On Screen: “Monkey Man”

Monkey Man

Remember Dev Patel, that appealing young Indian actor in “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and its sequel?

Now he’s made his writing-directing-producing debut with “Monkey Man,” a grim action-packed revenge thriller set in the squalid (fictional) city of Yatana in India.

Patel plays an unnamed Kid who grew up in the forest with Neela (Adithi Kalkunte), his hard-working single mom who kept him enthralled with Hindu stories from the Ramayama revolving around the mythological monkey deity known as Lord Hanuman.

When a greedy land developer, disguised as a spiritual guru, with the help of a populist right wing politician, destroyed their village, his mother was brutally killed by Rana (Sikander Kher), the corrupt local police chief.

As years pass, the skinny Kid with badly scarred hands develops into a formidable, monkey-masked fighter, but he’s often defeated at the bloody, bare-knuckle bouts staged by sleazy Tiger (Sharlo Copley), a ruthless Master of Ceremonies.

Determined to wreak revenge for his mother’s death, he steals enough rupees to enable him to go undercover as ‘Bobby,’ a dishwasher-then-waiter at an elite nightclub-brothel run by Queenie (Ashwini Kalsekar) under the ‘protection’ of villainous Rana.

Awkwardly scripted as an underdog story by Patel, Paul Angunawela, and John Collee with nods to the obvious influence of the Bruce Lee-John Wick genres, it’s filled with so many graphic close-ups that narrative-political coherence is often discarded, despite energetic cinematographer Sharone Meir and rapid-fire editors David Janesso and Tim Murrell.

Intriguing supporting characters, like the compassionate trans-woman Alpha (Vipin Sharma) — who identifies as hijira, a Hindu term for the third gender — and the prostitute Sita (Sobbhita Dhulipala), appear and inexplicably disappear.

Raised in London by Gujarati parents from Nairobi, Kenya, Dev Patel has obviously been deeply influenced by his Indian heritage, particularly the caste system, and he feels strongly about its socio-political context. Plus, he’s trained in Taekwondo since he was 10 years old.

Originally set to debut on Netflix, the film was boosted to a theatrical run when filmmaker Jordan Peele convinced Universal Pictures of its commercial viability.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Monkey Man” is a grisly, gruesome, gory 5, having opened in local theaters last Friday.


Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures. Her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M.

As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O’Brien, and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism.

During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie and drama critic, syndicating her reviews and articles around the world, including Video Librarian. She has appeared on American Movie Classics and Turner Classic Movies. In 2017, her book 150 Timeless Movies was published by Hannacroix Creek Books. Her website is www.susangranger.com.

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