DFF '16: Psycho Raman (Anurag Kashyap)

by Jason Suzuki

The disparity between a film's original title and its international one can be amusing every now and then, especially when you are met with a title screen that clearly says one thing while the subtitles below adamantly hold their ground and state the international release title. Such was the case in this latest film from Anurag Kashyap (The Gangs of Wasseypur). The smaller sized text declared Psycho Raman while the blaring title screen, contained within one of the most visually stimulating opening credits since Enter the Void, said "Raman Raghav 2.0." Maybe since Raman Raghav is not a household name like Charles Manson is (I never knew about this real-world killer until I saw the film) they went with the more generic Psycho Raman. Or possibly it was to make sure there was no confusion whether this film a sequel or not. When used properly, a title can be a key to meaning for artistic works and that was certainly the case here as Nawazuddin Siddiqui's performance leaves no room for debate on his character's psychosis.

The film gives us a little background on Raman Raghav, a serial killer who terrorized Mumbai in the 60s. When in police custody it turned out he was quite prolific thanks to his confession of having murdered forty-one people. Despite the context Kshyap's film states that this film is not about Raman Raghav however. Set in modern times, we have a tale of a serial killer who identifies with Raghav, played brilliantly by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, and a corrupt, drug addict cop played by Vicky Kaushal. Divided into chapters the film does not play out like a game of cat and mouse. It posits that without a cop there would be no killer. Kaushal's cop is Raghav to Siddiqui's Raman. To drive this point ever further Kashyap names them Raghavan and Rammana respectively.

This idea of the modern Raman Raghav existing as two kindred spirits on both sides of the law is fascinating, unfortunately the film's structure and the lack of balance between time spent with the two leads does not help. It makes total sense to favor Siddiqui over everyone else. A man keeping his sister and her family under house arrest before murdering them all with a tire iron will always be more riveting than a corrupt cop, no matter that he kills on occasion and is banging Miss Earth India (Sobhita Dhulipala making her film debut). Despite his confessions being typically cryptic and warped, Rammana's section - about 80% of the film - makes more sense on a scene by scene basis than Raghavan's. When Raghavan visits his father, who has a high-ranking place within society and shames his son for his drug addiction, it's not very clear why he's there and what this means on a character basis as opposed to a screenwriter needing a little extra push to get from A to B.

Some exciting formal elements that just as easily might not have been apparent if given a structure more successful at conveying it main theme is that the film at times feels more like a romance between the two men. Their connection is spiritual so their meet ups and crossing of paths is depicted as pre-destined with an air of the other worldly. This also leads to the other exciting take on the genre: that this is in a way a slasher film where two separate individuals and their combined actions create the killing spree.

Due to budgetary restrictions a straightforward Raman Raghav film had to be a modern-set story which evokes the killer instead of the planned period piece actually about him. At times it feels like the script and its ideas were rushed due to the change in plans. But like the two protagonists there is something lurking underneath the film we got and when it bursts out on occasion it is satisfying.

Jason Suzuki is co-editor of Cinema Adrift.