Published on Nov 14, 2022 09:33 PM IST
The women of Vasan Bala’s Monica, O My Darling are unapologetic, grey, and morally flexible, which makes them delightful to watch on screen.
In Vasan Bala’s Monica, O My Darling, the titular character Monica (Huma Qureshi), who works as a secretary at the Unicorn Robotics, uses her pregnancy to blackmail Jayant (Rajkummar Rao), the future son-in-law of the CEO. She’s not in any contradiction about whether she wants to keep the baby or not. Monica tells off Jayant that she has handled herself quite well and can handle the baby too. There’s no need to stress, Jayant can go back to his girlfriend and marry her. It is quite okay. Just that, Monica reminds, its so expensive these days with all the schools and the education. Monica would definitely require his financial support. She draws her line clear. Also read: Monica O My Darling movie review: This Rajkummar Rao film tries too hard to impress
What is so refreshing about Monica is how she’s never ashamed of her actions. You root for her knowing she is such a horrible person; not because she’s vile, but that she knows that there’s no way she will be able to enjoy what life has to offer by following the same straight path. Monica knows that she will always remain stuck in the corporate web if she doesn’t stand up for herself. She knows what she is doing is horrible and can ruin lives forever, but that doesn’t concern her. Soon, we will find out that Monica is not blackmailing Jayant only, but also other men in the same company- the son of the CEO, Nishikant (Sikandar Kher) and the accounts team guy named Arvind (Bucks). She’s unafraid but never reckless, completely aware of her selfhood in between these men. She can see through the double standards of these men and utilizes that to her own profit.
Later, when Jayant shrugs her off saying he has worked hard to get to his current position, Monica takes no longer than a second to break his delusion, quipping in with an icy-cold truth that he is there not because of his talent but only because his sob story is good. That he is from a middle class family with no support, hardworking and sincere, will do anything to save the empire. Its that story that has connected, nothing else. Jayant is visibly shaken at her coldness. Qureshi is a riot as Monica, and makes her feel like she would definitely be a close friend of Simi from Andhadhun, another amoral character played to perfection by Tabu. Guess what, both Andhadhun and Monica, O My Darling are written by same man- Yogesh Chandekhar.
Apart from Monica, there is ACP Naidu, played by Radhika Apte who has the maximum fun. She arrives halfway through the film, with a nonchalance you’d not formally associate with such a position. That’s the catch- we never really see Naidu conforming to anyone’s notion of being a police officer. She amply moulds the patriarchal web of adhering to certain rules and behavioural benchmarks. Her first words to Jayant is to turn around and read what she has written on the board- “Never drink alone, don’t shit together.” Take me seriously, she says right after. Its impossible to think of any actor other than Radhika Apte in the role; she’s the film’s real scene-stealer.
Naidu’s way of dealing with her suspects is to instantly catch them off-guard. She doesn’t come with the baggage of being a ranked police officer who has to talk loudly and authoritatively in order to get her answers. In most cases, she doesn’t get the answer. There’s a certain shamelessness in the way Naidu deals with the people she meets, she uses the power of her position only when she needs it. Otherwise, there’s no need to give her role undue importance and she is happy remaining away from the screen at stretches. A scene finds her taking out cash from the local ATM, and another sees her return with grocery bags. In both scenes, important revelations occur. The mainstream Bollywood stars donning on the uniform and jumping around houses to chase suspects can take note. Which other female character who plays a police officer comes in comparison to Naidu? Definitely not the stern and severe Meera Deshmukh from Drishyam, another role coincidentally played by Tabu. The sequel, also starring Ajay Devgn, which releases next week, marks Meera Deshmukh’s return too. It will be interesting to see how Meera catches up with Naidu.
Above all these comparisons, both Monica and Naidu influence the flow the quirky thriller with unlikely strength. Note how Naidu and Monica never really share a scene together, and in most scenes they are either alone or dealing with men in the room. Both these women are placed in their own separate, wildly patriarchal workplace and have cut out their work for themselves. Most of all, both Monica and Naidu aren’t defined just as the love interest of the male character. Monica’s idea of love is ferociously materialistic, to be able to spend money on items she loves is her goal. Her love for Jayant has more to do with her needs to survive than to be able to find a companion in him. As for Naidu, she’s too exhausted processing the unreasonable chatter around her professional life to even give us a glimpse of her personal relationships.
Monica, O My Darling is simply not interested in digging into the personal lives of its women and feeding us with the warped logic of love being the saviour in such a aggressively economical system. The women are fierce and place their careers much above anything else. Each of them hold power and work around it strategically, their priorities cut out. None of them require a background story or subplot to make their intentions clear. Kudos to director Vasan Bala and writer Yogesh Chandekhar, who leave these women to carve their own paths in their own ways. If the system is rigged, you cannot judge them for not playing along. Whether you love them or hate them is your choice. Whether they survive at the end of the game is another question altogether. The deal is, without them, the game wouldn’t have begun.
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