Amidst the passel of everyday problems that the average person faces, how does that person react when they feel very strongly about a disagreeable person or situation? You and I would, in all probability, ignore it and get on with living our lives. Some of us might pick up pen and paper (figuratively, while actually logging in to our e-mail account) and dash off a strongly worded letter to the editor, owner of the erring establishment, or the local political representative. Others might start an online petition to try and rid the problem. But what makes a person pick up a rod, firearm, or any other form of assault object, and then proceed to use it on unsuspecting folks, most of whom they wouldn’t have had a nodding acquaintance with? And having used that weapon of annihilation, what makes them do it again and again? Is it some mission in their mad, psychotic mind? Is it simply because a burst of electric signal crackles and neuro transmits the madness into gruesome actions? Is it some natant childhood memory that suddenly is washed ashore the sea of chemical mixture in our brain that triggers the storm? In other words, what makes a psychotic serial killer what they are?
If you think director Anurag Kashyap attempts to answer any of these fractious questions that flood your earnest cinema devouring senses with Raman Raghav 2.0, you’re in the wrong hall. What he does instead, is create a dark, Mumbai slum-noir of a movie, that you watch as much as with helplessness as much as with a devilishly voyeuristic pleasure. Co-writing with Vasan Bala, Kashyap opens the movie with cards that are a quick lesson on Raman Raghav – he of the 1960s murders infamy in Bombay, where pavement dwellers were bludgeoned to death in their sleep. When he was finally arrested and when he finally broke his silence (thanks to a dish of chicken curry served to him in jail – Kashyap does a wily reference scene in the movie; more about that in a bit), he confessed to 41 murders. At this point, the director, tongue-firmly-in-noir-cheek, places a text card that will have you guffaw, possibly the first and last time in the movie. The next time you do, it’ll be a nervous chuckle. Just so you feel better.
Raman Raghav 2.0 is not about the original serial killer, and strangely enough, it is also about him. A man, claiming to have committed murders on Mumbai pavements in 2013, confesses as much to the police. Calling himself Sindhi Dalwai (also one of the names of the original killer), this man (Nawazuddin Siddique) insists that he is the killer, and that his inspiration is the original Raman Raghav, and now calls himself Ramanna. The investigating team, led by DCP Raghav (Vicky Kaushal) dismisses him as an attention-seeking, homeless kook, who’s looking for free food and shelter, a.k.a jail. But, you, sitting in the darkness of the hall, know otherwise. Using the chapters-division- technique to tell his story, Kashyap ties you to the chair and reads you his cinematic tale of an unhinged mind. And as the movie proceeds, it becomes progressively darker, making you cringe, gasp, and mutter “Oh……. (any reflexive exclamation of your choice)!” – the lady next to me used “No!” and the excretory reference alternately. (Mine are unprintable.) The director layers his movie with some superb references to Ramayana (just about the only justification you’ll get out of the maker and his protagonist), a parallel between the killer and the cop – including how they both treat their women; and, as the cat and mouse game between these two picks up taut, wire-tight tension, the full import of the movie title hits you.
Raman Raghav 2.0 is full of brilliant sequences, and one of my favorite is the chapter titled The Sister, where Ramana inveigles himself into his sister’s house. What Kashyap does here is mind-boggling. Using the aforementioned chicken curry reference, he constructs a scene of chicken cooking that simmers and cooks even as Nawazuddin drags his weapon of choice – an ominous looking tire wrench – around the house, and uses it when you least expect it. The chicken is cooked, and Nawazuddin’s character makes a sumptuous meal of it. When you hear the crunch of onions and the chewing of the delectable meat, you know you’re as scared as you are hungry. This scene also exposes more of Ramana’s character to you – and none of it is pleasant and you’re not sure what part of his character is real, and what is a figment of his own demented mind, as he drags his sister and her family into a mess that’s as bloody as it is sickening.
Then there’s scene in the slums where, in the middle of the night, Ramana slides over a slum-house, peeping through the crack in the roof, reconnoitering his next victims. The lighting here is brilliant, as is Jay Oza’s cinematography, which remains compelling throughout the movie. The camera captures all the grime, grit, and loathsome slum surroundings with such dark brio, you can almost smell the stink and the fear of the surroundings and death all throughout. The superb sound design by Vinit D’Souza and team also calls for a bow – in the same slum scene, as Nawazuddin sidles on the roof, the wail of the baby is so well-recorded and placed, it’s a heart-in-your-mouth, muttering moment. Then there’s the in-your-gut production design by Tiya Tejpal, that’s never in your face, and yet absolutely, claustrophobically effective.
Another highlight of the movie is composer Ram Sampath’s darkly haunting score – he’s in fine Talash form here, especially in Behuda ; the song slithers over your fear-inducing nerves, goose-bumping, sung with a sensual twist by Nayantara Bhatkal. Sampath uses the piano tinkles like blood dripping off the tire wrench, giving you the right amount of shivers. The background score is brutally effective, ranging from grungy madness to moving classical pieces. Check the superb percussion and beautiful taals (sung by Pandit Chanukah Mishra) in a breathless slum-chase sequence, or the mesmerizing alaaps by Tapas Roy elsewhere. His title music matches the psychedelic montage of madness that Kashyap employs to roll the credits in the beginning; the synthesizers and keyboards prancing and trancing around your senses, the beat beating you into submission, even as a distant, haunting part made me wonder what Rahul Dev Burman would have done with this dark, twisted genre – remember his vertigo-inducing violins punctuated by brass, keyboards, and a winking electric guitar for the title music of Benaam?
Raman Raghav 2.0 has a cast that’s mind-bogglingly good. Vicky Kaushal as the junkie, coke-snorting cop is in fine fettle. He’s constantly wired up, his body language never at ease, his eyes a dead pool of drug-induced euthanasia; and when he does let go and violence takes over him, he’s superbly frightening. Amruta Subhash as Ramanna’s sister is a class act – her eyes a mutating shop of rising terror, she superbly using her body language and body as a weapon of defiance. Sobhita Dhulipala as Simmy, less-the-girlfriend-more-a-vehicle-of-relief to the cop, is very good, almost chillingly blasé and accepting of her situation – casting a glamourous mould over her modern-day Sita reference. There’s also the class Vipin Sharma as Vicky Kaushal’s father – his role is small, but encompassing a mosaic of emotions. And in a brilliantly shot scene, when his son grabs his collar, Kashyap cuts to a camera on the right side of the pair, and you see a trickle of sweat roll down Sharma’s temple – simply brilliant stuff, this.
And as Ramana, Nawazuddin Siddique is chillingly good, terrifyingly effective, and quite simply, kills it. His manipulative scenes are a master act – note when he’s locked up by the cops and left to repent in a room housed in an abandoned building, and his self-pitying wail of how they left him a cigarette, but no light – that scene itself ought to win him an award. Or, the chicken curry scene, that’s also the best description of his effort – he relishes every bite, and he relishes every kill, every blow, every scene with a macabre satisfaction that chills you to the bone. If one moment, you laugh nervously at him standing outside his sister’s apartment in a helmet and armed with the wrench, the next moment you choke on that laugh as he charges maniacally towards the open door. When he sings the Laxmikant-Pyarelal number from Apnapan, Aadmi musafir hai, you are breathless – not because you don’t want to be reminded of this pedestrian song, but because of the way he delivers it. No wonder that the actor fell sick while filming the movie in actual slums, and calls it one of his most draining projects.
Raman Raghav 2.0 , then, is a triumph, shot in a span of 20 days – more so when you realize that director Anurag Kashyap‘s been using a psychological shop of mirrors, and that, this isn’t only about a serial killer – it’s also about him making you see the real killer. And that the biggest killer of them all is that Kashyap’s come back to rightfully claim his place as the Lord of Darkness 1.0.
Watch the trailer of Raman Raghav 2.0 here: