Nagesh Kukunoor's Dhanak And Anurag Kashyap's Raman Raghav 2.0: Lockdown Blues Chasers PART 51

We revisit two films that left an indelible mark - Anurag Kashyap's Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Shobita Dhulipala starrer Raman Raghav 2.0 and Dhanak starring an incredible lineup of artistes.

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Nagesh Kukunoor's Dhanak And Anurag Kashyap's Raman Raghav 2.0: Lockdown Blues Chasers PART 51
Dhanak(2015):  This  is a very rare product of a breed of cinema where simplicity and intelligence come together in an unlikely marriage of excellence. The  main characters are a bright  little blind boy Chotu who is a brat like his idol Salman Khan ,and a whiner and a  drama king playing the blind card when it suits him, and his  sister Pari wiser beyond her years endlessly exasperated by her kid-brother’s antics but committed to being his support and anchor as they set off to meet, hold your breath, Shah Rukh Khan who is committed to restoring his eyesight.

The journey is interspersed with an endearing array of  encounters with characters who appear so much part of the sandswept landscape you wonder if Kukunoor decided to include them in his young travellers’ journey just because they(the incidental characters) were around.Even the eternally buffoonish Suresh Menon puts in a deeply moving cameo as a man who has lost his family and mind .

There is an epic moment of  bonding during crisis when a sudden  sandstorm sweeps the two kids  for shelter into a broken-down truck . Kukunoor is as comfortable drawing out emotional equations  in closed spaces as he is the wide open sand dunes.

Do the siblings, on a cross-country trek through rural Rajasthan, meet Mr Khan? Let’s just say Dhanak is a far better and more worthy tribute to the stardom and aura  of Shah Rukh Khan than the recent Fan which messed it up by getting the superstar-fan relationship wrong in the second-half.

Dhanak doesn’t strike one false note. It’s heartrending when it wants to be and furiously funny at will (as in the interlude at the wedding where Chotu sings , gorges on jalebis and even fixes up a match for his sister so that she doesn’t leave him after marriage) The two young protagonists played by Krish Chabria and Hetal Gada are such natural-born actors .you wonder where Kukunoor found them. The two children bring  unconditional  joy to the script. And they speak a language that is real vital and believable. The conversations between the 8-going-on-9 year old Chotu and his 11-year old sister ring so true, it’s like watching them without the camera in position.

As the two children set off on a cross-country journey to meet the superstar Nagesh Kukunoor’s elegant simple and lucid screenplay  weaves into the plot the kind of close encounters of the thundering kind that expose the two kids to an incredibly expansive world of kindness and generosity.

Nagesh shoots Rajasthan’s desertscape with a reined-in luminosity, neither over-punctuating the topography for emotional impact nor underplaying it for the sake of counter-touristic brevity.Not since the cinema of J P Dutta has Rajasthan been shot with such skilful serenity. Chirantan Das is a poet masquerading as a cinematographer.

The film’s other commendable component is the exhilarating music score by Tapas Relia. The songs and music urge little sightless Chotu’s adventures into areas of sunshine even when the clouds loom large.

Barring one  near-catastrophic encounter with kidnappers, Chotu and his protective motherly sister never come face-to-face  with any serious peril. I wouldn’t say that’s a blind spot in the narrative. Good knows in a  world that addresses itself to a drugged-out diabolism we need all the sunshine and positivity we can get.

Without overdoing it Dhanak offers ample doses of both.

No, you really can’t pluck holes in Nagesh Kukunoor’s enchanting excursion into the heart of innocence and salvation. This is a heartwarming ode  to the dying spirit of the human and selfless compassion .Moving funny and memorable ,the two child actors are miraculous.

Ditto the film.

Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016): There is something chillingly final and fearsome about the complete ruination of the moral order in Raman Raghav 2.0.

400 years ago Shakespeare realized there was a rotten core to civilization . Anurag Kashyap is the Bard’s most unlikely disciple. Portraying a world that is irreversibly stripped of a moral centre Kashyap creates a grim bleak repugnant but brilliant picture of Mumbai’s underbelly where rats and pavement dwellers share the same sleeping space.

There is no hero in Raman Raghav. We saw it coming.We’ve seen the rapid evaporation of heroism from the cinema of Kashyap, to the point where now , in his latest and arguably his most accomplished work, Raman and Raghav, as played with virile adeptness by Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vickey Kaushal are the two faces of red-hot diabolism.

You see, they both kill for pleasure .No, make that one for pleasure. The other for furious vindication for crimes committed against his selfworth.The difference is, one of them does so in khaki.The other roams about with an iron rod in hand smashing all signposts of a moral order that we grew up watching in our films.Be warned. Scenes  showing Nawaz prowling the streets of Mumbai for prey will send a shiver up your spine.

The comfort of knowing that all will be well in our universe no matter how bleak the prospects, is completely snatched away in Raman Raghav. What we are left staring at is the total disintegration of a moral order. The numbness of desensitization whereby one human being can take  another human being’s life without remorse is here treated with a brutal and damning directness. There are no  signs of goodness in the two main characters.After a while it’s hard to tell the difference between the two main characters, much harder than it was in Badlapur the  film whose morality was a precursor to Raman Raghav.

Watch Vicky Kaushal f..k his girlfriend, it’s not love-making it’s hate-making.Or watch Nawaz in the chilling scene where he is taunted by a stranger for wearing ear rings. His retort about his true identity is so lethally ironic it scares the hell out of us to watch his lunacy being legitimized by a social order that fosters inequality.

That Nawaz and Vickey play the two characters with a fiendish flair and a bludgeoning naturalness which dares us to be judgmental at our own risk, is entirely providential. I can’t imagine any other two actors playing Raman , the psychopathic serial killer, and Raghavan the cocaine-addicted psychopathic cop who kills at the beginning of the film and then slays more lives, and destroys our faith in the moral order that we believed in until….well, until Anurag Kashyap came  along.

Raman Raghav 2: 0(2015):  This is a chilling exposition on evil. From the outset we are told that ‘Raman’ and  ‘Raghav’ are the two faces of the same impulse of depravity. There is no attempt to hide the fact that Raghav(Vicky Kaushal) functions with the same unlawful insouciance as Raman(Nawaz) although one wears khaki and the other doesn’t hide behind the disguise of civility to commit gruesome crimes.

There are scenes of graphic torture .Women and children are not spared from the looming shadows of evil that lurks in the chawls and bylanes of Mumbai’s suburbia. Kashyap’s cinematographer Jay Oza roams restlessly across the streets looking for its prey. The camera becomes Raman’s greatest ally as he hurls across Mumbai’s wounded skyline in search of blood .

This, let me add without playing the spoilsport, is not the story of Raghav Raman the real-life serial killer in the 1960s but of a fictional character inspired by the real Raghav. Here’s where Kashyap and his co-writer Vasan Bala bring in the ‘morality of amorality’(to coin a phrase) where the absence of a moral order becomes a moral order of its own.

It’s impossible to imagine any actor except Nawazuddin Siddiqui playing the shockingly unrepentant serial killer with such flippant  relish. The casualness with which  Nawaz attacks his victims and bludgeons them with an iron rod is the stuff that crime psychology would probably study closely in the coming years to detect signs of criminality in the actor. Nawaz bridges the chasm between actor and character to  a level where the two almost become one.This is the most convincing and disturbing portrait of evil I’ve seen in cinema of any language.

 Vicky Kaushal has the trickier part. He must extend into his character its natural-born criminal tendency(born, we are told, from a bullying father) and also be shown functional within the precincts of a law. He is shown to be violent cocaine –snorting psycho(if Tommy Singh in Udta Punjab wore a  uniform.…) and also brutal in bed with his girlfriend(played with the right tinge of stubborn defiance by newcomer Sobhita Dhulipala).

In short, a complete asshole. Vicky’s inexperience as an actor does hamper the full flow of trashiness into the character. But this is the actor to watch in the coming years.

Unbearably violent at times(the section where Nawaz tortures and slays his sister’s family is  definitely not for the weak-hearted) and savagely cruel at all times Raman Raghav portrays a landscape so devoid of charm warmth and sunshine that you come away sickened by the experience.

But then who said life is easy? This is film that doesn’t flinch from the fearful ugliness of existence. It’s also a brutal and haunting reminder of how rapidly the lines dividing the law-makers and law-breakers are disappearing. ‘Raman’ and ‘Raghav’ are no  longer the archetypal Villain and Hero that we sought in our cinema for moral comfort. They are now the best of friends and our worst of enemies.Live with it.

Image source: IMDb, Youtube/drishyamfilms/T-series