Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Vicky Kaushal, Sobhita Dhulipala
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Rating: Three stars
THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU
Serial killers, fascinating as they are, can be ultimately uninteresting. Their lives and their sprees of crime are marked by dull repetition. There’s no motive that marks their murders. They kill because they can, because they want to. The minute you’ve seen one killing, you could have well seen them all. Anurag Kashyap seems aware of this conundrum. So, his Raman Raghav 2.0 (RR) is defined by a plot which captivates. Sadly, though, it does so only in parts. The director juxtaposes psychopath Ramanna with Raghavan, a trigger-happy, drug-snorting cop. They are counterparts. Their lives are intertwined. The film is undeniably stylish. Its impact is menacing, but the blade it uses is a tad blunt.
The film and both its leads are nocturnal. Neither Ramanna (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) nor Raghavan (Vicky Kaushal) are disposed to sleep. Their insomnia is scarily unnerving. The film opens with a double murder. Ramanna bludgeons to death a drug-dealing uncle who, we later learn, had sodomised him as a child. Raghavan arrives at the scene. He’s looking for his fix. Having been spotted by a neighbour, he has to kill him. The next day, he returns as an investigator. Ramanna, duly impressed, sends him the hammer they had used, and thus begins a tale of dangerous obsession. The effects of this fixation do not need elaboration. Much blood is spilled along the way.
Kashyap divides his film into chapters, and you unfortunately can’t help but think of Quentin Tarantino and his trademark device. But there’s more in common between RR and, say, The Hateful Eight. Lives are equally and perhaps a little too readily dispensable in both films. In a chapter called ‘The Sister’, Ramanna pays his sibling and her family a visit. The sequence is palpably disconcerting. The fatal predicament of Ramanna’s victims leaves your nails bitten and chewed. The psychopath christens his nephew ‘Pocket’. He tells him, “Koi poochega kahe ko maara tujhe, toh main bolega maine toh pocket mara bas.” At this point, RR threatens to get under your skin, but as Ramanna picks out his later prey with a jack handle, he only pokes that initial wound. He does not puncture it.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui is unquestionably eerie as the deranged Ramanna, but his performance doesn’t seem to escape that monotone of muted menace. Vicky Kaushal, on the other hand, is offered more moments of vulnerability. His facade of a coked up bad boy slips from time to time. Shortly after his girlfriend Simi (Sobhita Dhulipala) interrupts his macho intimidation to speak to her parents, he breaks down in front of the bathroom mirror. It is moments like these that make RR intermittently compelling, but that’s the trouble. Its appeal is, in the end, only momentary. Simi once says, “Raman ko Raghav chahiye aur Raghav ko Raman.” You wish she hadn’t whittled down their frantic, simultaneous hunt to just one very obvious line. You wish the screenplay were tighter.
We see Ramanna survive poverty. We also see Raghavan being berated and bullied by his father. But Kashyap thankfully never uses his character’s biographies to explain their actions. Those dots are for us to join. Serial killers are hard to understand and more impossible to get behind. The film states clearly that it is only inspired by the story of Raman Raghav, a serial killer who had confessed to murdering 41 people in the mid 1960s. Though Raman Raghav 2.0 updates his history with great attention to modern reality, it eventually leaves one dissatisfied. This blow could have been harder.