©  Universal Pictures International Germany GmbH

Monkey Man
U.S.A./Canada/Singapore/India 2024

Opening 4 Apr 2024

Directed by: Dev Patel
Writing credits: Dev Patel, Paul Angunawela, John Collee
Principal actors: Dev Patel, Sharlto Copley, Pitobash , Vipin Sharma, Sikandar Kher

The directorial debut of Oscar® nominated English actor Dev Patel (Lion, The Green Knight, Slumdog Millionaire) is a different kind of boxing story with a mélange of viewpoints: a Hindu Rama-centric legend, corruption and criminality, sexuality plus retribution served up with a David and Goliath biblical twist. Patel, with Paul Angunawela and John Collee, wrote Monkey Man’s screenplay based on his story idea, with an anonymous main character and is set in a teeming (fictitious) metropolitan city in India.

The legendary Hindu epic has it that Hanuman, a young, hungry deity saw and ate what he thought was a big, ripe red fruit (it was the sun) that instead disfigured him; pranks and curses ensued until the divine vanara (monkey) grows into the revered god of courage, strength, and loyal selfless service. The loving, nurturing mother (Adithi Kalkunte, Hotel Mumbai) tells Hanuman’s story to her young son (Jatin Malik) with his overripe imagination, as only children have, and in delighted awe he hangs on her every word; the legend’s lessons are exemplary. Orphaned young, his mother’s teachings help him navigate life. Is it irony then, as an adult (Patel), to survive, he dons the mask of a primate and nightly is stoically beaten bloody in a grimy illegal underground boxing ring? The tight-fisted ringmaster (Sharlto Copley, District 9) is adamant Monkey Man lose; the crowd loves to hate him. He is a survivor, smart. He notices what happens around him, wherever his environment. Time to turn the tables. Laser focused he maneuvers his way out of the slums into the city’s sinisterly elite society, meets new people (Pitobash, Ashwini Kalsekar), comes into contact with his past (Sikandar Kher, Makrand Deshpande) and, in accepting reciprocal kindnesses with the marginalized (Vipin Sharma, Sobhita Dhulipala, Zakir Hussain), learns to be more than he imagined.

The cast performances are noteworthy. Sharone Meir’s cinematography is creative, expansive particularly covering choreographed boxing and fight scenes. The prolonged, unsparing Tarantinoesque action scenes outweigh the distinctive, alluring storyline. Joe Galdo’s editing is tight, precise, and Geoff Barrow and Jed Kurzel’s music enticing. Woven into its rich tapestry is sociopolitical commentary, mythology, and, as noted, kick-ass action. In the enthralling Monkey Man Patel calls attention to the ethos of Indian cinema, and so it will be interesting to see what this new director does next. (Marinell Haegelin)

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