Nawazuddin Siddiqui is the only reason to watch Raman Raghav 2.0

Anurag Kashyap's new film is better than Bombay Velvet. Unfortunately, there's about as much tension in this thriller as there is in overcooked Maggi.

WrittenBy:Deepanjana Pal
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Set in Mumbai in the present, Raman Raghav 2.0 is unmistakably an Anurag Kashyap film. It’s filled with horrible people and has some wonderful shots that take you on winding journeys through Mumbai’s slums. There are little homages to films and filmmakers the director admires, and this begins with the very title of the film. The “2.0” is a reference to a 1991 film by Sriram Raghavan about the Stoneman killer who terrorised Mumbai in the 1960s. Kashyap’s film uses that character as a launchpad and is divided into eight “chapters” — a favourite technique of Quentin Tarantino’s — which explore the coiled, psychotic workings of a serial killer’s mind.

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A man wanders through Mumbai, beating his victims’ heads in with large rocks. Nicknamed “Stoneman”, there’s little else known about him. Can a cocaine-snorting cop find him in the shadowy, garbage-crusted lanes of Mumbai? Will the darkness that drives the cop to insomnia and intoxicants tip him over the edge and into the serial killer’s arms? Are the cop and the killer actually two faces of the same psychotic coin?

There’s neither anything new or wrong with the basic plot of Raman Raghav 2.0. The film looks like a thriller (thanks to Jay Oza’s fantastic cinematography), sounds like a thriller (courtesy Ram Sampath’s musical score), but here’s the cut: it isn’t a thriller. Not because it lacks ingredients. Everything a thriller needs, from noir-rich shadows to a crime-crusted city, Raman Raghav 2.0 has. And yet, despite all this, there’s about as much tension in Raman Raghav 2.0 as there is in overcooked Maggi.

After a smashing opening (pun intended), the film struggles to pick up pace and build up to a climax. Kashyap makes the camera and his characters slither through Mumbai’s slums and back alleys with a grungy elegance that only Kashap can manage. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, Raman Raghav 2.0 transforms from a cat-and-mouse chase to a warped love story, with the serial kilelr identifying the copy as his other half.

The bigger problem is that Kashyap and editor Aarti Bajaj seem to have decided that if there’s enough gore, the film doesn’t need details like pacing and plot. Consequently, there’s violence of various complexions, ranging from murder to verbal abuse and bullying. It’s depicted intelligently and even stylishly, but it doesn’t add up to reveal more about either the characters or hold up a mirror or a spotlight to demons that lurk within us.

Holding the film together despite its flaws is Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who plays the serial killer Ramanna. Kashyap has been fascinated by the ugly aspect of humanity for years and he’s tried to find different ways of depicting it in all its inhuman, charismatic glory in films like Gangs of Wasseypur and Ugly. In Raman Raghav 2.0, all thanks to Siddiqui, Kashyap is finally able to show a character who has no redeeming qualities and yet is mesmerising. Siddiqui’s Ramanna is pure evil and quicksilver, shifting gears with maniacal speed to go from pathetic to sadistic within seconds. It’s Siddiqui’s brilliance that glosses over the flaws in the writing — something that Vicky Kaushal struggles with in his portrayal of the cocaine-addicted Raghav.

One of the most powerful episodes in the film shows Ramanna with his sister, nephew and brother-in-law. It’s one of the rare sections of the film that is actually suspenseful and it shows Kashyap at his finest. With Siddiqui bringing a terrifyingly grim quality to banal items like eating chicken curry, Kashyap layers this episode different kinds of violence — verbal, sexual, psychological, physical, emotional — upon one another. Even though you know what’s likely to happen, Siddiqui holds you spellbound with his chilling, cheerful menace.

Unfortunately, this scene is too small a portion of a film that otherwise meanders and feels aimless. At 140 minutes, Raman Raghav 2.0 is long and frequently feels self-indulgent, particularly in the episodes with Raghav. This is only partly because Kaushal seems out of his element as the inspector. At the core, Raman Raghav 2.0 is pulled down by weak writing and weaker editing. The characters are shallow and the plot relies on coincidence rather than calculated logic. Instead of nuance, there are attempts at stylishness that quickly feel laboured and pretentious. A good thriller should raise questions in the audience’s mind, but Raman Raghav 2.0 raises one that no film should: what’s the point?

The good news is that Raman Raghav 2.0 is better than Kashyap’s last directorial venture, Bombay Velvet. Thanks to Siddiqui, it’s also a more elegant exploration of inhumanity than what we’ve seen in Kashyap’s recent films. The director’s fans will rejoice and perhaps even claim that the director is ‘back’, but those who are a little more level-headed should take note of the fact that “better than Bombay Velvet” doesn’t really raise the bar very high.

(An edited version of this article was first published in The Hindustan Times.) 

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