Movie Review: Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016)

RamanRaghav23.5 Stars (out of 4)

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A man tells a woman hiding in a locked bedroom: “I can do anything to you and get away with it,.” That line is spoken not by the serial killer in Raman Raghav 2.0, but by the police officer hunting him. Being one of the “good guys” doesn’t make you a good guy.

The cop who utters the threat — Raghavan (Vicky Kaushal) — is introduced not in uniform, but at a dance club, high as a kite. His sexy intensity attracts a call girl named Simmy (Sobhita Dhulipala). She waits in her car while Raghavan pays a visit to his “uncle,” a drug dealer.

Raghavan finds the man murdered, unaware that the killer — Ramanna (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) — is still in the house. When a neighbor checks on the commotion, Raghavan’s un-cop-like reaction reveals that he’s not the hero type.

Each section of the film has its own chapter title, complete with dates. Following the events of the prologue (described above) and a trippy opening credits sequence, Chapter One jumps the story ahead two years. Ramanna turns himself into the police, claiming credit for multiple murders. Raghavan and his fellow officers assume the skinny, homeless fellow is lying, and they beat him and lock him in an abandoned building from which he escapes.

Raghavan is still with Simmy, though he treats her like garbage and won’t publicly acknowledge their relationship. The context that writer-director Anurag Kashyap and his co-writer, Vasan Bala, provide for Raghavan’s appalling behavior highlight the cop’s sense of entitlement. Raghavan is a violent drug addict because his powerful father is disappointed in him. Boo hoo.

On the other hand, Ramanna’s background makes his sadism seem almost inevitable. He’s a sexual abuse survivor who believes that he can communicate with the God of Death. At a young age, he turned his perverted rage outward, venting it on animals and his sister, Lakshmi (Amruta Subhash).

The entire sequence involving Ramanna and his sister is riveting in a gut-churning way. He turns up outside of her apartment, wondering why her six-year-old son doesn’t recognize his uncle. Lakshmi asks how Ramanna found her address. The retrained terror in Lakshmi’s eyes as she tries desperately not to do anything to provoke her brother is chilling. Subhash handles the role perfectly.

Fans who complained that Siddiqui was too understated in Te3n will not be disappointed by his crazy turn in Raman Raghav 2.0. Nevertheless, his character is at his most intimidating when he’s calm, the sinister content of his words at odds with the relaxed manner in which he delivers them.

Kaushal’s performance is likewise compelling. Whether it’s because of Raghavan’s job or the fact that Kaushal looks like a movie hero, we keep waiting for Raghavan to be a better man than he is. Dhulipala is a fitting match as world-weary Simmy, who diffuses Raghavan’s temper with glibness.

Raman Raghav 2.0 isn’t as soul-crushing as some of the South Korean thrillers of the last decade that have dealt with similar themes. Kashyap uses music to provide emotional distance during the most disturbing sequences. Ramanna’s most heinous crime is accompanied by a somewhat jazzy tune featuring a woman singing about what a bad guy he is.

Kashyap’s film is also less gory than other recent thrillers from elsewhere in Asia. Most of the violence in Raman Raghav 2.0 takes place out of frame. That, along with the prominent music and evocative city scenery give Kashyap’s film a real Indian identity, in contrast to recent Hindi remakes of South Korean movies that barely deviate from the original (such as Rocky Handsome).

There is one element to the Raman Raghav 2.0 that confused me. The movie opens with a note that Raman Raghav was an infamous serial killer in Mumbai in the 1960s. As the story progresses, Ramanna repeatedly states that he is Raman, and “Raman needs Raghav.” Wouldn’t that be like someone saying, “Charles needs Manson”?

That confusion aside, Raman Raghav 2.0 sews up every loose thread, answers every question. It’s not a movie for the squeamish, but it is a gripping character study about the darkness lurking in the human heart.


16 thoughts on “Movie Review: Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016)

  1. Amin

    Hi Kathy….are you not maintaining your bollywood blog any more? Haven’t seen your US BO updates in a couple weeks…just checking.

    1. Kathy

      Thanks for asking about the box office reports, Amin. I’ve been taking some time off for vacation. I hope to have a new one up on Tuesday.

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  6. alokpandey25

    Regarding the ‘confusion’ you mentioned, while it’s true that Raman Raghav was the name of one man, in Hindi Raman and Raghav both can serve as first names. The director, Anurag Kashyap had originally planned to make the movie on the serial killer itself, but post his ambitious Bombay Velvet’s bombing on the box-office, he dropped the idea of getting into another period- movie. So, he developed a brand new script with Bala where Raman/Ramanna would be only one half who will be searching for his other half(Raghav/Raghavan) to complete his quest for sort of reincarnating the spirit of the notorious killer. It was as if Ramanna understood the killer deep down but was only half that evil(not sure if that is the word appropriate for what I feel after watching the movie) and wanted someone to complete him who he found in Raghavan, the police officer. Also, hence the suffix 2.0.

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  9. Vijay

    >As the story progresses, Ramanna repeatedly states that he is Raman, and “Raman needs Raghav.” Wouldn’t that be like someone saying, “Charles needs Manson”?

    It’s not as odd as it sounds. In India, both Raman and Raghav can be first names as well as last names.

    Also, when you combine them, they kind of go together. In Sanskrit, “Raman” means “beloved”, and “Raghav” is another name for the Lord Rama. So “Raman Raghava” means “beloved of god”. It’s a bit of a psychological thing, but if a Hindi speaker hears “Raman Raghav” as a name, he might temporarily start thinking of “Raman” and “Raghav” each as only half a name, because the brain automatically combines them. Wouldn’t happen if you heard either of the names in isolation.

    There’s some other weirdness going on too. At the end of the second act when the pawnshop owner is questioned by the police, he says Raman Raghav was a customer and he used to talk about how he was “Raman looking for Raghav”. Only, sometimes he’d say “Raman” and sometimes he’d say “Ravan”. You might be aware that Ravan is the antihero in the Hindu epic Ramayana, the guy who kidnaps Rama’s wife Sita, and precipitates the war on Lanka. That’s another connection to the Lord Rama, though what it means I can’t say.

    I took it as another sign of his schizophrenia. He says he used to get messages from Lord Yama, telling him whom to kill next. Yama is the Hindu version of Hades and Charon combined, the lord of the underworld who comes for your soul when your time is up. Obviously, this guy has a rich fantasy life, and mythology figures prominently in it.

    I read the comment from the other reader who speculates that perhaps he’s trying to conjure up the spirit of the original Raman Raghav, the serial killer from the 60’s. And that this somehow requires two killers, because one isn’t evil enough. I suppose that’s possible, but there’s really nothing in the movie to suggest it.

    1. Kathy

      Vijay, this is AWESOME! Thank you so much for explaining this so thoroughly!! This makes a lot more sense now. I’m familiar with Hindu cosmology, but apparently not enough to make these connections. 😄 This is great. Thanks for taking the time to write this! — Kathy

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