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Blood Simple: Anurag Kashyap’s Raman Raghav 2.0

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Anurag Kashyap returns with Raman Raghav 2.0 after the much maligned, somewhat undeserved unmitigated disaster that was Bombay Velvet. In a lot of ways, the reaction to Bombay Velvet mirrored what happened with Raavan. A social media mob mentality took over and suddenly the movie was watched not for what it was but to simply confirm a few preconceived notions that were birthed in unsuspecting folks thanks to the mob that drove all the traffic. It’s a practice exercised for big films with huge expectations at regular intervals. Maybe that’s what drove Kashyap to go back to a language that he would feel home at. Raman Raghav is about a serial killer. It has gratuitous violence, a relationship drama at its core, that slow descent into chaos with Kashyapesque mood and filmmaking to go with it.

Raman Raghav is inspired by the eponymous serial killer from the 60s. But here, Kashyap gives us the 2.0 version. Either that’s an update on the real killer or it is about two sides of the same coin – Raman played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Raghav the cop, played by Vicky Kaushal, even if duty bound, not always on the close heels of Raman. Kashyap, along with writer Vasan Bala, divides them into chapters. There is a Prologue and the rest go by the names of The Locked Man, The Sister, The Hunter, The Son, The Fallen etc. Sometimes a later chapter mirrors the earlier one, which is at the crux of Raman Raghav. There are two confession scenes, one occurring at the beginning and the other in the end. One dismissed as a sinister joke of a jester and the other taken as the last word on the case. Siddiqui is in fine form here. He plays Raman with the sort of glee on his face that you would misconstrue as innocence. He is no cold-blooded Anton Chigurh. There is a sort of method to his madness even as he goes about his murderous spree. In a chapter titled “The Sister”, he has hijacked his sister’s house and family, whom he hasn’t seen for 7 years. Kashyap takes his time unraveling the narrative here the way Raman’s sister (Amruta Subhash, underplaying the absolute terror in her face beautifully while trying to communicate with her son who is gagged and tied to a chair) has peeled onions to cook chicken for him. We stay with the family through the length of the cooking – actually the shopping for meat too including a nervous moment of extracting sugarcane juice standing next to policemen – while skeletons tumble out of the closet. There is a hint of abuse and much worse. It establishes how Raman doesn’t have a breaking point. He’ll do as he pleases and do it when and how he pleases. Just see him wearing a helmet and make a theatre out of murder. You may even laugh and that’s terrifying.

Kashyap delineates his two characters well. If it is Raghav’s duty to track down the menace of the society, a privilege accorded by his uniform (a point to note that except for the commissioner, none of the policemen who have lines to speak are seen in uniform), Raman believes that the God of Death speaks to him to take lives whenever he wants. Raghav is into cocaine and ecstasy and refuses to use protection when he has sex with Simmy (Sobhita Dhulipala), the ramifications of which are her three abortions. Kashyap places this chapter soon after Raman has killed a kid and Simmy doesn’t flinch in comparing Raman and Raghav, the first open declaration of them belonging to the same coin. This scene takes quite the narrative turn that the writers can be proud of. Raghav brandishes a gun at this slight and soon Simmy receives a phone call from her mom, tries to placate her dad and returns to ask nonchalantly, what was Raghav saying. Raghav’s gun has gone flaccid and this wonderfully foreshadows a later event, a physical after-effect of his drug use and a more psychological one relating to Raman. Kashyap wants us to get intensely personal with the characters. We meet Raman’s sister and learn some hard truths, there is a phone call with Raghav’s mother where she implores him to say yes to marriage – where he is nice but firm. Kashyap engineers a meeting between Raghav and his father where he hits the 30 year old for his drug abuse. Simmy too gets a phone call with her mother, a small insight into her equations with her parents. Kashyap shows these things so that we try to find some rationality behind who they are today and how they have turned out. It’s not as simple though. Some of them work, some don’t. Raghav’s actions soon after the meet with his father don’t exactly make sense. It it is a cog in his turn towards the psycho-madness of Raman and them uniting in an unseen embrace but the way it creeps up on you is random. Kashyap’s latter chapters too come off as too literal. What he wants is the gradual turn towards the homoerotic symbolism in Raman and Raghav. Raman has been searching for it all along but Raghav takes the scenic route. Kashyap also stays with Raghav longer than necessary. With Siddiqui in such fine form, we want more of him though it is understandable why Raghav has to be pulled into Raman’s way of life. But they fizzle out after a point. Raman in his second confession tells his interrogator, “aap bahut boring ho, batcheet ka ras nahin samajhte”. Something like that happens for us with Raghav. It is Siddiqui, his story, his matter-of-fact way of going about things – be it conversation or murder – that keeps things together.

Raman Raghav can also be read as Kashyap’s inversion of the Ramayana. Raman even points towards it quite literally. There is a Sita (and Sita’s name here too begins with S, like the two titular characters’ with R) who Raman is after and he goes about in a procedural manner. Only here Sita is a ruse for Raman to get to Raghav. Raghav, the dystopian Rama treats his Sita in most unfair and reckless ways, his assumed masculinity taking over. Not too different from the epic. Why, Raman even has a sidekick, big and strong, helping him and feeling remorse for missed opportunities. But this is all fine. The greatest thing that can be said about Raman Raghav 2.0 is that it is not a meaningless exercise in blood and violence. It is well thought out and has some great performances. But it also feels like it could have been fleshed out better. You know how there are awkward conversations in a group and someone immediately chips in with something part-clever, part-crazy to alleviate the damage. Bombay Velvet is that awkward conversation and Raman Raghav 2.0 is Kashyap’s clever but too quickly put together intervention. It works but we know Kashyap can do more. It will be interesting to see what’s next.

 (An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)

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