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Dev Patel Is Not Afraid to Go Ape in ‘Monkey Man’


Dev Patel in Monkey Man
Courtesy of Universal Studios

TAC Rating 7

The much-anticipated directorial debut of Dev Patel is finally here! Heralded by Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions company, Monkey Man is an action-thriller that takes inspiration from the simian Hindu deity Hanuman while dousing it in the blood-soaked style of martial arts films like Oldboy and John Wick. Patel plays a taciturn fighter named Kid, who infiltrates the corruption-filled world of the Indian elite in order to exact his ultra-violent revenge. On the way, he encounters clownish hotelier Alphonso (Pitobash), stunning sex worker Sita (Sobhita Dhulipala), evil police chief Rana (Sikandar Kher), and hijra guru Alpha (Vipin Sharma). Kid is also plagued by traumatic memories of his mother’s death and the destruction of his forest village community.


Patel pulls together his considerable filmmaking talent to write, direct, and star in this violent fairy tale. His blood, sweat, and tears can be seen throughout several exhausting/exhilarating martial arts action scenes. He broke his hand and his foot while filming, for goodness sake, and he still managed to do his choreographed fights! There’s no denying from Patel’s committed central performance in this (and in his previous work) that the man can hold the attention of the camera. But what many theatre-goers may be wondering is: can he also hold a camera? The answer is yes. Yes, he can.


Dev Patel directing Monkey Man
Courtesy of Universal Studios

As director, Patel draws a lot from his own experience under other well-known filmmakers while adding his own touches. In his Reddit AMA, he states that Danny Boyle and David Lowery (who directed him in Slumdog Millionaire and The Green Knight, respectively) were big influences, as well as Korean directors known for revenge thrillers like Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho, and Kim Jee-woon. With Monkey Man‘s be-suited protagonist bringing down cold-blooded, relentless, and creative revenge (fireworks are used at one point) under vibe-y neon lights, Patel has got the look on lock. There is also a great soundtrack and a few jokes thrown in that turn this into a real crowd-pleaser.


However, there are a few moments where the movie loses some steam. Distractingly shaky camerawork and excessive use of flashbacks drag out some scenes, but these are forgivable if you know the rocky journey that production took. Pandemic lockdowns! Broken equipment! Lost financing! Everything that could go wrong did go wrong.


Additionally, most of the characters are pretty flat and archetypal, which can be attributed to the mythological aspects of the story. There’s the goofy sidekick, the corrupt cop, and the wise old figure, who, it should be pointed out, is a trans character in this case. Notably, Patel includes the trans hijra community in Monkey Man, aligning them with the peaceful and spiritual good, who are set against the evil, power-hungry, village-destroying city leaders that Kid aims to take down. The ultimate evil figure, however, is a cult leader named Baba Shakti (Makarand Deshpande), who wields twisted political power to steal land and manipulate public opinion. He also uses the emblem of the lion, which is the other main animal symbolism within Monkey Man.


The film’s overtly political message is portrayed through the channel of Hindu mythology and the classic tale of good-versus-evil. For those who are unfamiliar with the story of Hanuman, the folklore tells of how he attempted to eat the sun, but fell to earth, died, and was reborn. Hanuman would go on to face Vishnu and his huge army. The monkey-headed deity represents heroism, strength, and devotion, while the lion-headed Narasimha, an avatar of Vishnu, represents destruction. With the upcoming Indian election, which incumbent and controversial Prime Minister Narendra Modi (a Hindu nationalist who has been criticised for persecuting minorities) faces, it’s not hard to see why the film has yet to pass the censorship board in India. 


Either way, Patel proves to be a bold and committed filmmaker with the passion to bring everything he has to the silver screen and overcome some crazy obstacles along the way.

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