Synopsis: A young man desperately tries to make it big with some unlikely allies and a dastardly diabolical plan to pull off the perfect murder.
A good whodunit thriller needs to have a strong mystery at the core. A great whydunit needs a strong reason. A great comedy film needs good jokes that don’t feel forced. It is tough to have even one of these done right. But imagine a film where you get all these, done just right, and have social commentary on the side too. And as if all that is not enough, imagine you have more than a dozen pop culture and movie references. Then, my friend, you get Monica, O My Darling.
The titular Monica is the secretary to the CEO of a robotics firm. She has affairs with three different senior employees and blackmails all of them. Said employees (including our protagonist Jayant Arkhedkar (Rajkumar Rao)) hatch a plan to kill her. Predictably, things go south and all hell breaks loose.
I’m a fan of noir and crime films. But one thing that we doesn’t usually see with these genres is a proper mix of comedy. And if the plot is not strong, well, there’s more pity. But Monica… starts with such an assured base that it isn’t tough to get sucked right in. And then there are the amazing references. As the film went along, I found it hard not to pause and check on them. Some I wasn’t even aware of, until I checked this Twitter thread.
For more, check out director Vasan Bala’s Twitter account where he engages with various people discovering the references.
But I digress. The film has the Coen Brothers-esque crime-plan-goes-to-hell beginning premise. The tone and background music though, keep it light. So you aren’t worrying too much about all the gruesome, unethical stuff that keeps going on the screen. No, not even the hero is your typical white knight. In the great tradition of Noir films, his character is as grey as the rest. He’s a social climber. To him, the past and past friends are just a means to raise himself higher up the ladder. Speaking of climbers, snakes – both the reptile and the metaphorical ones – are a constant presence in the film. There’s situational comedy thrown around too, like the bit from the trailer where two characters talk about the troubles in disposing of a body. But I think the humour goes up and above all this when Radhika Apte’s ACP Naidu arrives on the screen. From her introduction scene itself, every time she is on screen, it is impossible not to giggle.
Where the film goes away from the standard crime thriller trope is that the whodunit is solved with almost 40% of the film still to come. And, well before that, you’ll probably deduce the identity of the killer. But that’s where the film makes a strong level-up. It’s almost as if the makers are smirking at us and saying, “Where’s the fun in a simple murder mystery?” The layers that you didn’t even know existed start getting peeled off. And by the time you come to the final reveal, well, it’d be something if you aren’t amazed at the dexterity of the whole exercise. It’s a fantastic screenplay.
The other facets of the film are top-notch as well. The soundtrack-background music combination is absolutely pitch-perfect. My favourite song is the opening tune “Yeh Ik Zindagi”. “Farsh Pe Khade” is terrific as well. If you’re hearing “Yeh Ik Zindagi” for the first time, you might be mistaken in thinking it’s an Asha Bhosle song. It’s not. And yet, it sounds exactly like Ashaji’s chart-topping cabaret numbers from the 70s.
The acting is terrific from the three leads. But the quality isn’t limited to them. There’s the film’s support cast of old hands and lesser-known actors. Even within their limited roles in the film, almost every character stands out as a three-dimensional person.
In a way, the film is a commentary on the way money and connections can make or break your life in modern India. It’s to the film’s credit that it handles this stark statement with the lightest of feather touches.
But above all, Monica, O My Darling is a joyous ode to movies. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a cinephile or a random moviegoer or somewhere in between. Hop on for the ride, and for 130 minutes, you’ll have the most fun you’ve had all year at the movies.
Have you watched Monica, O My Darling? Do share your thoughts on the film and this piece. Thanks for reading.