Director Anurag Kashyap and his leading man Nawazuddin Siddiqui cement their partnership with yet another exceptionally-made film; but style wins over substance as it thrills our senses without offering much else
Nawaz is Ramanna who is inspired by the real-life infamous serial killer, active in Mumbai in the mid-1960s – Raman Raghav. The film unfolds in a series of chapters, just as Raman keeps track of his victims in the pages of a diary.
It spends little time in exposition and establishing backgrounds — all we know about the characters is through snippets of their lives seen on screen. How Raman and his counter-part Raghavan, the cop (played by Vicky Kaushal), became what they are is completely left to our imagination, adding to the thrill.
Siddiqui, beautifully essays his character; in a turn where he seems to have come full circle as an actor. You are constantly kept guessing if Raman’s words are true or carefully crafted, well-practiced, manipulative lies.
Early in the film, in an unconventional narrative turn, Raman surrenders to the police and pleads guilty to all the murders he has committed (which are sensationally covered by the newspapers). But, the police think his words too good to be true and discard him, lest they should miss the actual killer, wasting their time on this madman. Armed with the immunity of his confession, Raman is back on the streets, with business as usual — killing people whose names ‘God’ whispers in his ears. The psychopath only reveals his true intentions later in the film, to his sister’s young boy.
From the lips of a lesser actor, the replete monologues would have rung false. But it is Nawaz’s brilliance that makes them so horrifically, spine-shiveringly real. Even his eyes are enough to scare you and one cannot help but feel sorry for his victims, when he stares them down with unnerving intensity.
Kashyap, has done well to draw out and on, this unparalleled performance, which sets the tone for, and is the heart of the film. The stylish, high production value is expected from him; but the breakneck editing, tightly framed shots and close-ups, distorted fish-eye images and dark tones, ensure that the entire film exudes Raman’s persona. Kashyap’s cinematic world is as distorted as the minds of the titular characters. His astute direction makes mundane objects, like a glass of sugarcane juice and a plate of uncooked chicken, terrifying.
Sound is employed efficiently; songs in the background score seem to play just at the right moment. Kashyap keeps most of the murders off screen, using sound cues to fuel our imagination — for better or for worse.
In comparison Vicky Kaushal’s character, the Raghav to Nawaz’s Raman, ends up being little more than a plot device. His performance, though well-acted, lacks conviction and you find yourself thinking of the lovable small-town boy, he played in ‘Masaan’. He is supposed to be a torn, drug-addled, fornicating cop.
The female characters in the film are as good as cardboard cut outs. They are all oppressed victims of patriarchy and of Raman, while others enable Raghav’s sadomasochistic behaviour. Maybe, they only belong in the twisted worldview of these deranged males; one speaks of defiling his sister just to harass her proud husband, while the drug-infused body of the other, refuses to respond to even viagra. Overall, the film lacks depth, you don’t connect to any of the characters much, especially that of Raghav.
The film’s brilliant climax comes in a chapter, aptly titled ‘Soulmates’. As the lines between cop and killer are blurred, they confront each other following Raman’s second surrender. We finally witness the origin of his obsession with Raghav and why it is him, that Raman so badly seeks for his 'completion’. It also features a high point for Nawaz, as he delivers a monologue, explaining that his is a 'pure' form of killing; he doesn't hide behind the grab of religion or communalism, neither behind authority or a uniform. He kills for the sake of killing, as one eats, or drinks or shits — Raman kills. It's a parable that exposes the greater fractures in our society. And as he sees his journey come to an end, in Raghav he unleashes a new monster in the world.
Kashyap’s riveting psychological thriller is very hard to look away from and impossibly so, every time Nawaz shows up on screen. But it leaves you with little to take back home.
Rutwij Nakhwa, studying for his Bachelor's in Mass Media at St Xavier's College, Mumbai, is working as an intern with Uma da Cunha and her quarterly magazine 'Film India Worldwide'