Raman Raghav 2.0

Anurag Kashyap’s Raman Raghav 2.0 takes us into a cat and mouse game between coked up cop Raghavan (Vicky Kaushal) and self-possessed serial killer Ramana. There are no heroes here, in a Mumbai that is more like a jungle peopled by predators and those who so easily become their prey.

Anurag Kashyap has never struck me as a wallflower, and his style is as much a feature of the film as his actors. There is a lot of technique out on display and the stylised effects actually do work pretty well with the action and narrative. When Ramana describes his thinking there are often sound effects like rain, or static, that make it seem like a genuine recollection but also that his imagination is his reality.  Kashyap supposedly employed guerrilla filming tactics to shoot his story out in the city, and very occasionally you see an extra execute a nice double take. The colours, the lighting, the ambient noise, it all says Mumbai and reminded me that every mega-city is a collection of villages. There is a real tension in some of the chase scenes that is as much “will they make it down that street in one piece” as it is about the story. I get why he used the chapter structure to string together disparate scenes and save on explanation, but they are a bit annoying and really don’t add anything other than exposition. I was more invested in following the characters than being hit over the head with the intent of the next section.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui is that terrifying movie bogeyman – a mild mannered, unremarkable, serial killer. His performance gives Ramana a menace and intelligence that helps gloss over some of the less plausible moments. Scenes that appear to be him reacting to something can later be seen as a rehearsal or test for how to get the desired reaction. He has a casual brutality driven by a rigorous inner logic, with a touch of religious mania. He seems to be guided by cats more than is good for a sane man. Ramana’s Mumbai is part forest and little shacks, not many people around him at times, and part concrete jungle. He is matter of fact and almost seems to expect people to agree with him that they must be punished. When he tracks down his sister and finds her recollection of events not to his liking, he cannot let that go by. His scenes with Raghavan are particularly mesmerising as Nawaz the actor and Ramana the character each play with the onlookers emotions and logic. His final scene with Raghavan was sick and creepy and yet held a sweetness that implied redemption had once been possible, perhaps. Kashyap should be thanking his lucky stars he got Siddiqui to star as I can’t imagine another contemporary actor being so prepared to show such unapologetic darkness, and making it look exquisite.

Vicky Kaushal is the coked up cop Raghavan. He disregards Ramana’s hints that they have seen each other before and leaves him as a harmless nut job to be scared off. He is on his own downward spiral, and there is no end in sight. Raghavan doesn’t seem to have a single honest or healthy relationship in his life. Like Ramana he believes he knows best and that whatever he does is somehow sanctioned. Raghavan is a nasty piece of work but I never felt drawn into his inner world the way I was with Ramana. Vicky Kaushal relied more on external expression of his turmoil – the sniffing and irritability that went with his habit – than showing the demons driving him. I rarely felt much connection with Raghavan as a person. I could easily detest him but I couldn’t really invest in his fairly predictable journey.

His sort of girlfriend Simmy (Sobhita Dhulipala) tolerates his behaviour although I really don’t know why. He makes it clear she is there for sex not forever, and he certainly doesn’t care about any consequences of their relationship, but she doesn’t seem to take his aggression and threats seriously. Sobhita is convincing with her party girl ennui and casual acceptance of Raghavan’s violent side. If only Simmy also had better attention to self-preservation. Some of the women in the film exhibit what could be called non-traditional values, and I couldn’t help but notice that none of them comes through unscathed. It’s a high body count film so that is not inconsistent, but I wondered why female sexuality had to be the trigger for punishment so often. I spent a fair amount of my viewing time urging the women in it to RUN.

The rest of the supporting cast play the friends, family, cops and robbers of this world. They’re all good but very much pushed aside by the two lead characters. I particularly liked Amruta Subhash as Ramana’s sister Lakshmi, and Mukesh Chhabra as the wishy washy loan shark.

Raj Sampath’s score is driving and percussive for the most, underpinning the tempo of the city and the chase. The songs are obligatory rather than necessary but do speak to the characters inner state. And there are some nice touches as when the romantic music wells as Ramana explains to Raghavan that he is his soulmate. It’s a twisted but seemingly genuine love at first sight.

Whenever Nawazuddin is on screen I felt a chill. Unfortunately too much directorial faffing around to try and look cool drained the film of tension, and Vicky Kaushal wasn’t able to overcome either a compelling co-star or an underwritten role. 3 stars.

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C.I.D (1956)

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The film opens with a chain of instructions relayed via numerous phone calls, culminating in a death threat by Sher Singh (a young and dashing Mehmood). His intended victim is Shrivastav, a newspaper man who refuses to publish fake news. Timely. He calls Inspector Shekhar (Dev Anand) for help. Shekhar arrives minutes later with his taciturn assistant Ram Singh (Prabhu Dayal), only to find Mr Shrivastav dying of stab wounds. Petty thief Master (Johny Walker) was hiding under a desk outside the office when the murder took place and saw Sher Singh’s face. It’s all so economical and pacey – the opening throws you right into a world of shadowy identities and questionable motives.

Shekhar is set up as an insightful but not snobbish man in just a few lines exchanged with the regulars (including Tun Tun) at his office. He is very much a man of action but also has a sharp intellect and bursts of intuition. I was just thinking in one scene that it was all a bit coincidental when Shekhar pointed out the same thing. Dev Anand plays him as both world weary and alert, the detective who is rarely surprised but still finds people fascinating. Shekhar’s behaviour, even when he is wallowing in heroic self-pity, is quite rational. And he is prepared to trust people to do the right thing.

Shekhar commandeers a car belonging to Rekha (Shakila) to pursue the mysterious man seen near the newspaper office. She seems most put out and not at all interested in helping the police perform their duty, which is odd considering we later find out she is a policeman’s daughter. She throws the keys out the window, forcing him to stop. Of course they scandalously fall asleep in a sudden downpour that prevents key retrieval and wake up in time for a pastoral idyll lead by Minoo Mumtaz.Her father, played by K.N. Singh is Shekhar’s boss, which makes things interesting when Shekhar finds himself on the run.

While Shekhar is distracted, Rekha finds the keys and drives off leaving him there. She is a scowly pouty girl, burdened with those unflattering compulsory pigtails. I found Shakila the weakest link in the cast. Her facial expressions can be used for a rather lethal drinking game called “Throes of Passion, or Gastrointestinal Discomfort?”

Shekhar seems not to mind Rekha’s shenanigans as much as he could, and uses street performers Sheela Vaz and Shyam Kapoor to facilitate his stalking. Hmmm.

Shekhar uses his connections to close in on the killer, but the mastermind behind this scheme has no intention of being caught. There is a troubling connection with Rekha’s family as the girl who spikes Shekhar’s drink and has him dumped by the road is her childhood friend Kamini (Waheeda Rehman).

Rekha is just a placeholder heroine but Kamini is genuinely interesting. An orphan, she has been installed in a grand house by Dharamdas. Her motives are sometimes unclear, almost as though she is learning her own boundaries as things unravel. Shekhar tells her she is a strategist but not a killer and she seems to agree. Waheeda is of course gorgeous, and her performance is layered and interesting. Kamini has to distract Dharamdas (Bir Sakuja) in one scene and the brittle sparkle of her smile and the slightly forced dance all speak to what is at stake.

Johnny Walker and Kum Kum as his girlfriend offer a comedy track and social commentary on the honest criminals trying to get by. They interact with Mumbai in a way that is more direct and hands on than the others, and they know the ins and outs of the cops and robbers games.

Mehmood was most effective when he had no lines. He looked the part but sounds a little too hammy. It could be drug withdrawals I suppose. Anyway the boss takes no chances and has Sher Singh bumped off, and frames Shekhar for both murders.

In the lead up to the finale, Shekhar escapes through a tunnel but the boss catches a glimpse of the door closing and follows. They play cat and mouse, with Kamini helping Shekhar find all the fake doors, secret switches and endless tunnels. All this appeared to still leave them at the top of the driveway so that was some design genius creating the illusion of space. The tension in this film comes from the chase, the evasion, the holding your breath ’til danger passes, and it really does hold up. It’s pretty clear who did what very early on and it is just a matter of whether Shekhar can join the dots in time, or who else may become collateral damage.

Produced by Guru Dutt and directed by Raj Khosla, C.I.D is an entertaining and engaging thriller. Pitting a suave Dev Anand against a shadowy criminal mastermind, the story is told with tempo and light and shade. Add in the lush O.P Nayyar songs, a young and minxy Waheeda Rehman dancing to choreography by Zohra Sehgal, Johnny Walker actually being funny, and there is so much to love. There are a few points of judicial process that seem unlikely, but not enough to detract from the overall enjoyment of an accomplished yarn. 4 stars!

 

 

Ranuva Veeran (1981)

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S.P Muthuraman’s 1981 epic is standard mass fare in terms of the story and style, but it did bring early-ish career Rajinikanth and Chiranjeevi together as hero and villain respectively. I saw this on a dodgy unsubtitled print, and no one seems to have bothered with detailed cast lists and the like so I will mostly have to refer to characters by the actor’s name. And my usual “Adventures Without Subtitles” caveat applies – I probably made it all up!

Raghu (Rajinikanth) returns home after military service. He defeats thugs on a train, acquires a gun-obsessed child, and returns home only to find that his village has been preyed upon by bandits lead by a mysterious man with one eye (Chiranjeevi). Raghu uses a rousing training montage to equip the villagers to fight back, and tensions escalate. He also meets the lovely Bhumi (Sri Devi) and decides to make her life miserable with his approach to courtship. When Raghu finally slaps the creepy contact lens and fake beard right off Chiranjeevi’s head he realises the gang leader is in fact his old college friend. After faking an accident the gentlemen retire to a grove of trees and strike poses as they declaim their views on good and evil or plaid or something. They certainly are not the same boys who were bosom buddies. And even worse, Chiranjeevi is married to (or living in sin with) Raghu’s sister Ganga who is the mother of the gun toting tot. Raghu eventually manages to overact his way through the dramatic landscapes and to freedom. Chiru is unrepentant about his criminal life, barely blinks at his son being rehomed, and seems more motivated now his secret is out in the open. Bad guys being bad guys, he is still intent on one more heist and that leads to the knock down drag out finale.

Chiranjeevi and Rajinikanth have a similar ability to inject a feeling of quality in even the silliest or most sketchy of roles. Every hero needs a strong adversary and their scenes together have dramatic impact even when things are beyond ridiculous. Both actors spend time frolicking under waterfalls, with varying results. There is a real sense of personal animosity and betrayal in their confrontations. And karate!

Sri Devi gets the rough end of the pineapple with almost no nuance to her role and the burden of steering Rajini around in the dances. Plus perching on a giant Vat 69 bottle as it revolved looked quite scary.

Rajinikanth is the typically righteous and capable hero and seems to relish the mass dramatics. He is laconic but charismatic, and his chemistry with Chiranjeevi is great. His rapport with Sri Devi is less natural but they do have some scenes where neither of them is shouting or threatening the other, and those do work quite nicely.

My favourite action sequence has Rajini kind of mummified and stolen from hospital by Chiru who thinks it is his badly burned goon. But Chiru is not fooled and pours petrol over Rajini…Anyway, the suit morphs from mummy to Ninja to fireproof welding hood and the stunt body in the suit also morphs a bit. It’s a fun and fiery sequence! And did I mention the dancing and the karate?

Chiru makes a big entrance as he tries to evade an entire state’s worth of police. He has a glassy blue eye, and a striking purple suit that I would not have chosen if I was trying to look inconspicuous. But where was he hiding the grenade? Chiru tries to extort money from the mill owner, but Raghu hires security, who work for Chiru and it’s all so much more complicated than it needs to be.

I am not sure but suspect that the gimp masks on the hired goons might not be enough of a disguise in a small community. Look, I really don’t know where Chiru is hiding his grenades but if it’s where I think it is, he is brave and not counting on having any more children.

Raghu interrupts a cockfight run by Bhumi (Sri Devi), getting a cock drunk so it wins. How dare women think they can win at a manly man’s sport like letting a chicken kill another chicken. Bhumi may be silly and loud but Raghu is so mean to her, apparently because she is strong, independent, and her spirit must be crushed so she can settle for him. In another scene Rajini throws sarees at the men who hid from a gang, which is again quite unfair on women who tolerate enough pain to keep popping out babies and putting up with their husbands. It’s not a forward thinking feminist film by any means. Sri Devi wears clothes that are far too small and minus  a chunni in that universal filmi sign of “simple to the point of checking for head injuries”, and screeches a lot.

Bhumi absolutely scandalises Raghu’s family who are quite stitched up, but Raghu is more egalitarian so I did like his complete lack of judging her on her caste or status. Sri Devi’s scenes were an uneven mix of slap happy confrontations and slapstick comedy, but she is charming in a shrill and chicken obsessed way. And someone had to know what to do in the big musical numbers.

Raghu’s family show a dedication to overacting that thankfully failed to manifest in him. The boy Iqbal is shrill and annoying, and reactions to him highlight the differences between the father (Poornam Vishwanathan) and Raghu especially where religion and social welfare are concerned. Raghu’s mother (Nalini) gets her teeth into the scenery too, and I could see why the military might offer Raghu some peace and quiet. Sister Ganga is clearly sad to be separated from her family but will not give up Chiru. She has to make some hard decisions and while she is the film’s fallen woman she is not unsympathetic or unlikeable.

The finale is epic as Chiru and gang spend what seems like DAYS riding their motorbikes towards a big festival that also requires a Rajini and Sri Devi dance number. The climax involves a lot of karate and finally Iqbal’s penchant for guns is utilised. I’m not sure what becomes of that child but I hope all of his near and dear were aware of his vengeful streak and accurate aim.

See this for the excellent pairing of Rajinikanth and Chiranjeevi, for some striking visuals including Rajni prancing through giant bottle props, and because you’d never get the budget to put this cast together again today. 3 ½ stars! Would have been 4 but all that screeching…my ears are still recovering.