In the second chapter of ‘Raman Raghav 2.0 (the movie is narrated in a sequence of chapters) titled ‘The Sister’, a deranged and starving Ramanna (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui), fleeing from detention by police, visits the family of his estranged sister, pleading for food and a fresh set of clothes. His sister is initially reluctant to even speak to him, but concerned at the commotion being created by him and taking pity on his state, she lets him in.
This leads to a gripping, intense fifteen minute sequence as the layers masking Ramanna’s character begin to peel off, one layer after another, revealing the depths of his degeneration and leading to a stomach churning, gut wrenching series of events. Anurag Kashyap slow cooks the sequence, with a generous helping of Siddiqui’s psychotic performance, and gradually leads it to its sickening climax. As an introduction of the character of Ramanna and establishing a semblance of a background story, the sequence is brilliantly effective and scarily good, even if it leaves you feeling a little sick in the stomach and nauseated by the end. It is film making at its raw, visceral best.
Unfortunately though, such sequences are the exception rather than the norm in ‘Raman Raghav 2.0’ where the director, instead of exploring in depth the fascinating and disturbing character of Ramanna, the psychopathic serial killer, gets sidetracked by the potential of some kind of attraction between the serial killer and the cop who is hunting for him.
That the movie is about this bizarre connection between the two is repeated ad nauseum from the very first chapter. The killer is named Ramanna and the cop is named Raghavan. The credits at the beginning of the movie have the faces of Siddiqui and Vicky Kaushal merging into each other. Ramanna keeps repeating throughout the movie that Raman is looking for his Raghav. The last chapter of the movie is named ‘Soulmate’ where Ramanna and Raghavan finally get to interact with each other.
The development of this plot element is in part an attempt at a twisted, modern re-telling of the basic story of Ramayana. In this version of Ramayana, Ram and Ravan actually fall for each other, realising their common passion, once the needless distraction of Sita (played by Sobhita Dhulipata in a promising debut) is bumped off. There are plenty of references to Ramayana strewn across the movie. Apart from the presence of two titular characters with the names Ramanna and Raghavan, the ‘2.0’ in the title may either refer to the fact it is a remake of ‘Raman Raghav’ – the documentary made by Sriram Raghavan, or that the movie is not a story of Raman Raghav, the serial killer, but a character inspired by him or that the movie is a recycled version of Ramayana itself. In one of the standout scenes of the movie, the ritual burning of a giant effigy of Ravan during Dussehra is captured in all its glory. Ramanna himself repeatedly refers to this connection, especially in his interaction with Raghavan in the last episode.
(A slight detour here. In the interrogation scene, when Ramanna starts rambling about Ramayana, one of the interrogating cops asks him sarcastically if he is here to tell the tale of Ramayana, to which Ramanna replies saying the cop does not have the ability to understand the flow of a juicy story. I could not but imagine critics or audience asking Kashyap the same question and he shutting them up with the same reply).
This connection, though, did not work for me. Part of this is because of the character of Raghavan, the cop, is not very strong. On paper at least, he should have been a fascinating character. Unlike Ramanna who is a complete psychopath living in the fringes of the society, without any trace of empathy, Raghavan is an Assistant Commissioner of Police, leading an inquiry against the rampaging serial killer by day and living a coke-snorting, women-abusing life by night. He has had a difficult childhood with a domineering and abusive father and has deep complexes about his own masculinity, which he tries to overcompensate by picking up young girls at the clubs and killing random people when given a chance.
Vicky Kaushal delivers a strong performance as the troubled cop. But the character still proves to be the weak link in the story as there is always a suspension of disbelief around the way he operates. He is clearly addicted to drugs and cannot survive for more than a few hours without getting high on a deadly cocktail of chemicals. At times, he is so desperate for his fix that he comes up with the excuse of private investigation to snort cocaine at the site of a crime, in the middle of rotting dead bodies. He predictably sucks at his job, even letting Ramanna go the first time he turns himself in, but is somehow treated with kid gloves by his superiors and with undeserved respect by his sub-ordinates. How can someone who is high almost the entire day have a functional job life, that too as a police officer? Worse still, he abuses and openly humiliates his girlfriend (someone who he derides as his ‘sleeping partner’), makes her go through multiple abortions because he hates using protection and still has her carving to marry him.
Even if are you interpret the character of Raghavan as plausible. the climactic interaction between Ramanna and Raghavan comes across as forced and bland. Yes, we get to know by the end that both the characters are stone-hearted killers but is this sufficient reason for them to feel any degree of affinity for each others? Even if there is, what is the end game here? How is this partnership going to work, if at all, since Ramanna is in jail and Raghavan is bound to get captured for his crimes, sooner or later? These are important questions that the movie leaves hanging and open, important by the way only because the entire movie was gradually building up towards that climax. The movie is also let down towards the end by some unexpectedly shoddy writing that fails to give any justification behind the connection between the two characters.
Kashyap slyly refers to peculiarities of the real life Raman Raghav’s characters, including his abusive relationship with his sister, his obsession with eating chicken curry and the choice of his weapon, However, a little disappointingly, the movie leaves unexplored the lunatic ideas that swarmed Raman Raghav’s head, including the beliefs that people were trying to change his sex through homosexual acts, the government brought him to Mumbai to commit crimes and that there are two distinct worlds – the world of Kanoon and the world in which he lived.
Like most of his other movies, ‘Raman Raghav 2.0’ is set in Mumbai and it brings to life its filth, squalor and urban mess. Kashyap who in his struggling days used to sleep in the pavements and in the beaches of Mumbai mercilessly shows the city through the lens of people who cannot afford to live in glitzy high rises of South Mumbai. Not for Kashyap, the cliché-ridden shots of Marine Drive, Bandra-Worli sea link or the Victorian architecture of the Fort area. He instead sets his story in Dharavi and the adjoining neighbourhoods, moving his camera through congested slums, seedy bars and cramped, middle class housing societies. The background is in fact so bleak that the heinous crimes which are committed on screen appear driven by the characters’ own failings as well as the hopelessness of the places they inhabit. In visual terms, it is as much a denunciation of the glamorous ‘City of Dreams’ aura of Mumbai as Kashyap’s own ‘Ugly’, Ritesh Batra’s ‘The Lunchbox’ or Aravind Adiga’s ‘Last Man in Tower’ are.
The acting in the movie is top notch. But Nawazuddin towers above everyone else with a superb performance that makes the character of the deeply disturbing serial killer come alive on screen. It is not an easy act to accomplish, for he is playing an extremely negative character whose diabolical ways are almost too outlandish to be true. There is always the temptation to over-act and exaggerate the villainousness to make it appear more menacing. But Siddiqui keeps its real, relying more on simple mannerisms and spine-chilling dialogue delivery to drive home the peculiarity of his character without sacrificing its authenticity. It is an acting tour-de-force, possibly the best of his career till date.
As is expected from a movie of Anurag Kashyap which is made on a serial killer, it is unrelentingly dark and real. The grim settings are reinforced by the trippy, psychedelic track of Ram Sampath and the cinematography of Jay Oza. What was sorely missed though was the uniquely trademark Anurag Kashyap moments which can introduce a dash of dark humour into the most depressing of circumstances. Remember the interactions between the character of Ramadhir Singh and his son in ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ (which concluded with the unforgettable dialogue – “Beta tumse na ho payega”) or that sequence set in a police station in ‘Ugly’ where an attempt to file a police complaint soon degenerates into a farcical conversation involving casting agents and phone cameras. ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ had plenty of such sequences, ‘Ugly’ had a few but ‘Raman Raghav 2.0’ had no such sequence to speak of, except may be one scene where a Doordarshan style news is read out in the television on how to counter violence against women even as one of the male characters goes on a berserk against two female characters.
In movies as in life, there is a fine line dividing the genius from the pretentious. Anurag Kashyap has throughout his career threatened to breach this line. But in the best of his movies, he has combined an compelling story with audacious style, dark narratives and touch of black humour to make unforgettable works of art. This time though, in an attempt to force a needless allegory, he goes astray and ends up with a product that had the potential to be a classic but ends up with anything but. ‘Raman Raghav 2.0’ had its moments, but it will not count among the best of Kashyap’s works.