Just like a decent rock song with a catchy intro riff, things start to work quite early in the game for Anurag Kashyap’s Raman Raghav 2.0. In fact, the pre-title opening sequence where we travel from a loud night club with a dizzying light scheme, through the desolate city streets way past midnight, to the dark and silent alleyways and interiors of a slum setting, is as simple in its approach as it is sharply effective in its impact. In the sequence, Kashyap’s vision of Mumbai comes across as a space which has reached its threshold in terms of opulence and excesses of a contemporary urban life; just ripe enough for the rot and degeneration to set in. And all around it, along the peripheries lie the underbelly where the shining light of urban modernity has failed to reach. It’s a predatory ground patiently waiting for the prey from the other world to walk in. Here, the prey is not devoured but turned into a predator himself who’ll tear off his own world. This is where Raman waits for his Raghav. And Raghav inevitably walks in.
The film follows the twin lives of serial killer Ramanna (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) obsessed with the antics of psychopath killer Raman Raghav who terrorized the streets of Bombay in the 1960s and ACP Raghavan (Vicky Kaushal) of Mumbai Police who is on Ramanna’s trail while succumbing to the corruption of body and mind slowly consuming him. Despite the apparently familiar premise, the film triumphs in the way it chooses to address certain concerns and its overall narrative techniques, while operating within a genre.
Raman Raghav 2.0 presents a scathing critique of the standard template of Indian masculinity or the ‘Hindi heartland’ prototype, to be more precise. While there have been certain criticisms about the lack of strong or at least well defined female characters in the film, it is important to note that the only women of any significance in the film are victims of abuse in the hands of the male leads. Ramanna’s sister Lakshmi (Amruta Subhash) had a long history of sexual abuse throughout her teens, her brother being the perpetrator. With Simmy (Sobhita Dhulipala), the violence is clearly two-fold largely owing to the weak sexual prowess of her partner Raghavan. However, the narrative position is even not with these victims which brings us to the most interesting aspect of the film. Like an extension of Kashyaps’s earlier crime film set in Mumbai Ugly (2014), this film consciously denies any viewing positions. The only possibility of a viewing position is perhaps the deranged mind of Ramanna, God’s own CCTV camera. Logic, reason and rationale will fail to make sense of this scheme of things. And this is where Raman Raghav 2.0 succeeds in inverting the genre conventions of serial killer films. Usually the trajectory of killing is from mayhem to reason which restores the balance. In this film, the same trajectory hints towards further horrors.
The film fares quite well in the other technical departments too. The sound design is definitely worth a special mention, especially the use of main theme and the clanging sound of the wrench being dragged along the walls, railings and pavements are extremely effective. While the songs individually may not be as appealing, but their use in the films is quite unexpected and often contrapuntal to the image. Whether it is due to the absence of Kashyap regular Rajeev Ravi or not, the cinematography in the film slightly falls short, especially in exploring ghostly presence of Ramanna in the city. It is certainly successful in presenting Kashyap’s vision of the Mumbai underbelly with narrow labyrinths, slum dwellings, deserted buildings and the grime and filth accumulating over the years. Yet, with the character of Ramanna, especially with Nawaz’s acting and the sharp and evocative dialogue, the images leave a great deal to be desired.
Finally, any writing on Raman Raghav 2.0 is not complete without appreciating the acting performances of the main cast. Vicky Kaushal travels a world apart from Masaan (2015) to don the uniform of Mumbai Police. And he truly wears it to his skin changing his voice, his gait, his way of speaking and body language. He stands firmly holding his ground avoiding any humanizing tendencies in his despicable character, even in the slightly weak scene about the father-son conflict. As for his doppelganger, no praise is perhaps enough for Nawazuddin Siddiqui. With Ramanna, he gives us one of the scariest characters encountered on screen. With such an over-the-top character, Nawaz chooses to remain surprisingly understated. He only lets his everyday Mumbai street accent, his smile and his pair of eyes play out the hypnotic charm engulfing the city and embark on destroying itself. Ramanna is the avenging spirit of the city’s underbelly, an evil kept long at bay which has finally come knocking. He is Mumbai’s day of reckoning. And Nawaz makes all these nightmares come alive on screen!
Arup Ratan Samajdar