Ratsasan

Ratsasan

Ram Kumar’s 2018 film Ratsasan is a chillingly dark thriller that has plenty of twists and turns, and a good selection of red herrings added to the mix. Vishnu Vishal is compelling as a police officer trying to track down a particularly vicious serial killer and San Lokesh’s editing ensures the suspense level is high throughout. The only let down is the end, which feels overly indulgent after the tight screenplay up to that point, but it’s a minor issue in an otherwise excellent film that is an edge-of-the-seat watch.

The film starts with one of those twists as what seems to be a horror film resolves into something else entirely. Arun Kumar (Vishnu Vishal) has dreams of making a film about a psychotic killer but struggles to get any interest from the various producers he approaches. Along with the continual dashing of his hopes, his mother and brother-in-law repeatedly advise him to give up his dreams and join the police force. Their logic being that since Arun’s father was a police officer, Arun would be a shoo-in for the job, which made no sense to me but presumably did to Arun! The continual rejections wear Arun down and he finally succumbs and becomes an SI just as a schoolgirl is abducted. The abduction coincides with the discovery of another body, horribly mutilated, wrapped in plastic and dumped in a concrete pipe. Thanks to his immense knowledge of serial killers from years of cutting out news clippings and obsessing about his film, Arun quickly puts two and two together and deduces that there is a psychopath preying on school girls in the area. However, convincing his superiors is just the first hurdle he has to overcome in his search for the murderer.

The early part of the film is used to establish Arun’s dedication and persistence since even when he starts working as a police officer, he doesn’t let go of his dream. Or perhaps his dream won’t let go of him – Arun tries to throw his script away into the sea, but the waves end up bringing it back to him. I like that he’s shown to be a compassionate but practical man, and that despite being on the side of law and order, he’s willing to break rules when he feels it’s expedient, or to argue his point when his senior officers tell him to shut up and go away. These early scenes paint a clear picture of Arun and set up his behaviour for the rest of the film, allowing Ram Kumar to focus attention on the plot and the action. Yes, the characters often behave predictably, but that’s the whole point and it actually adds to the plausibility of the police investigation.

The story moves rapidly between the various abductions, the search for each girl and the final discovery of the bodies while mixing in elements of the investigation.  All of this helps keep the tension high as the audience slowly learns about each new incident along with the investigating team. Ram Kumar also introduces each victim before they are abducted which makes them seem more ‘real’ and ups the suspense level as the police work to find them before they are mutilated and killed.

One well used point of contrast is the day-to-day normality of everything outside of the police case that serves to highlight the tensions within the case even further. Once he joins the police, Arun lives with his school-teacher sister Kokila (Vinodhini Vaidyanathan), her husband Doss (Ramdoss) (who is also a police officer), and their daughter Ammu (Abhirami). All have well written characters and the scenes in their house bring a good family dynamic that keeps the film grounded. There’s even a romance, which is kept nicely low-key to avoid derailing the main story. Viji (Amala Paul) is more than just a love interest though as her job as a teacher brings her into contact with the victims, and she is able to help out with the investigation as a result.

One of the best and most convincing threads is that of a paedophile in the school, well played by Vinod Sagar, with a chilling and shocking conclusion. It’s this mix of good writing, intelligent twists and genuinely surprising shocks that make the film work so well. I did find it quite surprising in a film that’s essentially about a police investigation, that the police don’t come across well at all. There are a lot of beatings, general brutality and forced confessions, while the senior officers seem to be willing to overlook their subordinates’ behaviour simply to have someone in jail for a crime – regardless of whether they are guilty or not. The police even have a secret mortuary used for whenever they need to ‘disappear’ someone, and the officer in charge of the investigation, ACP Lakshmi (Suzane George), is particularly stubborn and short-sighted. I find it hard to believe that anyone could be quite so fixated on their own theories to the point of stupidity, but her incompetence does ensure that naturally Arun will be needed to save the day.

Mostly the film gets it right, but there are perhaps a few too many coincidences, and having Arun as an expert in psychopaths is overdone at times – surely senior police would have heard about famous killers such as Jack the Ripper for instance – but otherwise the plot is well put together and cleverly convoluted. The fast pace, twists and turns keep the momentum going, although the film does slow at the end where the serial killer is unmasked. My main issue though is that the reasoning behind the abductions and mutilations doesn’t quite stand-up at the end. Maybe that’s just my preference for a more true-to-life killer – someone who drifts under the radar and whose neighbours are always shocked by the discovery. However, the reveal and explanation are suitably horrifying and the perpetrator satisfyingly evil with the moment when the last victim realises her predicament really very scary! Ghibran’s background music is effectively used to heighten the tension and P.V. Sankar blends light and shade with the camera as expertly as Ram Kumar does with the screenplay. All the actors perform well in their roles and it’s good to see so many minor characters have more back story and a real presence in the film. I haven’t seen Ram Kumar’s previous film, but if this is anything to go by, he’s definitely a director to watch out for. This is a well written and smartly plotted thriller that’s considerably darker than expected with plenty of suspense. Highly recommended – 4 stars.

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Behroopiya (1971)

There wasn’t a lot of information around on Behroopiya – but I knew it was snakey, featured Helen, Faryal, Madhumati and music by Usha Khanna so it had to be worth a look. I watched this on unsubtitled VCD and it was certainly worth the ninety three cents I paid even if I did have to make up half the story. I don’t know why there is so little written online about this film – Rajesh Nanda has delivered a gem!

I’m not sure I have the cast names right as IMDB was little help and the opening credits were not much better. (I was mildly surprised to see ‘Heleln’ makes an appearance.)

There is a villainous prince Ranjeet (Hiralal), who augments his household staff with an evil guru. His younger brother is the good guy. Ajay (Dheeraj Kumar) is a jack of all trades and seems to spend most of his time hanging around a fitness club, training a gang of schoolgirl ninjas/vigilantes.

Well, not really ninjas as they do lack speed and stealth, but they make up for it by being well accessorised and are handy in a slow and careful fight sequence. Ajay lives with his sister-in-law (played by Chitra) and her son Bharat (Jr Mehmood). Ranjeet has been in prison, and doesn’t seem at all happy to have his wife and son greet him on release. However, the boy takes a seat in his father’s lair and does his best to disrupt operations. Bharat is a sanctimonious little git so I think he and Ranjeet deserve each other. The prince has a prisoner, a young girl he kept after his plans to molest her mother went awry. Nothing like planning ahead, Ranjeet.

Padmini (Snehlata) escapes one day, only to be rescued by Ajay but then recaptured. Our hero falls for the mystery girl and decides he has to save her and possibly the world. Ajay, master of disguise, teams up with Bharat, master of annoying, to thwart Ranjeet’s plans.

The guru uses Padmini to assassinate folk for Ranjeet. His method is fascinating – he has her bitten on the tongue by a snake and then makes her dance until, in a frenzy, she bites the victim. I like the way Padmini turns blue when she reaches peak venom levels – an excellent visual clue to her victim’s impending fate.

Based on the criteria in the Filmi Snake Spotter’s Field Guide I don’t think she is actually a snake despite the excellent eyeliner and headgear etc. There are lots of mentions of a nagin but I got the impression that they were referring to the snake state rather than her being one. The guru seems to need a milk and venom drink at regular intervals but she is afraid of his the snake so it was a bit confusing. Snehlata’s outfits in the snake dances are excellent and she accessorises quite well when off duty.

 

Ajay’s idea of romance includes badminton, table tennis and other endeavours that allow him to wear short shorts or mesh t-shirts or both.

 

Dheeraj gets full run of the dressing-up box as he impersonates various henchmen, the guru, and even Ranjeet.

Padmini’s brother Ramu (Ram Kumar) and the troupe (which includes Madhumati, Daisy Irani and Faryal) try to rescue her too. They are performers so that allows for lots of dances and sparkly costumes.

There are jumps between scenes and I think it is just to avoid explaining. The attitude is ‘right, let’s keep moving on!”  – e.g Jr Mehmood being thrown from the roof but next seen stepping out of a blanket as though he had been caught, or Jr Mehmood kicking the pilot out of a plane before somehow learning to land it himself or Jr Mehmood humping Faryal’s leg in a fairly inappropriate song before stealing a herd of camels before… Hmmm. Maybe the issue here is Jr Mehmood!

The songs are delightful which is just as well since most are reprised several times. I like this version of Ooi Ma that has Faryal doing what I assume is meant to be a classy item dance for the rich folk while Madhumati and Daisy Irani shake it for the peasants.

The nefarious doings of Ranjeet include such spy classics as “Hello hello Bombay speaking’ secret communications. Lured to Bombay by Ranjeet, Ajay and the ninja gals dance with HELEN!!!! In go-go gladiator outfits!

And to top it off, the girls rescue Ajay from another of Ranjeet’s inefficient assassination attempts.

The performances are not exactly brilliant but they are enjoyable nonetheless. Dheeraj grew on me as the film progressed, although I think he thinks he is rather something. He has a dorky enthusiasm for the silliness, and that makes Ajay amusing rather than insufferable, especially when he ‘dances’. Hiralal is over the top, and makes Ranjeet appropriately revolting. Jr Mehmood is eerily like a scale model Mehmood and quite entertaining even though I wanted to slap his character. Chitra was the weeping wife who will not leave her lying cheating murdering rapist husband so as you may imagine, the Tight Slap Administrator would have been working overtime.

Snehlata managed to look picturesque and miserable as poor Padmini and deliver an excellent Look as required. The ninja schoolgirls were background only but I liked their different characters as evinced through the choice of beehives and bows.

Raja the excellent anipal (and his not even vaguely similar stunt dog) does a wonderful job too.

There are double crosses, disguises, daring stunts, camel chases and buckets of glycerine tears along the way. The film ends in a gloriously mad sequence that has almost certain death, a rescue attempt by the item girl squad and Jr Mehmood in drag, and yet another camel chase. Will Ranjeet triumph? Will Ajay be incinerated? Will any of it make sense? You’ll have to watch to find out.

Irresistible! 4 stars!