Courtesy of Universal

“Monkey Man,” the directorial debut of actor Dev Patel, moves with confidence and tenacity, making it a refreshing addition to the action genre.

Rooted in the folktale of Hanuman, which the film opens with, protagonist Kid (Dev Patel) is a monkey-mask clad wrestler who scrabbles for minimum pay and is fueled by a shrouded past of violence and grief. His motivation is revealed piece by piece as the film progresses: the murder of his mother by policeman Rana Singh  (Sikandar Kher), who led the decimation of Kid’s hometown at the bidding of guru Baba Shakti (Makarand Deshpande). 

Kid’s pursuit of justice takes him from crowded streets to the glitz and glamor of the Indian elite, who stay suspended from reality atop towering buildings. Close, shaky camerawork brings a jagged intimacy to the film that amplifies its subjects. The warmth of the Indian community is just as vivid as the cruelty of the upper class.

Brutal hand-to-hand combat comprises the majority of the action. Patel sustained several injuries in performing all his fights himself, and the effort is evident in the no-holds-barred fight sequences. Kid jabs, swipes, claws and bites (literally) at his opponents in creatively choreographed brawls. In one notable set piece, an aquarium is smashed and slippery shards of glass bring an added obstacle to the tense fight.

Even through the intensity, however, the film brings focus to average Indian society. During one of the high-charged action sequences, the camera’s focus abruptly shifts from Kid in a speeding rickshaw to bystanders. The vehicle’s gust of wind disturbs two people standing by a cart of goods. People sleeping by the roadside stir in their sleep. The editing is tinged with humor, but the depiction is broadly sweet.

Moments like those root the film in humanity and underscore its larger message of uplifting the oppressed. Midway through the film, a group of hijras — transgender or intersex people in India — heal Kid at the temple they preside over and embrace him in community and spirituality to bring him to fighting state. The levity of his time with them and the wisdom they impart is a refreshing portrayal of a community that is deeply ostracized and underrepresented. 

“I learned you need to destroy in order to grow, make room for new life,” Kid is told by temple leader Alpha.

Displacement by the government and abuse from law enforcement are core to the antagonistic forces in the film and reflective of present India, wherein those issues are largely taboo to oppose and entrenched within the system. The film itself is an “anthem for the underdog , the voiceless, the marginalized,” Patel said in an interview with Variety. The political critique of these malicious forces is imperfect — such as the abrupt edit-in of real news clips — but still deeply impactful. 

The same can be said about the religious theming, which collides with political critique in having Hindu nationalism represented through Singh and Shakti. While religion and perceived “destruction” of Hindu values is the driving force of abuse of power, religion is the soul of those below the elite. Kid taps into this when recalling memories of his mother during his time with the hijras at their temple and in the final moments of the film.

This contrasting representation of Hinduism isn’t elucidated on but still serves the film’s purpose in showcasing the vast divide between the majority of India’s populus and the minority that control their lives.

It’s a testament to the tight pacing and rampant thrills of “Monkey Man” that the film is suffused with political meaning and is still deeply engaging. Its raw representation of India is one little seen on the Western big screen and clearly comes from deep passion on Patel’s part. His directorial debut is one that will linger with audiences and signal even better works to come.


Rating: 8/10


Sindhu Ananthavel
Sindhu Ananthavel (she/they) is the Lead News Editor for the 2023-24 school year. Previously, Ananthavel was the Deputy News Editor for the 2022-23 school year, the Community Outreach News Editor for the 2021-22 school year and an assistant news editor for the 2021-22 school year. She can be reached at