WTF ASIA 175: Zoo (2018)

I never thought that I would see Mickey Mouse in an Indian movie, but here we are.

Available in Australia, Canadathe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries. Approximately 94 minutes.

 

 

 

 

It is late at night. A pair of teenage boys named Yoku and Prince are practicing beatboxing in the back of an autorickshaw. Where are they going? Where are they coming from? It is unclear. What is important is that they are trying to work out the sounds on their own, honing them and refining them. This is what they do.

It is the day time. Bicky works at a café…I am not sure if it is one of those cafes with specific hiring practices, but Bicky is mute. Anyways, goes over to a quartet of…I guess high school girls (unless university students also have uniforms) and hands a couple of them roses before taking their orders. Each gets increasingly flirtatious, with the last one simply asking for his name. He tries spelling out his name in sign language, but eventually writes it down on his notepad.

Bicky goes to get their order; wait, it was ready already? Well, Bicky’s brother Rahul has been observing the entire exchange and is quite amused.

Rahul is playing soccer with a group of other boys. His team is not exactly happy with him today because it appears as if he lost the game for them. One of them even accuses him of throwing the game for money. Which…he may have done.

Bicky goes to purchase some drugs. What is it? Heroin? His source is…a woman on a motor scooter and a young kid…well, okay. If the process works, then it works. Oh, right. Bicky is not mute; he just pretends to be while working at the café.

Bicky and Rahul walk down the street and Rahul is pestering Bicky for money, as he does every day. Come on, dude; he just spent a bunch of it on drugs.

It is evening and people are gearing up for New Years celebrations. Yoku goes to Prince’s place and they head out to somewhere. Nearby, Bicky tries to defend Rahul from a woman unhappy that he is in her house. To be fair, the residencies in this poor neighborhood seem to bump up against each other, so it can be difficult to see what home starts where.

Yoku walks through a crowd as a song is playing and dances along with some other guys. Prince comes along and is…well…not very pleased with this, and takes Yoku away to somewhere else.

And now we meet a new character, Misha. She lives in a pretty fancy apartment in a high-rise, far from the festivities below. She is not even looking at the fireworks outside her window. A man calls her up to wish her happy new year. She does not speak, so he does all the talking, saying that he hopes that she is doing well, that he is doing well, and that Jasleen is doing well as well. His words are friendly, but there is a hint of menace in his voice. Obviously, she knows who he is, but we will have to wait. He tells her to enjoy New Year, but she is obviously not; alone in her apartment. At this point, it is morning and she finally looks out a window to…the river…where nothing seems to be going on.

Bicky is working at the café again when…uh…a client arrives. He asks about his…order…and Bicky tells him that the consignment has not arrived. The Client tells him to stay mute, lest he lose his café job. Well, if the consignment has not arrived, then The Client demands information, so he does not leave empty-handed. So, Bicky writes something down on a piece of paper and gives it to him, as well as some coffee. Because, this is a café. The Client warns him against calling anyone without informing him. He also asks for some sugar. No…not sugar…sugar…yes, a packet of sugar from Bicky’s fannypack. It is very subtle.

And, just in case it was too subtle. Here is Bicky pouring white powder, into little packets and labeling them sugar.

Prince is rapping in English out on a city sidewalk while Yoku is beatboxing under him. They do this in various places around the city. Whether they are doing it for money or just to be heard is unclear.

Misha is in the bathroom, trying to do…something. Whatever it is, she couldn’t do it. So she goes to one of her drawers, takes out a baggie of what I am guessing are drugs, and empties the contents into the toilet.

It is the evening and Rahul is hosting…uh…a wrestling match in Bicky’s house. Or is it a boxing match? In any case, Bicky arrives walks through the whatever it is. He walks upstairs and gets a phone call from…someone he doesn’t know. I guess that someone wants drugs. He goes back downstairs with…some kind of rod-looking thing, and shoos everyone who is not Rahul out of the house. Then he yells at Rahul to clean up the mess.

Bicky goes to this fancy apartment building and goes to the apartment. He knocks on the door, but it is unlocked. Where is…the client. Is it Misha? Is this Misha’s place? If this is Misha’s apartment, then where is she? Well, whatever. He goes inside, takes some cash from the dish by the door, takes out two “sugar” packets from his fanny pack, and puts them in the dish. Bicky goes to the kitchen and finds some bottles of…water? He drinks some of it. And then leaves. Okay. So where was Misha? Was she not there? Was she too scared to be face to face with a drug dealer? Was she spying on him to see what he would do?

Back at his house, Bicky makes some coffee and wakes Rahul up. Or tries to. Doesn’t Rahul have a game today? Yeah, but in the evening. Without even moving from his spot, Rahul tells Bicky to leave some money for him. Bicky says that he gave Rahul 200 rupees two days ago and he is not going to just give him more to spend on his loser friends. Maybe in a couple of days. Besides, he has no money now. What about a new phone, Rahul asks. Bicky tells him to use one of the spares, but Rahul wants a smart phone, not junk. Next month, Bicky says, but Rahul is doubtful. Bicky offers to leave 100 rupees, but Rahul doesn’t want it. Jeez, Rahul.

Prince is praying at what looks to be some makeshift temple or church while Yoku cries onto a bench. He failed an exam, meaning he is not going to be stuck in ninth grade. He does not really care about that, but the girl whom he is in love with (?) is going to move into tenth grade without him. Prince was already not feeling sympathy for him over failing so terribly, but he finds this to be hilarious.

It is late at night and Rahul is walking through parking lot with his friends. They are stealing the emblems/car badges from various vehicles…okay…yeah…

Bicky goes back to Misha’s apartment and, once again, the door is unlocked. Once again, he takes the cash from the bowl and leaves the packets of drugs. Once again, he goes to the kitchen and drinks from the bot…oh, there’s Misha. He tells her that he needed some water and…she just says that that is fine. She asks him for a favor. She tells him that she had been trying to do online transactions, but her card is not going through. So, she just needs some coffee powder to make coffee. Well…while, Bicky does not necessarily accept, he does say that he will be back, and then leaves.

Rahul and his friends are at a restaurant and one of his friends is doing an impression of Bicky, being all holier than thou. It makes Rahul’s other friends laugh and Rahul kind of grins. Then the guy asks another friend to pretend to be Rahul (or “Messi” as they call him) and ask “Bicky” for money. “Bicky” counts his thousands and gives a single coin. The others laugh again and Rahul does that kind of grin, but that smile drops quickly.

Bicky and Rahul have (I assume) snuck into a swimming pool at night and are horsing around. Rahul kind of brings the mood down by asking to work with Bicky. Bicky is quiet for a while, but eventually asks why soccer is not enough. Surely he will do well taking that path. Bicky’s life selling drugs is risky, not a party. Well, with that done, Bicky wants to have fun in the water again, but Rahul is too sulky now. Bicky keeps trying, but the mood is ruined.

There is some local public political meeting…thingamee, where they are distributing stuff to people. Yoku thinks that they should maybe do something on the stage, so he and Prince talk to one of the people in charge, saying that they are performers from the…uh…Party. The presenter, with very little heads up, introduces them as people who do something called rap, though he pronounces it as rape. Oops.

So, Yoku starts beatboxing and Prince raps in Hindi about government corruption and the pointlessness of elections, which I am sure the others on the stage appreciate. The audience of around fifty or sixty is of mixed ages and their reception of the performance is…also mixed.

Well, someone was not happy with their performance, and they end up in a police station. I guess that the interrogating officer was not there, so he does not know what happened. Prince explains that they were performing rap, which the officer hears as rape. No, rap. They were singing. The officer still misunderstands, so he has Prince sing for him. So, with Yoku beatboxing from the hallway, Prince performs a little rap in English about how he hates cops. And then he does a hand/headstand. Fortunately for him, it seems like none of the officers who can hear them understand English…or at least none of them care enough to inform the interrogating officer what Prince is saying. Either way, the officer is…impressed…or at least amused enough, that he lets Prince and Yoku leave. But, he does tell them to come perform at his son’s birthday party tomorrow evening. Prince says that they will try and they leave. Now it is Mickey Mouse’s turn to talk with the officer.

Bicky is in Misha’s apartment again and she is explaining that her need to make her own coffee is that it lets her feel that there is something under her control; something that she can do for herself. She probably has to explain this to justify why she is making a pot of coffee even though the power is out in her apartment. She tells Bicky that she probably has not paid the electricity bill, but she will do that at some point. She then asks if she paid him for that day. Which day? The other day? Bicky says no, but then she remembers paying him for the coffee, so she must have paid him for the other thing. With that settled, Misha asks about the coffee. It’s good. Bicky’s first cold black coffee. She says that she could have made a better one with electricity…well, maybe not as good as the café, but hot at least. Bicky invites her to come to the café, but she tells him that she does not leave the apartment. He doesn’t ask why, only asking whether she stays here alone. When she doesn’t answer, he leaves.

Rahul and his friends are…somewhere by the river I guess, just hanging around. One of them is holding a pigeon, but oops, he lets go of it and it flies off. Another guy goes to catch it and Rahul yells at the one who released it for losing their dinner. Bicky walks up and asks what happened to his phone. Rahul doesn’t seem to know what he is talking about. So Bicky frisks…uh…the guy who had let go of the pigeon. Then he checks the sofa that they were using. And…then he walks back away, shoving another of Rahul’s friends.

Well, Rahul did take the phone, and uses it during the evening. Bicky calls from another phone, pretty much having figured out that Rahul took it, but Rahul simply laughs quietly. Uh oh…The Client calls. He had been trying to get in touch with…Bicky. He needs another fifteen. Rahul asks for the address and says that his “friend” will come.

Oh, hey, it is the birthday party. And the kids are loving it. The parents are loving it. And Prince is getting a bunch of little kids to yell SUCK MY DICK over and over again. Oh, and here comes Mickey Mouse. This is fun.

Prince and Yoku are on the train heading back home. That wasn’t fun at all. They are in seats facing away from each other. And then they are in another train, this time looking past each other…and it looks like they are in a cage.

I guess that Misha got her electricity back, because she is playing a video game while the man on the phone talks to her some more. He is celebrating Jasleen’s birthday today. Birthdays everywhere. Meanwhile Misha snorts the drugs…wait…is it cocaine? Okay, maybe it is cocaine. And…it is gone. So, she has to leave a message on Bicky’s phone asking for some stuff. Honestly, I don’t know what it is. She seems jittery, but not really moving.

And when Bicky stops by, Misha is asleep on the floor, even though all of the lights are on. He gently wakes her up and offers her water. Her phone rings and she tells him to turn it off. It…is she falling back asleep?

Bicky makes some breakfast for the both of them. Then…erm…he starts to teach her sign language? Okay.

Rahul makes his way to some…club…and…honestly, I am not sure what happens here. Some guy meets him outside and gives him a package in exchange for another package. Then Rahul goes inside. He just walks in a fairly straight line to nowhere until a young woman takes him to the dance floor. They dance for a bit while she has him drink from the bottle that she had been holding. Then it is to a table, where she cuts some of the drugs into five lines. She snorts one and pressures Rahul into snorting one of the other ones. Not a party, eh Bicky?

 

 

 

 

 

This is an interesting little movie. Shot on an iphone6, it eschews the grand sequences of masala movies for long takes in intimate settings. So, it really gets up close with the main characters.

The story, as it were is not really about the plot. It is more about the day-to-day lives of young people in Mumbai. They are all in bad place and trying to make their way out, but are not too sure how.

Prince and Yoku are obsessed with Tupac and Biggie…to the point where I had initially called them that in this write-up and had to replace them all after the fact. It is not just the rapping, at least not for Prince, but the revolutionary philosophy of Tupac. He has ambitions of changing the world with his voice, but…well…he is just a teenager from the slums. And no one seems to be have any concept regarding rap, let alone an interest in amplifying his message. It is not completely unheard of, as is made clear during that New Year’s dance session, but it is not really treated as something viable. People may listen to Prince and Yoku with amusement or hostility if they bother to listen at all. They are tolerated at best, abused at worst, but usually ignored. Their teenage fantasies are no more than that; they feel it deeply, and their efforts are a combination of hope and the need to avoid acknowledging that it is never going to happen.

Bicky is…just trying to get through the day. He has somewhat of a hustle, having faked his way into a cafe job and using it to act as a middleman between a drug distributor and a major client. I am not…exactly sure how the whole thing works, but he makes it work. Still, he treats it as a job that allows him to get by and that is that. He is not really a hardened man or anything like that. I am not sure if he used the money to buy that house or if his family lived there before of if he is renting it. Either way, it gives him a bit of peace and quiet in contrast to the outside. That is, of course, unless Rahul is making mischief.

Rahul is known by everyone as Messi due to his playing soccer. But Rahul does not really seem to take it seriously, treating it as a job that he can maybe make some quick bucks from. That seems to be his main drive in life, getting money by whatever way that he can. If it is crime, then he will commit crimes. If it is pestering Bicky for money, then he will pester Bicky. His friends are with him on the crime part, but tease him about Bicky. Yes, Bicky the drug-dealer, is the responsible parental figure to Rahul’s wild card. So, of course, Rahul wants in on the drug business as well. Easy money, right?

Well, money will not necessarily bring happiness. Just look at Misha. Given her still having money and not having sold off too much of her things, I can assume that her descent into drugs (whatever they are) is recent, one more step in her attempt to cope with her misery. It is clear that the man on the phone is related to her misery, but it is not made clear until later on. Her self-imprisonment was meant to be a means of mental escape. And when it stopped working, she decided to supplement it with…whatever drugs Bicky has. And while she is lucky that Bicky is rather gentle and accommodating for a drug-dealer, I cannot say how much of a priority her own well-being is to her. Though I have talked about other Indian movies that were about drugs, this one seems to try something different, showing misery to be a driving force. Yes, perhaps Misha could have been like all of those rich party goers whom Rahul encounters, she is not. She is alone and just trying to escape her own mind. 

With only the long takes being anything close to a flashy style, this movie is pretty refreshing for showing the youth of Mumbai just living, being, trying. Sure, it is well-trodden territory in the West, but the setting makes it stand out some.

Actually, there are some things that would not work in a movie from the West, particularly the use of English. While it is similar to Amal in that English is seen as a language for the upper classes, it is not that clear-cut. The girls who flirt with Bicky in the beginning speak exclusively in English, so he has to at least understand it. Misha speaks in English a lot to Bicky, though she tends to switch back to Hindi when he responds in Hindi. Written English is in a lot of places, particularly businesses, showing how much the Western world, particularly America, has influenced Mumbai. And, for Prince and Yoku, that influence comes from rap; not exactly a signifier of the upper class. To them, or at least to Prince, it is not simply a way up or a way out; it is the language of defiance, particularly towards the police officer who presumably does not understand English. 

For a relatively grounded movie, it does make a few odd choices, such as having Prince and Yoku be their own separate story from the others, even though they live nearby Rahul and Bicky. It does not really show how drugs have affected the poor of Mumbai, having rich people like Misha be shown to be the primary consumers. And having only one female character of prominence be rich while all of the other primary characters were poor young men was an odd decision as well. Personally, I would have liked  to see more of the woman on the scooter who delivers the drugs to Bicky; what is her deal? Actually, the practical mechanics of various activities were a little strange to me. But, whatever; that’s fine. I did not go into the movie for the ins and outs of the Mumbai drug trade.

 

 

Erm…yeah. I thought that I had other things to say about this movie, but I guess not. I like it.

 

 

WTF ASIA 176: Komola Rocket (Bangladesh: 2018, approx. 95 minutes)

Wikipedia

Available in Australia, Canadathe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries.

WTF ASIA 177: The Shadow Within (Japan: 1970, approx. 98 minutes)

No Wikipedia

Available in Canada, the United States, and perhaps a few other countries.