Memorable characters, an open ending and unforgettable music make this whodunnit a riveting watch.
It’s been a while since a solid neo-noir crime-thriller came out of Bollywood since Sriram Raghavan’s Andhadhun knocked our socks off. Directed by Vasan Bala and written by Yogesh Chandekar (also the co-writer of Andhadhun), Monica, O My Darling is a worthy successor of the genre, though it would be a gross disservice to compare the brilliance of Bala to a veteran like Raghavan. From the quirky Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota to Monica, O My Darling, this is Vasant Bala’s outlandish universe and we are here for it. However, Bala makes no bones in his admiration for the master filmmaker by hat-tipping with more than one reference of Raghavan’s 2007 classic Johnny Gaddar, throughout the film.
The characters in Monica, O My Darling are unapologetically flawed and they make no qualms in admitting it and embracing the mess. Jayant Arkhedkar (Rajkummar Rao), a robotics specialist working at a Pune-based robotics company named Unicorn, is having a secret affair with a fellow colleague Monica Machado (Huma Qureshi), the titular character and the femme fatale of the office. Monica is a gold-digger and yet you root for this character because she’s so unabashed and brutally honest about the difficulties to survive as a single woman in a male-dominated corporate jungle. The fact that sexism in corporate organizations doesn’t let women rise through the ranks is a known fact and Monica says it as it is. There’s also a brilliant fight sequence between Rao and Qureshi that is so wild, so raw—you’d be screaming and holding on to your seats while watching it.
But the real treat of this ensemble cast is Radhika Apte as the kulfi-eating chatty policewoman ACP Naidu. Apte is so perfect in this role, you simply cannot imagine anyone else in it. In fact, I’d pay good money to watch a spin-off of this absolutely whacky, unpredictable character with pitch-perfect comic timing. The film’s twists and turns will keep you hooked till the very end, just when you feel like you’ve figured it all out, you’d realize you haven’t. Each of the supporting cast bring something unique to the table and it’s an eclectic bunch – the hapless CFO Arvind Manivannan (Bagavathi Perumal), the jealous lover (Sukant Goel), the man with no conscience, Nishikant (Sikandar Kher), the simpering fiancé Nikki (Akansha Ranjan Kapoor) and the naive Shalu (Zayn Marie Khan).
Bala is an avid cinephile and it’s evident throughout the film with hat-tips to several masterpieces like Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic Psycho (Monica stands outside a pub named Bates Motel), Joe Pesci starrer My Cousin Vinny, Dev Anand’s cult film Jewel Thief to the filmmaker’s very own Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota (cameos by the film’s original actors Radhika Madan and Abhimanyu Dassani).
The bejeweled crown of this absolutely delicious film is its music by Achint Thakkar. The foot-tapping ‘Yeh Ek Zindagi‘ with a retro vibe, sung by Anupama Chakraborty Shrivastava, is a perfect ode to the 70s era. Varun Grover’s lyrics, especially the cheerful ‘Bye Bye Adios,’ is a rare gem that adds to the charm of the film, with the song unironically playing during a funeral sequence. Grover’s ‘Love You So Much (I Want To Kill You)’ also plays during an extremely nerve-wrecking crucial sequence in the film, with the lyrics going – ‘He say he was a biker, he say he take me home, he say he was a rider, but leave me all alone, he say he was a lover, who never let me down, he say he was Thalaivar, but turned out to be a clown’. Do you stifle a laughter or be invested in the thrilling sequence that’s unfolding in front of you? It’s a riot.
Swapnil S Sonawane’s able cinematography and Atanu Mukherjee’s sharp editing skills take this not-to-be-missed marvel a notch higher. A good film is what makes you wish it didn’t end, leaving you wanting for more. Monica, O My Darling’s open-ended climax does just that.