I can probably count on one hand the number of Indian films I’ve seen. And I KNOW I can count on one finger the number of Indian films I’ve seen that were about serial killers. Which brings me to the appropriately titled Psycho Raman.
To expose yourself to foreign cinema can be a bit of a culture shock at first. I remember when I first started watching European movies I was thrown off at first by the storytelling, pacing, and acting that felt strikingly different from what I’d become accustomed to watching American movies. So with Psycho Raman, I braced myself for a style of filmmaking that would be completely new to me.
I was quite looking forward to seeing what this new (to me) voice could bring to the tired serial killer genre, and- bad news first-, was a little disappointed how much director Anurag Kastyap’s film reminded me of so many American crime films that I’ve seen. The magnetic Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays Ramanna, a poor man in Mumbai with a taste for killing people with his giant metal pipe. Before he can escape from the scene of his first crime, he witnesses a drug-addicted cop (Vicky Kaushal) stealing from his victim and committing a murder of his own. Raman immediately sees a kindred spirit with this crooked cop and sets out on a two-year mission to help him embrace the killer inside him.
The symbiotic relationship between cop and killer is nothing new and I feel like I’ve seen every version there is of the “You complete me” speech but Kastyap shows us enough memorable images and packs enough suspense into Psycho Raman’s best scenes that his film is well worth watching. Mumbai is a compelling setting for this familiar story and, as the Fantasia Film Festival website notes, shows a side of India that most of us aren’t used to seeing.
Raman, as played by Siddiqui, clearly has a very screws loose but- like all of our favourite movie psychos- is actually quite insightful. He’s a fun character and Kastyap enjoys filming him walking in slow motion to the beat of a pop song so much that it’s easy to get the sense that he seems him as the hero of this gruesome story. It almost feels like the start of a Raman franchise.
Kastyap enjoys his serial killer so much that he often neglects the equally if not more important character of Raghavan, the cop with a dark side. The film is divided into ten chapters and way too many of them don’t feature Raghavan at all. Not that I’m complaining. Kaushal doesn’t bring anything new to the drug addict or the angry cop and his scenes are often tedious. Still, the battle over this man’s soul is the whole point and Kastyap needed to put in a little more time developing this character.
A better film would have been about 20 minutes shorter and used that time more effectively. Still, though Kastyap always cuts away before the violence becomes gory, he doesn’t pull his punches. Psycho Ramanh is a dark and uncompromising movie and you may find its villain/anti-hero tough to shake.