Updated: May 16, 2022 7:44:53 pm
Vicky Kaushal barely appears in the first hour of Raman Raghav 2.0, a film in which he ostensibly plays the protagonist, Raghav. While Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Ramanna undoubtedly has the ‘bigger’ scenes, he’s essentially a supporting character in Raghav’s story. Brutally nihilistic, darkly comedic and unpredictable to the point of being taunting, Raman Raghav 2.0 remains an underrated entry in director Anurag Kashyap’s singular filmography. It’s the film that cemented Kaushal’s stature as Hindi cinema’s most talented new leading man.
After breaking out with the stunning Masaan, a sombre drama in which he played a more introspective character—although he did have that incredible ‘dukh kaahe khatam nahi hota be’ scene—Kaushal demonstrated the scope of his range with Raman Raghav 2.0, a stern indictment of toxic Indian masculinity masquerading as a sleazy serial killer movie.
Cheap dark glasses forever masking his permanently bloodshot eyes, an oddly-gripped cigarette balanced between his fingers, and a temper quicker than death by gunshot to the face, Raghav is a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off. He represents the worst in our country’s male population.
Raman Raghav 2.0 arrived four years after the 2012 New Delhi gang-rape, an event that I believe fundamentally altered culture, both in good ways and bad. It’s no coincidence that Raghav’s inevitable eruption towards the end of the film—the scene in which he kills his ‘jaanne waali’ Simi—is triggered by what sounds like a news programme about female foeticide and women’s rights. He doesn’t really pay attention to what is being said—typical—he’s mostly just annoyed at the noise. It mirrors his treatment of Simi, whom he alternately abuses and ignores. Kaushal is terrific in the scene, playing Raghav as somebody who has essentially surprised himself by what he is capable of.
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But this isn’t his best scene in the film. That comes perhaps an hour earlier, and you barely even see his face in it.
As Raghav washes up after an intense lovemaking scene—I use that term loosely—Simi (played by Sobhita Dhulipala in a star-making turn) asks him why he won’t use protection; what if she gets pregnant again? With his back to her (and us), he dismisses her concerns. When she prods further, he barks at her about Ramanna, and the six-year-old that the madman has killed. She doesn’t understand the pressure he’s under, he tells her. The whip-smart Simi has a reply at the ready. “Tune bhi toh teen bachche maare hain. Mere,” she retorts, calmly, reminding him that he, too, is a child-killer.
The power to take lives, and the people who have been chosen to wield it—either by societal decree or by divine intervention—is a recurring theme in the film. In fact, it opens with Ramanna telling Raghav that they both do the same work, really. It’s just that the police can kill legally, while Ramanna must lurk in the shadows. Simi’s words hit Raghav like a sledgehammer; the last thing that he wants is to be reminded of how similar he is to two other men in his orbit—Ramanna, with whom he shares a psychotic streak, and his father, memories of whom will trigger him to kill Simi later in the film.
Back to the scene. Raghav strides towards Simi, who’s still in bed, and we don’t know what’s going to happen next. Clearly, he means harm. Or so we’re made to believe. But he stops in his tracks, and standing inches from her, proceeds to unleash upon Simi a barrage of empty threats. “Tujhe dar nahi lagta mujhse?” he snarls. “Sota nahi hoon; kuch bhi daalta hoon, mooh mein, naak mein, nason mein; loaded bandook rehti hai mere paas, kissi din dimaag kharab hogaya na… Kuch bhi kar sakta hoon.”
Kashyap shoots this scene with a mostly static camera, fixed on Simi, while Raghav’s face remains out of frame. Kaushal sells it on his line readings alone. You can hear the desperation in his voice. Simi might have entered this relationship with an ‘I can fix him’ mindset, but even she’s wary of his antics now. And as he leaps on top of her, gun in hand, continuing his intimidation tactics, you get the sense that he’s said these things before. Raghav’s symbolism-laced threats of violence–the gun serves as phallic imagery–are just a feeble attempt to mask his commitment phobia. Simi can see right through him. His toxic tirade is interrupted by a half-comedic phone call from Simi’s mother. Unfazed, she pushes him away with her leg. Kaushal’s expression—a mixture of confusion and humiliation—is pure gold. This is basically the first time we’ve seen his face properly lit, and the effect that Kashyap achieves by lingering on it is spectacular. It’s a scene that works solely on the strength of the two performances, and the minimalist blocking.
The scene works so well by itself that a post-script of Raghav screaming in anguish, alone in the bathroom, wasn’t even required. It reminded me of the iconic Fredo Corleone scene from The Godfather Part II; the one in which the late, great John Cazale’s voice squeaks as he assures his younger brother Michael that he can ‘handle things’ because he’s ‘smart’ and not ‘dumb’ like everybody thinks. He says this as he struggles to sit up straight in a lounger, repeatedly falling back down. Michael, like Simi in the scene from Raman Raghav 2.0, has the upper-hand.
On so many occasions in the film, Raghav is reduced to a posturing mess; a pathetic man who has to repeatedly remind people how important and terrifying he is, probably because he suspects that he’s neither. “Main bachcha nahi hoon, main 30 saal ka hogaya hoon,” he tells his mother in a later scene. Where he ends up is—like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver—an exaggerated worst-case scenario for guys like him. What’s actually terrifying is the thought of other Raghavs out there, waiting, begging to be pushed to the edge.
Post Credits Scene is a column in which we dissect new releases every week, with particular focus on context, craft, and characters. Because there’s always something to fixate about once the dust has settled.
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