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!

 

 

Raees

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Raees (Shah Rukh Khan in case you haven’t worked that out) grows up working for the local bootleggers, learning the business from the inside out. His mother (Sheeba Chaddha) tells him that no business is beneath them, and no religion is greater than business, as long as they don’t harm anyone. Raees hates being poor, and hates being treated unfairly. He wants respect, money, success. He’s the kind of guy who will exploit the tiniest gap to create something you could drive a fully laden truck through. The man trying to stop him is the eccentric and equally driven Superintendent Majmudar (the excellent Nawazuddin Siddiqui).

The film is directed like it was the 70s, the story is set in the 80s/90s, but only the technology dates things. Seeing Raees threatening someone over the phone was something else when that phone was a dinky red racing car one. The Fatehpura neighbourhood is a lively backdrop, teeming with people going about their day in the narrow streets. The songs suit the film and tend to advance the story more often than not (the Not being Zaalima). I wasn’t convinced by Sunny Leone as Laila but that sequence is quite gripping.

 

I think they did a good job of harnessing Shah Rukh’s uncle dancing tendencies and enigmatic walking powers, and I am rarely averse to colour and movement. Overall Rahul Dholakia directs with good pace and attention to the emotional arcs, but he throws everything into his story and that is to the eventual detriment of the film. There are too many subplots unravelling towards the end and the energy fizzles out.

Raees has strong ethics in business and personal life. You can argue the toss about selling illegal booze, but he only sells quality gear not the adulterated hooch that killed people when he was a kid. The experiences in his youth have a clear influence on shaping the adult and I felt Raees was believable even if his fight skills were more suited to a Bond. The audience applauded his shenanigans – the chai glass and the press entourage got the loudest cheers – and they seemed to appreciate Raees as the guy who was doing one wrong thing but was otherwise a hero. He is the Angry Young Man who wants to give his family a secure future and help the people who have helped him. His lifelong friendship with Sadiq (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) adds another layer of humanity, exposing some of Raees less heroic moments. Shah Rukh’s performance is solid but occasionally is too much like vintage Raj or Rahul, although Raees shows more intent than would usually accompany the up-close décolletage inspection. He’s charismatic, nerdy, and impulsive, but also calculating. One question though – Does SRK have an eyedrops sponsorship? First Dear Zindagi, now Raees…

Raees is an anti-hero who knows when he has committed a serious crime and it doesn’t always sit easily with him. I watched an old interview with actor Michael Caine and he was asked about how he could bring himself to play an evil character and make him seem so human. He said the man wasn’t a monster to himself, so he could play him with characteristics of both a decent guy and a cold blooded villain. I think that is what works with Shah Rukh’s portrayal. He looks at ease in Raees skin whether he is praying at his mother’s grave, being carried through the streets in triumph, or going on a brutally efficient killing spree. He shows unusual self-awareness for a filmi hero and a degree of struggle with the consequences of his path. People may see him as a god but he knows he isn’t.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui is Majmudar, that most problematic of policeman – the one who wants to get his man.  His epic entrance at the best and tackiest party ever was a perfect set-up for what was to come. Majmudar has a fascination with Raees. He is determined to shut him down but he quite enjoys Raees spirit. I liked how Nawazuddin would smirk, showing a hint of exasperation and a gleam of genuine appreciation when Raees bested him. That and all the sarcastic one liners. Majmudar spent time tapping Raees’ calls, using the helpfully labelled Phone Tapping Centre from the Central Props Department, and seems almost wistful when he overhears a personal call. But then he is still cold and calculating in his pursuit. Raees was the opponent he needed in order to be that cop who never gives up even when the system is against him. Nawazuddin steals all the scenes as Majmudar permeates Raees’ life and he is a strong and unyielding presence that exasperates the pragmatic businessman. Raees and Majmudar treat each other with respect and as much honesty as is possible, and are the most morally articulate characters. They’re both smart, neither has to be a fool or do anything out of character just to move the plot along, and both actors are terrific in their scenes together.

Mahira Khan gives a good and largely understated performance as Aasiya, Raees’ wife. There is no sizzling chemistry but they show a comfortable joy in each other’s company that speaks to a longstanding relationship between neighbourhood sweethearts. In a scene when Raees came home covered in blood, Aasiya gives him a searching look. His reaction of self-disgust and culpability is what reassures her. She knows his line of business and she believes in her husband. Despite being in the domestic background, it is obvious that Aasiya is respected and liked in the community and she steps up in public when needed. True, she appears to have a baby without a pregnancy but frankly I’ve seen stranger things in Hindi films.

Sadiq (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) rounds out the important people in Raees life and his performance is endearing and realistic. Friends since childhood, Sadiq is the only one apart from Aasiya that can see Raees as just a bloke. They keep some of their cute childhood mannerisms, retell old stories, and they look out for each other no matter what. Even when Raees flies off the handle, Sadiq is there to try and talk him down or remind him of what’s important. It mustn’t be easy to carve out your own space when SRK is going the full Rahul, but this friendship works.

The cat and mouse between Raees and Majmudar dominates, but there are some excellent character actors in support. Atul Kulkarni is charming and vile as the calculating Jairaj Seth who won’t easily let his former employee best him. Narendra Jha is Musa Bhai, the enigmatic Mumbai based don who helps Raees set up on his own.

Raees is at best morally ambiguous, and the ending may not be what you expect, but I enjoyed the film. Rahul Dholakia directs with a vintage masala flavour, but unfortunately messes up the formula so it gets a bit diluted towards the end. It’s an uneven ride but worth it for the excellence of Nawazuddin and SRK and the retro cops and robbers style.