India has become famous in the cinema landscape thanks to its powerful industry, one that generates millions and millions of dollars every year, and releases hundreds of movies. Bollywood, of course, remains the most famous and popular of these industries, but little by little, India proves that it can do more than epic musicals. Monica, O Darling, a new Netflix film that releases this week is proof that the Indian cinema industry can also do fun crime thrillers and this is one that although it is very strange, ends up working in the end.
Monica, O Darling is a film directed by Vasan Bala and stars Rajkummar Rao, Huma Qureshi, Zayn Marie Khan, Sukant Goel, and Radhika Apte. The film tells the story of Jayant, a young tech developer working for the Unicorn corporation. Jayant gets a huge promotion, he is in a relationship with the president of the company’s daughter, and his projects seem to be the future of the corporation. However, he also has a relationship with a woman named, Monica, the secretary to the president. When Monica reveals she is pregnant with his child, things turn for the worse.
Monica, O Darling is a very strange film. Bala has defined himself for being a director who brings tons of energy and style to his projects, and here is no different. The movie is covered head to toe with references, musical cues, quirky characters, jokes, and a very cool murder mystery. It has a bit of everything. This is great because it means that the movie can have a wide appeal. However, what looks great on paper doesn’t always translate well on screen, and at least in its first act, Monica, O Darling suffers from being quite messy.
The movie tells a story of murder, and ambition, but also tries to splash that Indian sensibility that makes their movies so special. We are dealing with themes like murder, ambition, corruption, and greed here, but the movie executes them on a background that feels more in line with a comedy film. The two tones clash more often than not during that first hour, as the movie is trying to find its feet. Does it find them? Yes, it does, as the second half of the movie feels very much like a more standard film but doesn’t lose the energy and style the director wants to put on screen.
The performances are nothing to write home about, but they are solid enough that the character ends up becoming more and more defined as the story progresses. That first hour is very rough, and it would not be a surprise if many people just leave the movie before getting into the good stuff. The story has many twists and turns, some might say two or three too many, but at least in the final stretch, they are surprising enough that you care about what is happening. Something that the first part of the film doesn’t really manage to do.
Visually, the film has this 70s style with tons of amber lights on the screen. The costume design and the musical choices also help bring this atmosphere to the forefront. You will not find amazing visual effects here, but Bala has really printed the film with his own personality. This is great, especially for a Netflix release. The streaming platform has been characterized later by releasing movies that seemed to be made on an assembly line, instead of a group of creatives. It isn’t flashy, but it isn’t flat either.
The musical choices might be a bit too much, though. We know that adding a musical number seems to be a staple of Indian cinema, and this movie has one at the beginning. This is fine. However, throughout the entire runtime, the movie makes use of the same musical motif, and very soon the repetition of the notes every time a character speaks or interacts with something becomes maddening. A leitmotif can be a fantastic tool, but in Monica, O Darling, its use goes a bit overdone.
The character is very quirky, and all the performances feel very over the top. This might ruffle some feathers, but if you stick with the movie, the characters end up revealing a nice level of charm, and the campiness of it can become a positive. It will all depend on the way you look at campiness. If you can’t deal with it, then this movie will definitely not be for you at all.
In the end, Monica, O Darling manages to be entertaining and a fantastic crime thriller with many twists and turns that you won’t see coming. The writing doesn’t really support most of these twists, which might hurt the film for those who decide to watch it several times, but at least on that first viewing, the shock value is quite entertaining. The first hour is quite rough, and only those that manage to keep up with the movie will be able to get to the good stuff.