Staring at an evil reflection in the mirror

Serial killers always make for great cinema, not because of the various shades of red — from crimson to dark — that the blood takes when it’s spilled on the floor, but because of the various hues of darkness that mark the psychological profile of the protagonists. Anurag Kashyap’s Raman Raghav 2.0 (RR 2.0) is one such fascinating exploration into the psyche of two nihilists — one by compulsion, one by choice — who find common ground in their disposition to violence. Toward the end, as the chapter ‘soulmates’ appears — in perhaps a nod to Quentin Tarantino, Kashyap has divided the film into chapters — we realise that Ramanna and Raghavan need each other to achieve cosmic completion. It is implied that they are not Raman-Raghav (a duo) but Raman Raghav (a singular entity) — divided by physicality, united by nature. One is an aks of the other, an inconvenient shadow, an unrecognised reflection.

Aks is a delicious Hindi word that I first came across exactly 15 years ago through a movie that, in my opinion, has striking parallels with RR 2.0. Released in July 2001 — on a Friday the 13th, a few weeks after Lagaan and Gadar — Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s debut created a juicy amalgam of mythology, psychology and pitch-black poetry with darkness as the leitmotif, just like RR 2.0. It combined Kiran Deohans’s haunting cinematography, dominated by shades of green and blue, Gulzar’s dark poetry and Amitabh Bachchan’s quiet intensity to create a sinistrous smorgasbord of negativity.

The film can be viewed in two ways. The first is as a good-vs.-evil ghost thriller. As per this interpretation, the demarcation between the good individual (Manu Varma) and the evil one (curiously named Raghavan) is clear. The good man kills the bad guy. The bad guy’s spirit possesses him and needs to be exorcised.

The other, a much more stimulating way of viewing it is in psychological terms — the raakshas in Raghavan (a term used many times for Raghavan) makes the unidimensional, honest inspector Manu Verma, achieve a sense of consummation by making him taste the evil within. As Raghavan says in one of the scenes, Har Manu Varma Raghavan banna chahta hai (Every Manu Verma wants to become a Raghavan; every so-called living god wants to explore the devil within).

Varma kills Raghavan halfway but the latter’s identity merges into his own, giving a free rein to the animal within him. In this regard, Manu Varma and Raghavan are not two different people, they are one soul with two bodies; they are soulmates, just like Ramanna and Raghavan (in Raman Raghav 2.0) are. They need each other to live, as Raghavan says at one point. They achieve completion only through each other. One is the aks of the other. To give a hint of this, Manu Varma is, at different points in the film, introduced only through Raghavan’s eyes.

At the very beginning, Raghavan commits his act — that of murdering a Defence Minister — using Manu’s mask as a tool. Midway, after Raghavan and Manu have shot each other — and here, the distinction between the two becomes blurred — the former is free to impose himself on the latter. Not just that, the latter is free to become acquainted with the evil within. As Manu, confident that he has got completely rid of Raghavan, looks at himself in the mirror, he sees the latter’s soul. Raghavan is his own mirror image.

In a similar way, Raman Raghav 2.0 makes us see Raghavan (an IPS officer) through the eyes of Ramanna (a killer by passion) right from the beginning. During an investigation scene a little later, the latter tells him: “Apun aapko aapse behtar jaanta hai [I know you better than you know yourself].” Despite being on the opposite ends of the law, the two join at the hip, not as good and evil but as two monsters. As the narrative progresses, we lose track of who is chasing whom — we only know that they need each other, that they are two sides of the same coin. Both of them have the license to kill — Ramanna from the ‘divine’ and Raghavan from the law.

Another place where Aks and RR 2.0 meet is in their reference to mythology. Just like Ramanna repeatedly references the god and Ramayana to claim divine sanction for his killings, Raghavan in Aks invokes Gita — Na koi Marta Hai, Na Koi Maarta Hai (Life is a continuum, it neither ends nor can be ended by someone) after committing his artistry in the form of murders. Raghavan, just like Ramanna, is a Natural Born Killer — it wouldn’t be inappropriate to hazard a guess that this is another place where Kashyap has shown a tip of the hat to Tarantino. The act of killing is more than an occupation for the two; it is a source of passion; a medium through which they achieve their aesthetic goals, satiate the artist within. Here, their characters are not dissimilar to Hans Beckett, the central character in Fritz Lang’s M, who kills — his targets being children — not as a matter of livelihood, but out of both passion and compulsion. Beckett cannot help himself from killing; whether he is emotionally challenged or completely deranged is left to the audience to determine.

Ramanna, toward the end, makes references to religion-based murders, to mob violence, even to misguided youngsters going to Syria to seek a momentary high, to say that he does not follow any of their philosophies. He doesn’t have one of his own. Killing to him is as natural as eating food. Killing defines his very identity. Raghavan in Aks is more a gun for hire and kills agnostically, using prosthetic masks, and leaves a keychain with a joker’s face behind with the dead body, as if to convey that even behind the mask of a killer, there exists a wicked joker, with dark humour.

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 11:01:30 PM |

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