Friday, July 1, 2016

Raman Raghav 2.0 – The Devil Wears Cheap Wayfarers

<Consider yourself warned; Spoilers Abound>

Let’s get a few things out of the way first. I love violence, seeing it of course, on film, not in real life. I have absolutely zero problems with fictional characters hurting each other if I get to see them doing so through visually poetic frames. The motivation could be lust, revenge or just pure fun, doesn’t matter much. Indulgence is fine too. Leave your signature. Defy biology; give me blood squirting out through arteries like meethi chashni from a thin plastic sachet. Defy physics; give me bodies flying in the air in slow mo. Do what pleases you. If in the end it pleases the audience too, you win.

But when you become a slave of your own style, things get problematic. When you enter an Anurag Kashyap film you know you shouldn’t be surprised if the attendant serves you a live octopus on a platter during the interval. You are mentally prepared for that kind of shock and trauma. So the depravity and the desperation of the characters don’t shock you. In fact that is what you went to see in the first place and you get that in abundance. Evil from Nawaz’s eyes and mannerism dripped like maple syrup from the side of a thick pancake stack and existential angst wrapped about Vicky’s persona like waffle cone around chocolate ice cream sprinkled with daddy issues nuts.

Delicious disturbing twisted characters. Oh what a delight it is to see them fuck their own lives in their own unique violent ways because it makes you go - Thank god, I only think about this stuff and don’t have the balls/crazy to act upon it.

You give the educated disturbed ones a back-story because how else you would justify drug/domestic abuse by a 30 year old well to do IPS Officer. His father beat him black and blue when he was small and not strong enough to snatch his collar. So he grows up to snort coke and physically hurt women to get an erection. He can’t sleep either. An affliction explained best by Irrfan Khan in Rog’s opening scene. Vicky does a fine job but he is no Irrfan.

Raman Raghav 2.0 checks all the boxes that a Kashyap film should. The smelly armpits of Mumbai to educated yet needy insecure women to MCP cops to clever dialogues to the usual ensemble of brilliant character actors (especially Amruta Subhash, the Sister of Chapter 2), it has all of them that make him one of the most unique voices of our industry and yet it feels numbingly familiar. You have seen a similar Nawaz before (Badlapur); you have seen the same cop (Ronit in Ugly and Ronit in Udaan) elsewhere. You have seen the drug abuse in Dev D, the casual misogyny in Gulaal and Ugly and the evil inexplicable violent streak in Paanch. Even the character quirks (KK Menon taking a banana from a fridge and eating it during a raid in Black Friday and Vicky snorting a line in the kitchen at a crime scene) gives you deja vu. Unfortunately Ugly still remains the ugliest film of Bollywood. I hoped RR2 to be Ugly 2.0 it but it failed short. This film looks like a million bucks (thanks to Jay Oja’s superbly claustrophobic cinematography, his first Kashyap collaboration) and Nawaz’s menacing performance but that’s it.

I don’t give two hoots about the likability of the central character(s) (like Listen Up Phillip a film I absolutely loved which has not one but two abhorrent narcissistic scumbags at the centre of the story) or if the plot is a wafer (Gravity, Avatar even Locke). All I care about it that it should not be pretentious and cringe worthy to look at. I have been told by a close friend who has seen it that the original B&W Raman Raghav, which never got a theatrical release, is a great film and Raghubir Yadav (aka Mungeri Lal) did a terrifying job as the original serial killer who killed some 40 0dd people in the 60s which inspires Nawaz to go on his own serial killing spree and he does such an extraordinary job of it that you wonder why is this man got his big break only 4 years ago. He should have got his titular serial killer movie way back.

He absolutely kills it (pun intended) as the delusional & psychotic animal that you see on screen silently prowling towards his preys that are either unaware or asleep. He is brutal without a tinge of sympathy or compassion. His survival instincts are fierce. He speaks to God on wireless and thinks that he is his doot (errand boy) whose job is to wipe off anybody who is not giving him ‘izzat’

Did he sexually molest his kid sister? Maybe. Was he sodomized too? Who knows. Is he a monster? Hell yeah! His memories are unclear and so are his motives. He is a blinded fan boy but not of a super star but of a serial killer who adores his icon so much that he himself adapts his real name , Sindhi Dalwai, for himself. He is a relentless demon, a walking talking incarnation of evil, just like the possessed Jack from The Shining or the crazy Alex DeLarge from Clockwork Orange or Chigurh from No country for Old Men. I wish I could see what he saw through that imaginary spectacle of his. He, on his own, is such fun to watch. That is perhaps why Chapter 2: The Sister remains the favorite chapter of mine out of the eight in this film which follows this storytelling device Tarantino excels at in almost all of his films (barring the last two which were verbal diarrhea sprinkled with good old racism). In this chapter you see his simmering transformation from a guy begging for food and change of clothing to a cold blooded carnivore relishing food sitting beside three dead bodies, including one of a child. Absolutely spine chilling writing, not for the chicken hearted.

The original Raman Raghav was about this guy and I believe if Kashyap had stuck to only his story it would have been an exceptional character study. I will wholeheartedly watch that 1.30 hrs film instead of this 2.20 hrs long dazzling clusterfuck of an ‘Unbreakable’ homage bastardized with Korean slasher masterpieces. This criminally underrated film is a cult among the comic book junkies and Shyamalan fanboys, whose central motif was that every villain needs a hero. Every Ram needs a Raavan. Every Batman needs a Joker. ‘Unbreakable’ was a nuanced study of the mind of a crippled genius who has been searching for his arch nemesis to write the final chapter of his own life.

The problem with Raman Raghav is that Raman is undoubtedly Raavan but Raghav too is a Raavan. His falling in love with another Raavan doesn’t make sense. The arguments shown to make us see the parallels between them are as incredulous as Trump’s race to the nomination. 

Raghav is cocaine addled Viagra popping, misogynistic MCP ACP with daddy issues. Vicky Kaushal, whose crying scene in Masaan still gives me goose bumps, despite living up to what was required of him comes across as obnoxious, which is fine, but also pretentious. He wears sunglasses 24x7 even while browsing a pitch dark room with a torch. He slaps his ‘jaan ne waali’ with the casual attitude with which you give your friend a high five upon cracking a really lame sexist joke. What is unclear is that why this ‘jaan ne wali’, who has already aborted 3 of his children, is still tolerating this vehemently-refusing-to-use-protection asshole. Is the steely police gun rubbing her labia the only way she gets turned on by? Is the chiseled torso too much for her to give up? Is he providing for her financially? She doesn’t even protest when he brings another 20 something to her house and 'try to' hate-fuck her in the room next to the hall where she sips wine and listens to a panel of women discussing … well, women empowerment (nicely done sir). I get the physical aspect of BDSM in the film; I just don’t really get this emotional BDSM happening between this victim of misplaced existential angst and this flawed gorgeous 21st century sex slave driving her coked up master around town. (He never drives; his life is out of his control. I guess I did get the metaphor if there ever was one.)

This particular scene leads us to the confounding climax of the movie.  Real bad writing with religious undertones justifying Raman’s dementia, stalking and hard-on of for Raghav sandwiched between two absolutely unnecessary killings. There is a similar situation in Gulaal where Raj Singh stays with Kiran in his home while Jesse Randhawa’s character suffers helplessly hearing them consummating their illicit relationship inside a dingy room. There too, Kiran goes through an abortion which takes place in a room illuminated by a flickering tube light, but there she doesn’t take shit from Raj. She slaps him and put him in his place in a minute long scene. That was the Kashyap I revered and this ‘cool for the sake of it’ Kashyap is what is on display here.

Raman admits that, just like Joker, Raghav completes him. (Excellent gay undertones in that final confession scene) What makes Batman great is that he doesn’t start killing people just because the Joker coerces him really hard to come to the crazy side.  He beats the shit out of him and puts him in Arkham.

Wherein Raghav gives in and this derailed the whole film for me like the Brexit would derail England’s economy. The final chapter of the film (called Soulmate) is badly written and completely takes away from the flashes of genius you saw during the first 2 hours. From a fantastic examination of delusion and mental illness, it goes on to become a clichéd wannabe neo noir tragedy. Badlapur worked because you see the transformation of Ram to Raavan and vice versa. None of the two Raavans here have a single redeeming bone in their body. Here, the Raavans are just Raavans, there is no Sita and No Ram & Hanuman is a rear view accessory in Raghav’s car.

This is the first time Kashyap has worked with Ram Sampath and the way he has murdered some beautiful scenes with a frustration inducing BGM I hope it is the last time too. It’s hard to fathom that no one saw that the BGM was way off the mark in the pre screening? Or how it ruined an otherwise great scene where silence would have added so much to the atmosphere? Varun Grover’s poetry somehow manages to elevate this otherwise mundane EDM score. Behooda, which is the Kaala Rey of this film, is a song which describes him to be the kind of a guy who would nonchalantly pop a pus filled zit with his own dirt filled nails which is putting the foulness of this character very mildly given the things that he does to hide from police during a (thankfully short) chase scene.

Three of the most competent and intelligent directors have lost it out to style over substance in the past one year. Dibakar with DBB, Zoya with DDD and Kashyap with Bombay Velvet (the Titanic of Bollywood). I seriously hoped that with RR he would find his, what Tommy Singh in Udta Punjab called, 'mojjo'; which he kinda does, if you are okay with it being the shadow of his own old films.

Still go see it for Nawaz. He is the century hitting Sachin of this losing Indian inning.

Avinash Verma 


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