Dev Patel shines in Monkey Man

Sports writer Alan Zhang reviews Dev Patel’s highly anticipated passion project.
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Image by Hana Tobias for The UCSD Guardian

In Hindu mythology, there is a half-monkey, half-human god deity named Hanuman. One day, when Hanuman was young, he felt hungry, and he looked up at the sky and saw the Sun, which he mistook for a mango. He reached to try to grab it, angering the gods, who took away his powers. This is how “Monkey Man” begins, with Kid (Dev Patel) listening intently in the forest as his mother recounts the story. 


The legend of Hanuman serves as the inspiration for the film, which is Patel’s directorial debut wherein he also served as a producer and co-writer for the screenplay. The film is an audacious undertaking that struggles at times but hits the mark more often than not. It also comments on numerous issues in contemporary Indian society, such as transgender rights and the rise of Hindu nationalism.


As a result of its political overtones, “Monkey Man” has still not been released in India. This isn’t shocking considering that the film’s primary antagonist, religious leader Baba Shakti (Makarand Deshpande), has many parallels to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In the film, Shakti, with the help of police chief Rana Singh (Sikander Kher), uses religion as a justification for seizing land and using violence against minorities. Interestingly though, rather than looking at Hindu nationalism from the lens of a religious minority, Patel chooses to base the movie on a Hindu deity, whose tale is an analogy and inspiration for the journey that Kid goes on in the film.


After he lost his powers, Hanuman changed. He matured from a vengeful child and became a leader who fought to protect those around him. Throughout the course of “Monkey Man,” Kid would follow the same path.


When we first meet Kid, he is being paid to lose in underground boxing matches while donning a monkey mask. He gets a job in the kitchen of a luxurious brothel where Singh frequents, seeking revenge on him for killing his mother. He attempts to assassinate Singh, but upon his failure, is forced to flee, culminating in his getting shot by police and falling into the river. 


While this act ended in a long action sequence, it featured a lengthy setup that was generally dull. It struggles to gain its footing, and Kid’s journey up until the assassination attempt feels too drawn out. But following his near-death, the film begins to fire on all cylinders.


He is saved by a community of hijra, people who align with a third gender, neither male nor female, and is brought to their temple. He recovers at the temple and begins training again to not only avenge his mother but so he can protect minorities like the hijra, who have been targeted for being transgender. Following the election, he returns to the city and kills Singh and Shakti, finally avenging his mother.


It’s the third and final act that really makes “Monkey Man” memorable. Patel’s brilliance in both filmmaking and acting is on full display, with gripping action sequences being elevated through the emotion and depth that his character exudes.


Grade: A-

Directed by: Dev Patel

Starring: Dev Patel, Sikander Kher, Makarand Deshpande, Sobhita Dhulipala

Release date: April 5, 2024

Rated: R


Image courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter

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About the Contributor
Hana Tobias
Hana Tobias, Photographer
Hana is a fourth year Cognitive Science major.
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