Directed and written by: Anurag Kashyap
Starring: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Vicky Kaushal
Amidst the furore and hype over Udta Punjab, Raman Raghav 2.0 almost made a quiet entry into the theatre screens (one wonders if Phantom Films could have deferred this release instead of having 2 of their productions in consecutive weeks). Its subject matter though, is anything but quiet. Putting the incident that was Bombay Velvet behind him, Anurag Kashyap returns to doing what he prefers, making raw, violent films that explore the dark side of human nature, all presented in an uncompromising yet stylish manner.
Except in Raman Raghav 2.0, one wonders if style triumphed over substance. The story, as mentioned in the opening credits, is inspired from the real life serial killer Raman Raghav, who terrorised Mumbai in the 1970s and was held responsible for 41 murders. However, as told in the film’s opening dialogue, this is not the story of the real Raman Raghav, Kashyap uses the character to create a contemporary depiction of a psychopathic serial killer called Raman (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and his cat and mouse game with a drug addicted violent cop, Raghav (Vicky Kaushal).
Anurag Kashyap is at ease navigating the underbelly of the city of Mumbai, be it the portrayal of slums or the urban decadence. While the settings are quintessential Kashyap, the players in the setting don’t have their characters fleshed out as well as the director’s earlier iconic works (this is especially true in the case of Raman’s character). Like a typical serial killer movie, Raman Raghav shocks and awes the audience by giving a close-up to the mind of a serial killer, one that is bizarrely twisted, devoid of empathy, morality and rationality. But that is as far as it goes, we get a close-up, we never get inside that mind. To the audience, Raman remains a gross aberration, a mistake in the name of humanity. But unlike Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs, the Tooth Fairy in Red Dragon or Richard Hickock in In Cold Blood, we never come close to deciphering that mind, which is what sets these names apart from the other run-of the-mill serial killer movies. In the film’s defence though, Raman Raghav 2.0 is not the story of the real Raman Raghav.
And that’s where the 2nd pillar of the movie comes into the picture, enter Raghav, a 30 year old cop who seems to be the anti-thesis of the typical police officer one would expect. He loves doing drugs, snorts cocaine as a way of life, sports his fire-arms everywhere under the name of law enforcement and by nature has a vicious violent streak. If Anurag Kashyap hadn’t already been involved in Udta Punjab which has taken all the limelight lately in its gritty portrayal of the ill effects of drugs in society, the audience would have seen Raman Raghav also as a movie that depicts the menace of drugs, but focussed more on a single individual. While Raman is already the character that he is, the film gives more consideration in showcasing the downward spiral of Raghav as he fails to cope with his drug induced lifestyle which along with the nature of his job, is a significant reason for his inherent violent character. (On a side note, one wonders how Udta Punjab was banned for its supposed excessive depiction of drug use while Raman Raghav which has more hard core drug usage was spared of any such cuts. This makes the writer wonder whether drugs had anything to do with the cuts at all. But I digress!).
The main highlight of the film is the strength of the performances of the 2 main actors. This film was expected to have been the perfect platform for Nawazuddin Siddiqui to showcase his skills, and he doesn’t disappoint in his depiction of a psychotic cold blooded killer stripped bare of emotions or morality, albeit that’s pretty much all that we see throughout the film. Vicky Kaushal, however, deserves the bigger accolades; he may have been pardoned to be in the shadow of Siddiqui, instead he manages to hold his own. That he is a special talent was evident from his very natural performance in Masaan, and in Raman Raghav he shows his versatility in a transformative performance. He combines a violent hot-headed streak with the emotional effervescence of a suppressed individual fallen into addiction. With the apt tagline of “Madness meets mayhem”, we see how Kaushal’s character freefalls into mayhem with the influence of Raman’s madness. As Raman indicates, in a warped dialogue almost reminiscent of the iconic Joker in The Dark Knight, Raghav completes Raman, both need each other for finding their meaning in existence. Raghav, in his drug induced downward spiral, seems to be just one step away from embracing Raman.
Aesthetically, this film is typical Anurag Kashyap fare with its gritty, raw portrayal of violence, decadence and degradation of human nature. But aesthetics aside, what made Kashyap’s earlier similarly styled films like Gulaal or Gangs of Wasseypur so appreciated was his vision, message and character development through the lens of these aesthetic senses. In Raman Raghav, we feel as if the aesthetics are not a means to an end, they are the be all and end all. The film gives a warped guilty pleasure, similar to Korean films like I Saw the Devil or Chaser (random trivia, Chaser was incompetently copied by Murder 2) with its stylised and relentless depiction of violence and mayhem. Kashyap’s previous low budget production, Ugly, expertly showed the ugly and degraded side of human nature complete with selfishness, ego, manipulation and betrayal without having to overtly rely on style over substance. Even the downward spiral of Raghav’s character, one of the film’s relatively stronger points, seems to be forced, especially at the climax.
While quoting Shakespeare’s Macbeth (“It is a tale, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”) may seem to be too harsh a statement on Raman Raghav, it is nevertheless true (in spite of the power-packed performances), especially given the high expectations from an auteur like Anurag Kashyap.
My rating: 2.5/5 (+ 0.5 for the acting performances)
(a self-proclaimed cinephile)