s ACP Naidu is a cop like no other. She confuses people with laughter, jokes, and threats in the same breath. To her, the case is nothing more than a job and she wants to have fun while working. The surprise package and my personal favorite, however, is Sikandar Kher, in a small but pivotal role. In one single scene, he knocks the ball out of the park. I will be rewatching that scene.
The movie plays to its many strengths
In the first half of the movie, the jokes and twists land perfectly. Some dialogue and scenes had us in splits. Yogesh Chandekar’s dialogue is clever, the delivery spot on, the plot tight, and the presentation slick and fresh. Achint Thakkar’s music is the cherry on top of this delicious sundae.
The soundtrack, much like the film, is a tribute to the thrillers of the 70s Bollywood. The song, “Yeh Ek Zindagi” reminded me of “Piya Tu Ab To Aaja” but is a very different song. Varun Grover’s lyrics only add to the beauty of this unique album. Editor Atanu Mukherjee deftly switches between timelines, perspectives, and imagined scenarios. A scene towards the movie’s climax features a physical altercation between Rajkummar Rao and Huma Qureshi. It is a brilliantly choreographed action sequence between two characters who are evenly matched, and fight with anything they can lay their hands on. No one comes out on top, no one loses. It is not something we see in Hindi movies. Each character comes with their own quirks and the result is a delightful mix of tension, with a sprinkling of bizarre.
The film does stumble slightly
The film falters in the second half when events become a little implausible. A plot point with Nikki who calls Jayant in panic, goes nowhere. I wish they had explored this character more because there was so much potential in the pampered princess with a hint of darkness. The background music gets a little heavy at times. I also would have liked to see a little more of the investigation. But all of these are minor gripes.
I would rate it a good 4.5/5