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November 05, 2016

Denver Film Festival: Psycho Raman

psycho raman poster.jpg

Raman Raghav 2.0
Anurag Kashyap - 2016
Reliance Entertainment

As in Gangs of Wasseypur, Anurag Kashyap has again been inspired by true crime in India. The real Raman Raghav was a serial killer from the 1960s. Kashyap has created a fictionalized and contemporary version of a man who takes Raman's name for himself as part of his killing spree. The murderer is pursued by a cocaine addled cop who increasingly becomes not much different than the criminal he seeks.

Because it doesn't have either the meshing of historical events, or the drama of two warring crime families of Gangs, the brutality of Psycho Raman is reduced to nihilism. Ramanna is introduced as a manipulative man whose motivation for killing is vaguely explained as a combination of revenge and religious belief. Even when caught by Mumbai's most incompetent cops, Ramanna easily escapes. Credibility is challenged by the sight of Ramanna openly walking the streets with a heavy crow bar, his favorite tool for bludgeoning his victims.

What I did find interesting about Psycho Raman was Kashyap's incorporation of standard Bollywood musical elements in a film that in other ways goes against the grain of current Bollywood films. The opening scene takes place in a disco, visually striking with the strobe lights. We hear a song with a female vocalist. It turns out that this is not a record, but singer on the stage, in this case Sona Mohapatra, a popular playback singer. Explanation: In Bollywood films, it is acknowledged that the actors are dubbed when singing, and those known as playback singers are credited and are also stars. Sona Mohapatra's brief appearance functions as the "item number", a song that appears usually in the middle of a Bollywood movie, that has usually has nothing to do with the narrative, and is often as risqué as is allowed by India's censors. As has become more frequent in Bollywood films, rather than stopping the narrative to allow the stars to perform songs, songs are instead used on the soundtrack as commentary. In this case one in which Ramanna misdeeds are the subject, rather than the usual songs dealing with the agony or ecstasy of romance.

Absolutely unlike Bollywood action films is that both main characters, Ramanna, and the cop, Raghavan, are unlikeable. With a relatively low budget of about half a million dollars, Kashyap shot much of the film on the streets of Mumbai. Unsurprisingly, while the craftsmanship has been uniformly admired, the critical response has been mixed towards Kashyap's uncompromisingly dark vision.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 5, 2016 07:05 AM