Tag Archives: Amruta Subhash

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.

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Movie Review: Island City (2015)

IslandCity2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Island City was a part of the 2016 Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles.

Writer-director Ruchika Oberoi’s debut film Island City explores the pressures of life in modern Mumbai through three connected narratives, with varying degrees of success.

The movie opens with “Fun Committee,” a story about a middle-aged salaryman, Mr. Chaturvedi (Vinay Pathak). He files into his cubicle at Systematic Statistics along with the other drones, an interchangeable cog in a giant machine.

To remedy persistent employee dissatisfaction, the company installs a “Fun Committee” to randomly award workers with a day away from the office. For a guy like Chaturvedi, whose job is his life, such a reward feels like a punishment.

According to an anonymous committee member heard only over the phone (voiced by Rajat Kapoor), the day away is scientifically planned to maximize “mandatory” fun. Chaturvedi is dropped off at a shopping mall, under orders to utilize a stack of coupons for free stuff like balloons and lollipops.

The film’s limited budget becomes a problem as the narrative shifts into a surreal examination of consumer culture. Retail employees sing when Chaturvedi redeems his coupons as shoppers mill about nearby. Are the shoppers also a part of the alternative universe inhabited by Chaturvedi and the store workers? Are they even aware of it? A bigger budget would’ve allowed Oberoi to build a more immersive world, avoiding the questions of who’s involved and who’s just a regular person who happened to be shopping on the day of a movie shoot.

Sympathy for Chaturvedi’s plight is undermined when he extends his frustration with his soul-sucking job beyond the callous management to his fellow employees. They’re just as much victims of the system as he is. “Fun Committee” ends on a grim note.

The second story — “The Ghost in the Machine” — is the best of the three. Housewife Sarita (Amruta Subhash) learns that her husband, Mr. Joshi, is in a coma. Sarita, her two young sons, and her mother endure neighbors dropping by to offer condolences in exchange for tea and cookies, but the family knows the truth: Joshi was an overbearing jerk, and their life is more enjoyable without him.

All four family members get hooked on a TV serial about an ideal man. The TV hero (Samir Kochhar) is handsome, affectionate, kind, generous, and polite: all the things Joshi is not. The serial allows the family to envision a better life, while comatose Joshi hovers over their dreams like a not-quite-dead ghost. The story is delightfully clever, especially in the way the TV serial’s narrative evolves to depict the family’s desires.

“Contact” is the last of Island City‘s short stories. Unlike the middle-class protagonists of the other narratives, “Contact” features a poor heroine. Aarti (Tannishtha Chatterjee) endures a hopeless existence, commuting for hours to a manual labor job at a newspaper print shop. Her father has arranged her marriage to a foul-mouthed boor, Jignesh (Chandan Roy Sanyal), who insists that dour Aarti smile without giving her a reason to.

An anonymous love letter professes to see the passionate fire hidden within Aarti’s sad eyes. The mystery awakens not just Aarti’s sense of curiosity but a belief that perhaps she deserves a more fulfilling life than the one she has. Chatterjee’s touching performance lives up her consistently high standards.

Island City is pessimistic about life for the average Mumbaikar. Hope is either a lie, or it comes at an astronomical cost. “The Ghost in the Machine” is the only one of the three tales that is fun to watch.

It’s hard to reconcile how the salaryman’s story fits with the other two. The image of the zombie-like office worker is well established, but Chaturvedi is there by choice. There’s no sense that he quashed some vibrant part of himself to take this job. He has no family to support. He’s there because there’s nothing more to him.

Contrast that with both Sarita and Aarti, whose opportunities are dictated by the men in their lives. Joshi forced Sarita to stop working in a career she loved. Aarti works in a dead-end job, and she’s forced to marry someone she finds repulsive. Not only are Chaturvedi’s self-imposed troubles deemed equivalent with those of the two women, they’re given prominence by being placed first in the story order.

It feels like there’s a piece missing from Island City that might have better connected the three stories. Maybe it was just a matter of weaving the narratives together rather than presenting them separately. As constructed, Island City only hits its stride after a third of the movie is already over.

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