It was just a matter of time. The two were destined to meet.
Anurag Kashyap, the writer-director who routinely gives vent to his misogyny in so-called indie movies that are really home videos to warm the cockles of his Boys-Only Fan Club — almost all fetishise violence, pander to penile complexes and romance the patriarchal power structure — just had to meet Raman Raghav, India’s most famously misogynistic serial killer who died in 1995 after committing 23 murders.
And they did.
Something good could have come out of it because while a woman-hater, Kashyap is also very talented.
Raman Raghav 2.0 has come after Bombay Velvet, so one could argue that it’s like being in rehab. Sometimes, after a big, traumatic event, you have to learn to walk again before you can attempt the swagger.
Kashyap could have used the assignment of producing Udta Punjab as a palate cleanser — his and ours. Instead he uses RR 2.0.
I wish there were no self-censorship in newspapers so that one could honestly call out Kashyap’s films like Paanch, Gulaal and now this. But there is and I’ll just have to say it politely — these masturbatory exercises are best left to the privacy of one’s room or bathroom. There is really no need to project them on large screens and invite the world to watch.
Raman Raghav 2.0, set in contemporary Mumbai, opens with the claim that it is a work of fiction based on the life of a serial killer. It does not, it claims, tell the story of Raman Raghav. That’s a half-truth.
Though the film’s story arch and main character draw more than just inspiration from Raman Raghav’s murders and quirks, the screenplay and other characters are a hodgepodge of things borrowed and old. There are bits from Dexter and the still-unsolved Stoneman murders. There are also Kashyap’s pet peeves and obsessions.
The film’s story can’t be told without spoilers. Suffice to say that it’s about a serial killer and the man he stalks because he believes him to be his soulmate, his second half.
Raman (Nawazuddin Siddique) is the serial killer and Raghav (Vicky Kaushal) a cop investigating the murders.
Written by Vasan Bala and Anurag Kashyap, the screenplay is episodic and the story unfolds chapter-wise.
A nondescript man surrenders to the police, claiming to be a serial killer. During his interrogation Raman says he is “Yamraj ka doot”, no different from the cops who are also Yamraj ke doot — both nishachar, night crawlers, they are tasked with cleansing the world of evil. He sometimes calls himself Sindhu Dalwai and says, “I talk to God. Do you?”
Raman weeps and narrates his plight to portraits of Gods, fully confident that they understand and approve.
The cops think him cuckoo, a wannabe killer.
He escapes and the film, with terribly sappy music, shows us how lonely and desperate a man without a house can be. This supposed social commentary — set to maudlin sitar-santoor vadan — about a sad, scavenging man is aimed at eliciting some sort of understanding if not empathy. But it’s so pathetic and hokey that all our empathy is directed at Kashyap and his wellbeing.
Thankfully, we soon come to the film’s finest scene.
Raman goes to meet his sister.
Though constructed with the standard tricks and tools — trite and tested by Bollywood over the ages — it rises and bristles because of two things: Performances, especially Lakshmi’s (Amruta Subhash) — she is simply superb. And the fact that the scene reveals a lot.
It’s here that we meet, for the first time, a psychopath who is a manipulator par excellence.
It feels like the film may be upping the tempo bit by bit, one chapter at a time. But it simply drags its feet.
The same things happen again and again. There are scenes of a cocaine-snorting cop who treats women, especially his girlfriend Simmy (Sobhita Dhulipala), like shit. This is followed by Raman walking narrow lanes, dragging along his long wrench — a sight and sound we are familiar with because of the annual bonanza of stalker-slasher movies from Hollywood. This is followed by someone’s head being bashed, shots of blood, and then some more coke-snorting by the cop. It’s as if the film’s on a loop.
We get that Raghav too is a misogynist and a narcissist. But we don’t get why.
There is a scene when he, tightly holding an aggressive posture and threatening violence, is rendered completely powerless by Simmy. It’s a nice moment, but the film doesn’t build on it.
We are just meant to follow events without much insight, background into these two characters. That’s possible, provided the pace is exciting, the events dramatic, or the acting mesmerising.
Raman Raghav 2.0 has none of these.
It’s not easy to make a movie about a serial killer boring. Yet Kashyap succeeds to a large extent.
Apart from the fact that several murder scenes are illogical and there’s a terrible homo hint at the end, the big flaws are that the story is contrived, the screenplay scattered, and the incomplete characters are lost in an addled haze.
This addled haze is Anurag Kashyap’s very limited worldview. All his men are a certain type, all his women fall in the same two categories — sexy and not sexy — and all his daddyjis are bad.
His films are also, always, conspiring an underground movement to overthrow the patriarchy overground. Only problem is that what dwells in his world beneath is a carbon copy of what it seeks to destroy.
It’s exhausting to repeatedly watch his angsty, posturing-as-macho films. He is 43. He must grow up and stop indulging his stupid boy fetishes.
To be fair, Raman Raghav 2.0 has a few scenes that are sharp and tense. But most use the same trick that has now become standard practice with Anurag Kashyap and, sadly, the characters that Nawazuddin Siddique plays: The shocking and the mundane in the same breath.
It’s an old trick meant to highlight how normal the abnormal is at one level. It no longer excites.
The film is shot as most of Kashyap’s films are shot — the outside is crowded, dirty, and the inside dingy and suffocating. The camera is either lurking knee high, or it looks up to stare hard and long at Nawazuddin and Kaushal.
While Kaushal, despite the fact that his character on paper is just too dull, is at times engaging and complex, Nawazuddin mostly hams his way through.
In several aspects Nawazuddin’s character is true to the real-life Raman Raghav and, perhaps, psychopathic killers. A lot has been written for him: Zero remorse, complete lack of empathy, manipulative, anti-social, demanding, yet scrupulous about clearing his debts.
Nawazuddin Siddique is a very fine actor, but he is now repeating himself. In some scenes he shines, like the one in which he’s having a conversation with a cat, or when he’s animated and frantic. Apart from that we must just admire his scary look — dead eyes set in black pools to match his black lips — and pray that the next time around he lives up to his reputation.
At times during the film I thought of closing my eyes and just listening to the background score. But Ram Sampat’s music is so yucky that it would make even the DD guys wince with embarrassment.