Somewhere in the acquisitive amoral chaos of Vasan Bala’s twisted kingdom, Rajkummar Rao and Huma Qureshi, playing two of the most shamelessly self-serving jerks in recent cinematic history, are down on the floor, wrestling with a Usha Uthup pretender singing ‘Loving You So Much I Want To Kill You.’
Yes, physically wrestling, until one of them is almost dead.
It is a deliciously demonic moment defining the gender-proof nature of human greed. When you are so money-minded that your conscience has gone for a call of nature, then be prepared to battle it out man-to-man, even if you are a woman.
Alas, such delightfully epiphanic moments are hard to come by in Vasant Bala’s first directorial deep-dive since Mard Ko Dard Nahin into the bowels of eccentricity. Playing a dude who doesn’t feel any physical pain no matter how hard to blow Abhimanyu Dassani was at once wicked and amiable in Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota.
Rajkummar Rao as Jayant a small-town boy from Angola working in a giant robot-manufacturing organization in Mumbai is much wimpier, partially demonic, partially a victim of fate…if Fate looks anything like Huma Qureshi who plays Monica a crooked femme fatale a squealer-dealer in pursuit of big bucks via big never mind.
Qureshi’s Monica is a delectably subverted femme fatale. An imposter Marilyn Monroe lets the skirt fly only when she is sure there are men looking. Somehow I felt Ms Qureshi fell short of the character’s brazen avarice. Her cabaret at the beginning of the film again proves after that limp item song in Gangubai Kathiawadi that she better leave the dancing to those better equipped.
Her performance as a woman who empowers herself by conning men is tonally correct but unable to scale the summits of seductive salvation it was written to. Radhika Apte as a gritty sarcastic cop nails it. It’s interesting to see how the women in poor Jayant’s life bully him: Qureshi at first, then Apte and then of course the bimbo-esque boss’ daughter played with an arresting airheadedness by Akansha Ranjan Kapoor.
Monica O My Darling has a sharp tangy taste to its storytelling. But, it eventually gets tangled in its own ambitions. It wants to be dark sexy voluptuous enigmatic satirea but lacks the wherewithal to leap over the plotting hurdles that impede the protagonist Jayant’s progression from a harmless small-town dreamer to a scheming rat.
Rao is dependably strong in his weak character. There are other extremely powerful actors like the underused Sikandar Kher, Sukant Goel and Bagavathi Perumal. Two of these men are being blackmailed by Monica. She is clearly a threat, to herself. Ditto the film. Monica O My Darling wants to give the conscience-free female lead a sense of Huma.
But she is clearly not up to it.
Rating: **** (4/5)
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