That cops and crooks are basically two sides of the same coin is a familiar schtick played out in the movies. That’s what Raman Raghav 2.0, fashioned as a psychological thriller, sets out to do and leaves us with a film that becomes a tough trudge, not just because of its sheer bestiality, but because its road to perdition is rocky.
Ramanna (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) hunts and kills. He uses a metal rod to bash his victims’ skull in, leaving behind mashed bones and blood. Is that graphic enough for you? The film doesn’t stint on these details, and you watch with mounting horror the relentless violence being unleashed on screen: What kind of man is capable of advancing upon a harmless innocent with murder in his heart?
Raghavan (Vicky Kaushal) does the same. His awareness that he is a policeman entrusted with keeping crime and criminals at bay lies buried under the substance he uses and abuses. He comes across the same way with his girlfriend (Shobhita Dhulipala): There is marked roughness and a lack of respect and a take-it-or-leave-it attitude that colours their relationship.
The film is based on the story of the notorious Raman Raghav who infested the streets of Bombay (now Mumbai) in the mid-to-late 1960s. The serial killer who confessed to doing away with more than 40 people, was the subject of Sriram Raghavan’s film in 1991. Kashyap’s contemporary retread is a return to familiar dark territory — kinetic hand-held camerawork in the slushy slums and narrow alleys, which he has been using since Black Friday, whose unforgettable chase scene is replicated here too, but not with such acuity.
And that’s the problem with this film, which doesn’t give its characters enough nuance to go on with. We submit to the unwatchable or to immense depravity in the hope that we will learn something about ourselves as a race. What turns us into ravening beasts? Or worse, because some beasts are truly gentle. We don’t get the layers which will lead us into an understanding.
I wanted to know more about what shaped Ramanna, what made him who he is, what makes him do the things he does. There is a segment with his sister (Amruta Subhash, terrific), which hints at a disturbed past and is the most effective part of the film, but it is too brief. Ramanna’s insouciance is at once repellant and magnetic, but the lack of detailing reduces the supremely talented Nawazuddin to a man trailing a rod, whose bright eyes and the chilling awareness of what he is doing doesn’t add to up to showing us what he really is.
As Raghavan, Kaushal gets a little more. He has a scene in his home with his father (the excellent Vipin Sharma) which intrigues, which gives us a hint of an unusual father-and-son relationship. It left me hungry for more. But the film turns back all too soon to its bloody bodies and spilled gore, which in turn starts feeling gratuitous all too soon.
There are some mesmeric bits in here, which belong to Siddiqui. But those are not enough. Without those crucial elements, the film is rendered atmospheric yet hollow, and we are turned into cringing voyeurs, into reluctant participants, without redemption.
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Raman Raghav 2.0 star cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Vicky Kaushal, Shobhita Dhulipala, Amruta Subhash, Vipin Sharma
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