There is something chillingly final and fearsome about the complete ruination of the moral order in Raman Raghav 2.0. 400 years ago Shakespeare realized there was a rotten core to civilization. Anurag Kashyap is the Bard’s most unlikely disciple. Portraying a world that is irreversibly stripped of a moral centre Kashyap creates a grim bleak repugnant but brilliant picture of Mumbai’s underbelly where rats and pavement dwellers share the same sleeping space.
There is no hero in Raman Raghav. We saw it coming. We’ve seen the rapid evaporation of heroism from the cinema of Kashyap, to the point where now, in his latest and arguably his most accomplished work, Raman and Raghav, as played with virile adeptness by Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vicky Kaushal are the two faces of red-hot diabolism.
You see, they both kill for pleasure .No, make that one for pleasure. The other for furious vindication for crimes committed against his self-worth. The difference is, one of them does so in khaki. The other roams about with an iron rod in hand smashing all signposts of a moral order that we grew up watching in our films. Be warned. Scenes showing Nawaz prowling the streets of Mumbai for prey will send a shiver up your spine.
The comfort of knowing that all will be well in our universe no matter how bleak the prospects, is completely snatched away in Raman Raghav. What we are left staring at is the total disintegration of a moral order. The numbness of desensitization whereby one human being can take another human being’s life without remorse is here treated with a brutal and damning directness. There are no signs of goodness in the two main characters. After a while it’s hard to tell the difference between the two main characters, much harder than it was in Badlapur the film whose morality was a precursor to Raman Raghav.
Watch Vicky Kaushal f..k his girlfriend, it’s not love-making it’s hate-making. Or watch Nawaz in the chilling scene where he is taunted by a stranger for wearing ear rings. His retort about his true identity is so lethally ironic it scares the hell out of us to watch his lunacy being legitimized by a social order that fosters inequality.
That Nawaz and Vicky play the two characters with a fiendish flair and a bludgeoning naturalness which dares us to be judgmental at our own risk is entirely providential. I can’t imagine any other two actors playing Raman, the psychopathic serial killer, and Raghavan the cocaine-addicted psychopathic cop who kills at the beginning of the film and then slays more lives, and destroys our faith in the moral order that we believed in until….well, until Anurag Kashyap came along.
Raman Raghav is a chilling exposition on evil. From the outset we are told that ‘Raman’ and ‘Raghav’ are the two faces of the same impulse of depravity. There is no attempt to hide the fact that Raghav (Vicky Kaushal) functions with the same unlawful insouciance as Raman (Nawaz) although one wears khaki and the other doesn’t hide behind the disguise of civility to commit gruesome crimes.
There are scenes of graphic torture. Women and children are not spared from the looming shadows of evil that lurks in the chawls and by lanes of Mumbai’s suburbia. Kashyap’s cinematographer Jay Oza roams restlessly across the streets looking for its prey. The camera becomes Raman’s greatest ally as he hurls across Mumbai’s wounded skyline in search of blood.
This let me add without playing the spoilsport, is not the story of Raghav Raman the real-life serial killer in the 1960s but of a fictional character inspired by the real Raghav. Here’s where Kashyap and his co-writer Vasan Bala bring in the ‘morality of amorality’ (to coin a phrase) where the absence of a moral order becomes a moral order of its own.
It’s impossible to imagine any actor except Nawazuddin Siddiqui playing the shockingly unrepentant serial killer with such flippant relish. The casualness with which Nawaz attacks his victims and bludgeons them with an iron rod is the stuff that crime psychology would probably study closely in the coming years to detect signs of criminality in the actor. Nawaz bridges the chasm between actor and character to a level where the two almost become one. This is the most convincing and disturbing portrait of evil I’ve seen in cinema of any language.
Vicky Kaushal has the trickier part. He must extend into his character its natural-born criminal tendency (born, we are told, from a bullying father) and also be shown functional within the precincts of a law. He is shown to be violent cocaine -snorting psycho (if Tommy Singh in Udta Punjab wore a uniform.…) and also brutal in bed with his girlfriend(played with the right tinge of stubborn defiance by newcomer Sobhita Dhulipala).
In short, a complete asshole. Vicky’s inexperience as an actor does hamper the full flow of trashiness into the character. But this is the actor to watch in the coming years.
Unbearably violent at times (the section where Nawaz tortures and slays his sister’s family is definitely not for the weak-hearted) and savagely cruel at all times Raman Raghav portrays a landscape so devoid of charm warmth and sunshine that you come away sickened by the experience.
But then who said life is easy? This is film that doesn’t flinch from the fearful ugliness of existence. It’s also a brutal and haunting reminder of how rapidly the lines dividing the law-makers and law-breakers are disappearing. ‘Raman’ and ‘Raghav’ are no longer the archetypal Villain and Hero that we sought in our cinema for moral comfort. They are now the best of friends and our worst of enemies.
Live with it.