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MONKEY MAN: How Dev Patel Survived Broken Bones and Jane Fonda Workouts to Make His Dream Movie

The just-released Monkey Man is one of 2024’s most highly anticipated movies. Produced by the Oscar-winning Jordan Peele (Best Original Screenplay, Get Out), directed by star Dev Patel, and co-written by Patel, Paul Angunawela and John Collee, it has wowed audiences with its tightly crafted story and relentless, unsparingly violent action.

In the film, Patel portrays Kid, a young down-and-outer who survives by fighting in an underground fight club while wearing a gorilla mask–a character based loosely on the Hindu god, Hanuman, known in lore for facing off against long odds. Essentially paid to be a punching bag for more popular fighters, Kid finally fights back to seek the revenge he’s craved for so long.



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In late March, Patel took to a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) session to answer questions about his inspirations for the film, while also discussing the trials and tribulations he experienced making it a reality.

“I think it’s been rattling around in my brain for over a decade,” he revealed. “Since I watched Bruce Lee as a kid, {and} since  my grandfather talked to me about Hanuman and the story about Ramayana. The first image I had was a young man wearing a cheap gorilla mask in an underground wrestling ring… ”

As Patel explained, “This movie is about the marginalized — the underdogs — all lifting each other up to achieve a justice that was only meant for the privileged. I basically created my own lane — my own reality as an artist …”

Making a film that can in turn make it to theaters, and do so with reasonable popular and financial success is incredibly challenging. This was especially true for Patel, who had only a meager $10 million production budget to work with against the complicated backdrop of a global pandemic.


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“It was the most demanding thing I’ve ever done in my life,” said Patel about the process of bringing Monkey Man into existence. “Every day we faced absolute catastrophe. We were meant to shoot in India, then Covid hit — I lost, my initial production designer and DOP {director of photography) and the film was basically dead …”

Weeks before principle photography was to commence, he had to beg the film’s financier not to shut it down. In the end, the cast and crew pivoted to a different location and moved to a tiny island in Indonesia, where they could “create a bubble in an empty hotel” for nearly 500 people.

It was a grueling nine months that mixed absolute joy with utter chaos. “We had to adapt last minute — the borders closed {and} I couldn’t bring in lots of supporting characters, so I ended up having to put every tailor, lighting guy, accountant etcetera in front of the camera.”

Speaking of cameras, most of the crew’s equipment broke and they couldn’t fly in “new stuff” during lockdown. Thus, in a solution born of dire necessity, they wound up shooting Patel’s mobile phone using his GoPro camera and video-editing app.

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Patel’s unwavering dedication paid off in a big way. Monkey Man‘s unmitigated brutality and elaborate fight sequences make it a major creative departure from his previous work on the gritty but ultimately uplifting Slumdog Millionaire, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, with its lighter, gentler dramatic themes. But the film is being lauded as a kinetic, emotion-charged, groundbreaking masterpiece of its genre, in no small part due to the work of fight choreographer Brahim Chab, who Patel credits as bringing the screenplay to life “with brutal ferocity.”

“I was very detailed in the script in regards to each beat of action,” he said. “The idea  … was to capture a sense of desperation as to what it would truly be like in a life or death situation. The lead character of Kid is like a caged, cornered animal.”




Unsurprisingly, the movie took a physical a toll on Patel. Over the course of filming he endured broken toes, tore a shoulder, and, while working on the first major action scene, suffered a broken hand that almost brought filming to a halt. “I took home the screw that kept the bone in my hand together. The crew literally turned the X-ray of my hand into a T-shirt. It was the screw that kept the production together.”

According to Patel, the hardest part of the fight choreography was taking a hit. “I would wake up with the worst neck pain; it was like whiplash,” he recalled. “I went full Jane Fonda on this shit. We didn’t have access to the best gym equipment so a lot of it was body weight exercises and resistance bands.”

And, he added, “Tons of sweet potato and salmon.”


In its first full week of release, Monkey Man–whose cast includes Sharlto Copley and the very versatile (and busy) Hindi actress Sobhita Dhulipala–finished second in the box office wars to Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, taking in more than $10 million and already exceeding its production budget. Check out the official trailer:





Born on the East Coast but currently residing on the West Coast, Andrew Martin has contributed to a variety of newspapers, magazines, blogs and other mediums  but most fondly remembers his Master’s thesis exploring the impact of the Boston Red Sox on social identity in New England. He enjoys writing about history, sports, culture and investing and recently published his first book–Baseball’s Greatest Players: 10 Baseball Biographies for New Readers, a children’s book about baseball history.

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