I was watching Nawazuddin’s interview online in which he was speaking passionately about his movie Raman Raghav 2.0. He expected the movie to do well. However the interviewer was bemused, as the dark movie showed killing of a young child and how can you expect such a dark movie to do well with Indian audiences!
The movie was definitely dark, rather made intentionally dark, shade heavier than ‘Ugly’ (a hindi movie) with a bit more explicit scenes, however at its core Raman Raghav is exploring the same vicious human tendencies, exposing the inner violence in people and how the society generally ignores (hypocritically) such tendencies.
But what stood out from Raman Raghav was the ending, in which Raman expresses a kind of satisfaction in meeting Raghav and appreciates the darkness in the inspector, the ability to kill for the sake of killing, which he finds similar to his own obsessions. In a way Raman feels he has found his ‘mate’ in Raghav
Years back the same idea of ‘seeking’ was explored in the movie Unbreakable by Shyamalan. In that movie Samuel Jackson’s character is seeking a ‘mate’. In his case he is seeking someone who is polar opposite of him. Elijah (Jackson) has a genetic disorder which renders him fragile, so he postulates that at the other end of the spectrum there is someone who is super strong. He is ‘glass’ and he is seeking ‘superman’
Both Elijah and Raman find intense satisfaction when they find their ‘mate’ and both are willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their ‘find’. Raman is ready to take the blame for all of Raghav’s killings. Elijah willingly exposes himself to David (Bruce Willis) and allows himself to be arrested for his past crimes. Both characters strive intensely to make their ‘find’ realize their inner nature.
Raman engages in a diabolical plot, gruesome killings to make Raghav realize the inner urge to kill. In Unbreakable, Elijah forces, pleads, hounds David till he realizes his superhuman strength. Both Elijah and Raman are lonely and derive satisfaction in finding their ‘mate’ and use it as a means to fight loneliness.
However, what separates Elijah from Raman is his drive to find David. Raman stumbles upon Raghav, however Elijah is actively seeking David. ‘To not know your place in this world, and to not know why you are here, is just an awful feeling’ . Elijah seeks meaning by making his purpose to find David. He feels David gives him his reference place in the world, even though it is at the opposite end.
The acts he does are evil and in a way ensures that David is not evil!
This is the most fascinating thought I had about the movie. Elijah is seeking a polar opposite. He is ‘Glass’, at any hint of a little bit of trauma, his body gets shattered with multiple fractures. He is seeking ‘Superman’, a person who can survive anything, train crashes, fires, explosions, etc. He is seeking the ultimate anti-brittle, he is seeking ‘Unbreakable’. Hence if you accept this premise of ‘opposite’, then if David has to symbolize ‘Good’ then his polar opposite Elijah has to be ‘Evil’. The opposite theme runs through the movie. Elijah is willing to sacrifice everything for his purpose, David on the other hand is meandering through life, giving up his football readily for his love. Elijah is focused. For the opposite theme to be consistent, if we needed an Unbreakable Hero, the Breakable needs to become the Evil Villian!
Raman Raghav on the other hand is more of a happenstance meeting of the minds rather than some planned event. Yet the movie is equally intense. The key is Raghav similar to David wants to hide his inner tendencies. Raghav wants to explain away his dark desires with drugs, poor relationship with his father etc. There was also a deleted scene in which Raghav confesses, explains the start of his dark killing spree as a reaction to the abuse that he receives from his father. However Raman wants Raghav to realize that the darkness needs no explanation, it’s natural, from within. This is the only moment when there is some ideological ranting in the movie, is when Raman talks about the idea of soul-mate, and explains that people seek that in a woman (opposite sex), however it can be anyone, someone with the same vision of the world (dark) as his own. Unbreakable on the other hand explores ideas through metaphors of the comic word, through the drawings and the deeper meanings of the artistry, like the size and shape of the head of a character. The dialogue is of a deeper level. Maybe Raman Raghav was radical enough in its concept and any more ideological ranting would have made it more unpalatable for Indian audiences, made it more like .. ‘No Smoking’!
Both Unbreakable and Raman Raghav have brilliant performances from its actors. Not only the lead actors, supporting cast like Iravti Harshe also deliver top notch performances. Story narration on screen, the drama, the visual experience is also of a higher level.
Cinematic experience is slightly different, Raman Raghav wants to shock you, provoke you and even jolt you. Unbreakable is more smooth, more subtle, slow rise in tension and requires lots of patience.
Which one is better?
If I were to categorize the movies and rank them then,
Unbreakable edges ahead because of the drive of Elijah!
The villain is the driver of the story, there are nuances, good, evil, breakable, unbreakable, drive, lethargy, which makes it more complete.
Raman Raghav on the other hand veers around a single point. But Raman Raghav is more valuable, as it embraces its theme unabashedly, which is a new for an Indian film!
Still due to the arc of the plot and for that typical Shyamalan shock twist at the end, Unbreakable comes out as superior.
Going beyond simple comparison about the movies, the more interesting question is the idea of a ‘Soul-mate’ that the two movies promote. One movie embraces the idea of soul-mate being someone who is in perfect alignment, similar. The idea is that someone who can finish your unfinished work or carry on with your work.
The other movie believes in the eternal conflict. It ties the hero and the villain, they are in perfect opposition, two sides of the coin, or two halves of the picture (Ying-yang). Together they make the picture complete. There is purpose in such a meeting, purpose of a goal, purpose of finishing the picture. Even though such a meeting is momentary, it is worth sacrificing your own life for it.
Plus the main question is about ‘meaning’. Elijah believes in meaning and purpose, hence he wants to complete the picture. Raman probably does not believe that there is any meaning in this world, for him nothing matters, there is no consequence. Elijah wants to rationalize his terror activities as a means to find David, Raman does not believe in rationalization and attributes no purpose to his acts.
The two movies propagate two different world views. One view visualizes the world and existence as meaningful. Opposite to this, the other views the world as a meaningless abyss. Surprisingly with such opposite views, what is common to the world of both movies is the existence of suffering. One movie just has a rationalization of the suffering as necessary for the greater good, other movie does away with the rationalization. When you look from this perspective then suddenly Raman Raghav appears to be more radical.
These are the interesting ideas that the two films leave us with. I heard a sequel is planned for Unbreakable to further dwell on these ideas. However for Raman Raghav 3.0, I guess another couple of decades will be needed. More fascinating would be a meeting between Elijah and Raman !