Monica, O My Darling: A Thrilling Game Of (Real) Snakes And (Metaphorical) Ladders 
‘Monica, O My Darling’: A Thrilling Game Of (Real) Snakes And (Metaphorical) Ladders 

What could have been Jayant’s rags-to-riches tale, abruptly shift gears midway unceremoniously ejecting him out of the driver’s seat, and becomes a neo-noir thriller leaving him grappling to reclaim the story

Director: Vasan Bala 
Writer: Yogesh Chandekar 
Cast:  Rajkummar Rao, Huma Qureshi, Radhika Apte Sikander Kher, Sukant Goel 
Rating: 4/5


An adaptation of Keigo Higashino’s book Brutus no Shinzo or Brutus’s Heart (which was also made into a Japanese movie in 2011), Monica, O My Darling is a story of Jayant Arkhedkar, a robotics expert, who started from the very bottom but has climbed to almost the top of the corporate ladder. He is the future son-in-law of the owner of the company and also his most trusted employee. This ‘genious’ rank outsider is poised to become the next boss, ‘the future of Unicorn Groups’, overthrowing the heir apparent. But it is a game of ladders as well as snakes. In fact, what’s the thrill of climbing ladders if there is no threat of getting bitten by snakes right when you are just about to reach the safety of the finishing line? 


So, Jayant also has a mistress, Miss Monica Machado. The office secretary is all set to milk his future fortune even before he gets to enjoy it. And it seems Jayant is not the only one she has had her eyes set on. Each step she takes to fulfill her greed brings her closer to her tragic end. It is the plot of her murder that drives this story of lust, ambition, and betrayal. What could have been Jayant’s rags-to-riches tale, abruptly shift gears midway unceremoniously ejecting him out of the driver’s seat, and becomes a neo-noir thriller leaving him grappling to reclaim the story. Although he loses the plot, the plot refuses to lose him. 



It is set in a Coenesque world. It is deliciously dark and dank yet tinged with humor and quirky allusions to classic movies. The world of the Coen Brothers is also where humans have hardly got any control and everything is mere happenstance. Even the best-laid plans are foiled by random and trivial actions or by the sheer stupidity of the characters. In the end, no one can escape the cruel wheel of fate, the more the characters try, the more miserably they fail. 


Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota director Vasan Bala’s earlier Netflix outing was the rather polarising Spotlight. A part of the Ray anthology, it was an adaptation of Satyajit Ray’s short story by the same name. But this time he does a far better job at adapting a story for the screen. Instead of interpreting the story in his own way, here he stays faithful to Keigo Higashino’s writing. Instead, he manages to make it his own by imbuing it with his own aesthetics. Vasan Bala is known for his quirky doffing of the hat, and this movie bears his signature dose of nostalgia and pop-culture references. The hat tips range from Hitchcock to Vijay Anand to even Bong Joon-ho. Mentions of characters from his own movies also pop up here and there.   


The story unfolds in Pune. It seems the town has become a favorite location to set dark and twisted thrillers. Anurag Kashyap’s Dobaaraa, which was released earlier this year was set in Pune, as was Sriram Raghavan’s Andhadhun. Also, these three are known for championing one another’s works. While Vasan was the co-writer with Kashyap on the 2016 thriller Raman Raghav 2.0, he has time and again mentioned his admiration for Raghavan. In fact, throughout Monica, O My Darling one is constantly reminded of Raghavan’s 2007 film Johnny Gaddaar.  


Apart from the groovy music, its mood and vibe are a shoutout to Hindi cinema of the ’70s and early ’80s replete with a cabaret. In fact, the title of the movie, Monica, O My Darling, is excerpted from the popular song, Piya Tu Ab To Aaja, of the 1971 film Caravan and it sets the mood for the ride that is to follow. 


Talking about references, the movie also reminded me of Baazigar. Apart from the Abbas–Mustanesque twists-pe-twists-pe-twists, the movie is also about an ambitious man with a sinister heart who charms his way to the top, and in the process lets down his old friends. But the choices the characters make are so different that you hardly even notice the similar DNA that runs through both.  


Rajkummar Rao has time and again proved that he is a brilliant actor and as Jayant Arkhedkar he gives a nuanced performance. However, just like Ayushmann Khurrana, it seems he needs to reinvent himself as an actor. It would be interesting to watch him play something else than the middle-class common man (he has played almost every shade of this character and aced each). 



Huma Quereshi gives a glorious performance as the coquettish gold-digger, Monica, who has no qualms about weaponizing her sexuality in an attempt to conquer the world. Huma sizzles and dazzles and is at her glamorous best. Her robust frame almost dwarfs Rao’s and this juxtaposition not only highlights their very different personalities where Monica is almost in the position of power (she not only overpowers, but even outwits Jayant) but also gives their physical fight an extra punch. 



Radhika Apte is back in the Netflix camp and she is impactful as ACP Naidu, the police officer in charge of the case. Her tongue-in-cheek dialogues delivered with her quintessential Pune accent, add extra sparkle to the character. 



Sukant Goel as Gaurav More has got a rather meaty role and does justice to what he has been entrusted with. But the surprise element is Sikandar Kher. The actor who has made his debut in the difficult-to-forget (but not in a good way) 2008 film, Woodstock Villa and is now all set to make his Hollywood debut in the Dev Patel directorial, Monkey Man, gives a short but absolutely stunning performance as Nishikant Adhikari. Hopefully, we will see more of him in the coming year. 



In fact, the entire ensemble cast is on point when it comes to acting. But the magic might just be in the writing by Vasan Bala and Yogesh Chandekar. 


Shot in warm tones accentuated by bright blobs of red (in Monica’s gown, the car, and of course the blood spattered across the story), Swapnil S. Sonawane and Sukesh Viswanath ensure that this study in scarlet is a visual treat as well.  Atanu Mukherjee’s editing is often quirky and snappy. But one hopes the second half was a bit tighter. The high point of the movie, apart from its writing, is definitely the music which is a jazzy tribute to RD Burman, Asha Bhosle, and the ’70s.  Varun Grover aces the lyrics of the title song as well. 




Vasan Bala, along with writer Yogesh Chandekar, builds a deliciously dark world of ambition, lust, greed, and betrayal that unfolds like a (real) snakes and (metaphorical) ladders game. The ensemble cast of Rajkummar Rao (brilliant but a bit repetitive), Huma Qureshi (glorious), Radhika Apte (effective and finally makes good use of her Pune accent) Sikander Kher (dark and devilish) and Sukant Goel (subtle yet powerful) ensures that this Coenesque neo-noir movie hits all the sweet spots, while the quirky yet ’70s-inspired retro music by Achint Thakkar adds an extra zing. For the cinephiles, the Easter eggs strewn along the way can add to the reasons to watch this dark and seductive pulp. 

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