Film Review: Raman Raghav 2.0

A sociopathic killer and a damaged cop face off in this Indian thriller that does a surprisingly deep dive into lust, murder and violent obsession.
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There's a lot of Manhunter and more than a little Cruising in writer-director Anurag Kashyap's lurid thriller Raman Raghav 2.0, set in contemporary Mumbai and fueled by a pounding techno-dance score.

Raghavan Singh (Vicky Kaushal) is a cop with a bad MDMA habit and a nasty case of looking into the abyss. Raman Raghav (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is a killer with a sad past of abuse and exploitation that's sent him round the bend and into the slums of Mumbai with murder on his mind.

The film opens by intercutting scenes of Raghavan meeting glamorous party girl Simmy (Sobhita Dhulipala, Miss India Earth 2013) in a club, then heading out to score drugs, with shots of an older man pleading with for his life after being confronted by intruder with a hammer.

The next day, the news is full of stories about a double murder in the slums: Two men—the older man of the previous scene, a drug dealer, and a blameless neighbor—have been brained with a rock, and Raghavan has caught the case. Raghavan has a reputation as a closer, but his methods are unorthodox and his moral compass is decidedly situational. That doesn't bode well for his deeply personal quest to bring down the wily, insinuating Raman, who, it turns out, is already responsible for a long string of unsolved murders and is far from finished.

Originally called Psycho Raman, Raman Raghav 2.0 is, like its feral killer, inspired by the case of a real-life serial murderer who terrorized Bombay in the 1960s. It's divided into eight portentously named chapters that demarcate Raghavan's journey from the straight and narrow down a crooked road blazed by his quarry, one that leads directly to hell for everyone who has the misfortune to cross Raman's path. Most wind up dead, while Raghavan is ultimately forced to confront his own failings, which include stealing from dealers and using excessive force because he likes hurting people. And that, of course, is a kind of death in itself: Raghavan is never self-deluded enough to think he's a exemplary officer of the law, but he doesn't think of himself as soul mate to a sociopath until the quest for Raman forces him to acknowledge just how far from the path he's strayed.

Raman Raghav 2.0 is no more violent than the average R-rated American thriller, but that's unusually violent for a mainstream Indian movie—even a dramatic feature with no musical numbers—which is attested to by the fact that it's being released with a warning that it's for mature viewers. It's also surprisingly sexually frank. Not only is there a sex scene between Simmy and Raghavan (again, not shocking by U.S. standards, but uncommon even in non-Bollywood Indian movies), but Raman at one point banters nastily with a stranger who accuses him of being a hustler by crudely asking the man to specify exactly what kind of sexual services he's looking for.

Director Anurag Kashyap delivers a couple of truly suspenseful sequences, notably the one in which Raman holes up in his estranged sister's apartment, berating her as an incestuous whore as he forces her to prepare dinner while holding her husband and their wide-eyed little boy hostage. The movie's sole concession to the prominent place music plays in most Indian movies is the use of songs, one per segment, that reflect upon key sequences in each section; of these, the standout is "Uncouth.”

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