Written by S.S. Rajamouli and Janardhan Maharshi
Directed by S.S. Rajamouli
“Sure, if you want to do it the easy way,” Gonzo retorts to Fozzie Bear in an early scene in 1979’s The Muppet Movie, when the latter suggests that going to Bombay, India isn’t the smartest avenue to being a big movie star. India is home to, Fozzie’s scoffing aside, a massively profitable film industry that may seem foreign to many people in North America. If anything, though, the best of Bollywood only serves to put Hollywood to shame. Take, for example, Eega, playing today at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas. Eega’s high-concept story is, on its face, absolutely ridiculous. And inventive, and exciting, and goofy, and a hell of a lot of fun. If only Hollywood movies were this giddy and playful.
Nani (played by the actor Nani, which is quite convenient when you think about it) makes fireworks and is besotted with his beautiful neighbor across the street, Bindu (Samantha Ruth Prabhu), who works in micro art and heads a non-profit organization for children. Unfortunately, the odious and sly Sudeep has also fallen for Bindu, and once this rich businessman realizes he’s got a rival for her affections, he kills Nani gruesomely. But the karmic world is not done with Sudeep, as he’s soon terrorized by a particularly pesky housefly who just so happens to be Nani reincarnated. Nani takes only a few short minutes to get used to his new bodily digs before he decides to exact revenge on his killer any way he can. And as with many Bollywood movies, Eega has a little bit of everything: music, action, horror, comedy, melodrama, and everything in between.
Co-writer and director S.S. Rajamouli is smart enough to not take his premise too seriously, allowing Eega to be thrilling and enjoyable, to have a sense of humor about itself. There are plenty of cinematic allusions here—twisted though it may be, this film clearly acknowledges the debt it owes to Ghost—but Sudeep’s slow descent into insanity, inspired by Nani’s persistence, feels like it’s straight out of an Edgar Allan Poe short story. Sudeep (also played by an actor of the same name, and the conveniences just keep racking up, don’t they?) doesn’t immediately realize what’s going on, not until after a brutal car accident whose cause leaves behind a threatening message in the dust. Alongside the film’s visual effects (and with a budget of roughly $4 million US dollars, Eega’s CGI is almost deliberately cheesy, but then, how could making a housefly do a Bollywood-style dance and triumphant fist-pump, among other things, not be a bit cheesy?), Sudeep is the big star, jumping from sleazy charm to menace to madness all within the span of 107 minutes without looking like he’s trying too hard.
Eega is not the kind of movie that could be made in Hollywood, this year or any, and it’s kind of a shame. Yes, a fly trying to kill a man may seem like a premise worth laughing at or mocking. And yes, if the Bollywood style is unfamiliar to you, watching a love song transition into an action scene or vice versa could be a bit baffling. But Eega is pure, goofy madness, an unfiltered blend of daring, wild creativity. The true shame is that the original cut, running just about 135 minutes, isn’t showing at Fantastic Fest; instead, we get a version that’s nearly 30 minutes shorter. Perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid to Eega is that the US cut is far too brief. Here is a movie that could stand to be longer. Who could say no to more fun like this?
— Josh Spiegel