(i) “I’m God’s lonely man”
- Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) in Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
“I am God’s CCTV camera”
- Ramanna (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) in Raman Raghav 2.0 (Anurag Kashyap, 2016)
Travis and Ramanna. New York and Mumbai. Two men from different cities and different backgrounds. Two films released four decades apart. And keeping aside a few obvious elements, the films probably have more dissimilarities than things in common. And the same goes for the pair of characters. And yet, it seems that across the years, across the continents and across celluloid seas and digital skies, these two films are engaged in some strange dialogue. They seem to be talking to and talking about one another. And more than anything else, the most poignant aspect which can engage these two films in a dialogue with one another is that of effacing and eroded moral universes, both social and cinematic.
Films, and given the context of the two films in concern, one is talking particularly about genre films, tend to have a well-defined and structured moral universe which not only provide the context to the characters and the narrative but also allows the conflicts to be played out in order to arrive at the resolution. In genre films, as also in genre fiction, the moral universe is like a repository of codes and their meanings which lets the viewer to find a suitable entry point into the world of the narrative and locate the necessary viewing positions which will in turn let him or her engage with the text. A moral universe often hints towards a moral code which in turn becomes the set of standards or principles by which characters and actions are judged.
Both Taxi Driver and Raman Raghav 2.0 directly deal with the notion of masculinity or male identity and in the process also problematize it, which will be discussed later. In the conventional Hollywood films as well as Hindi cinema, narratives tend to posit an ‘ideal’ male figure which often also becomes the idea of the ‘ideal citizen’. In case of Hollywood and their genre films, Western becomes significant in this regard since they deal with the most poignant moment of American history, between an agrarian past and an industrial future and in the character of the Westerner, one finds the classic template of American masculinity.
The moral universe of Westerns usually reflect the 19th century doctrine of ‘manifest destiny’ advocating the idea that the expansion of the United States throughout the American continents was both justified and inevitable. And mostly, it is the American Family which is posited as the champion of this doctrine while the character of the Westerner, who may or may not belong to the family unit, is the embodiment of the moral code governing the Western universe. And the generic narrative of Western mostly deals with conflicts between the family/community and external threats which may be in the form of the savage Indians with their pull towards the past or even greedy railroad barons who bring the possibility of an unseen future. And it is the role of the Westerner to defend the present for the family/community and restore the order.
Similarly in case of mainstream Hindi Cinema, especially in the post-independence scenario, the notion of ideal male/ideal citizen becomes obviously significant. In the wake of a newly formed nation-state, narratives were majorly invested in positing an ‘authentic’ Indian identity while exorcising the western influences of the colonizers. The mainstream Indian cinema had already adopted melodrama as a popular style wherein the conflict between good and evil was an essential ingredient. If one recalls the mainstream Hindi films during the late 1960s and 1970s onwards, the narratives would follow the hero in his pursuit of vengeance against a wrongdoing. More specifically, the wrong was perpetrated on the mother, who became separated from her husband or a widow as a result of that incident. Furthermore, the villains in these narratives were often characters involved in illegal trade mostly smuggling out Indian valuables/National treasure out of the country. And the hero’s journey might have manifold implications such as revenge, search for father or his predicament, protecting the nation’s heritage and in the process positing an ideal male identity. Interestingly, in most of these films the moral code is embodied not by the hero but by the mother figure. She almost personifies the entire history, tradition and values of the nation and more than often functions as the anchor for the hero’s actions and in the process facilitates a finely drawn marriage between apparently opposing forces of personal vendetta and democratic notions of justice, helping to restore the narrative order and the moral universe as the evil is vanquished and good is triumphant.
The idea of moral universe is inherent to mainstream cinema across the globe. It is like the essential condition for narratives to move from conflict to resolution. Speaking on the occasion of Civil Rights movement, Rev. Dr Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. And that is precisely where the mainstream film narratives seek to arrive, justice. And when this notion of justice begin to disappear from the national imagination, characters like Travis Bickle and Ramanna begin to appear on the cinematic horizon. As hinted earlier, a discussion about Taxi Driver and Raman Raghav 2.0 is in no way to suggest or locate similarities between the two films. Rather it might be perceived as an attempt to find the context where such characters and narratives can be imagined. And going down this road, one might just find interesting crossroads travelled by both the films suggesting the presence of some kind of a spiritual bond between the two.
(ii) June 29th. I gotta get in shape now. Too much sittin' is ruinin' my body. Too much abuse has gone on for too long. From now on, it will be fifty push-ups each morning, fifty pull-ups. There'll be no more pills, there'll be no more bad food, no more destroyers of my body. From now on, it will be total organization. Every muscle must be tight.
- From the diary entry of Travis Bickle
The excerpt above, heard in a voice over narration by Travis is woven over a series of shots where he is obsessively devoted in body training and exercises. The camera looks at him from all the directions as he goes through his training schedule with a sombre tone of a ritual, a rite of passage. The final shot is that of Travis holding his clenched fist on the oven flame, his trial by fire. Besides the obvious self-obsession his mind is suffering from, the scene also sums up the concern with the masculinity or the idea of male identity in the context of American culture vis-à-vis Hollywood Cinema. And interestingly, as if to cement the fact, the scene is preceded by the one where Travis encounters the dealer which sheds lights upon his fondness and reliance on guns as an essential tool as well as his repulsion and detest for drugs like hallucinogens and barbiturates among others. And finally almost like an ending quotation mark, the scene concludes with a frontal tracking shot towards Travis as he fires a handgun in the direction of the camera.
The partiality towards guns, the rigid lifestyle about taking care of one’s body and staying away from unhealthy and destructive habits and vices clearly resonate with notions of the classic ‘rugged frontier masculinity’ championed in American Cinema, especially during the Classical Hollywood Era. While the traits are most evident in case of the Westerner, almost every other American film genres have in some way or the other appropriated and accommodated such character traits in their male protagonists. In the book On Heroes and Hero-Worship, Thomas Carlyle identifies and describes the various ‘types’ of heroes through the ages including The Prophet, The Poet, The Man of Letters, etc. In that sense one can say that the American notion of hero or the ideal male has been that of a soldier, both in and out of uniform, bound by an oath to serve and protect the helpless individual or the family or the community and overall the American ideals.
The Classical Hollywood narrative has been traditionally driven by this male subjectivity and all the possible elements of the mise-en- scene been designed accordingly. Consequently the male subject always maintained a control over the space, an idea which was interestingly subverted in the film noir of the 1940s and 50s. But by and large, the quintessential American male such as Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) in Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1943), Walter Burns (Cary Grant) in His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940), John T Chance (John Wayne) in Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959) or Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) in To Kill A Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962) have the subjective advantage and familiarity over the space. And needless to say that all these characters and their actions unfolded within a defined moral universe and whether it is in the Vichy occupied Morocco or a frontier town in Texas or in the American South during the Great Depression, these ‘soldiers’ keep fighting to their last, believing in modern democratic American ideal/identity. However, by the time Travis Bickle would come cruising along the streets of New York, a certain rot had set in the very moral fabric of the idea called America.
The first half of the 1960s can be considered to be the period of steady decline of the Studio system and along with it the Classical Hollywood Cinema. An often discussed subject in critical and academic circles, it might suffice to say that the Studio produced films suffered from a considerable disconnect with the changing socio-political climate of America. The immediate euphoria and positive ambition of the Eisenhower era following the Allied victory in WWII, was weaning off fast. The apparently seamless national narrative carefully constructed in popular media, especially in Hollywood films, during the war and the years following was failing to hold as the tensions and ruptures in the very idea of the American nation and identity were becoming evident. It was something that the Classical Hollywood film aesthetics failed to accommodate or to engage with. One might recall the infamous case in point, the grand 20th Century Fox production of Cleopatra (Joseph L Mankiewicz, 1963) and its equally epic failure that almost resulted in the studio’s bankruptcy. Incidentally 1963 also witnessed at least two major events that forever left an indelible stain on the American imagination. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was organized at the peak of the Civil Rights movement. On August 28, Martin Luther King, Jr., standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech in which he called for an end to racism. And on November 22, President John Kennedy was assassinated during a rally in Dallas, Texas.
As the decade marched on riding on eroded faith on the institution and dissent, culminating with the decision to send American troops to Vietnam, American Cinema was fast witnessing a paradigm shift in terms of content as well as style. From mid-1960s onwards, there emerged a new generation of filmmakers who were primarily film-school educated and thus exposed to the World Cinema aesthetics including Italian Neorealism, French New Wave and Asian Art Cinema, socially and politically motivated breeding on the prevailing counterculture, and were unprecedented in their ability to reach out to the youth. This group of young filmmakers—actors, writers and directors—described as the "New Hollywood" by the press, altered the business model from the producer-driven Hollywood system of the past, and replaced the films with freshness, energy, sexuality, and thus shifting the artistic control to the director. Enjoying both critical and commercial success from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, these films consciously deviated from classical norms as they were aesthetically innovative, politically aware and morally ambiguous.
When Taxi Driver was released in 1976, New Hollywood had already reached its zenith. Director Martin Scorsese, along with the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin, Robert Altman, Hal Ashby and Brian De Palma among several others had been instrumental in this paradigm shift. And within a couple of years, the release of films like Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1978) would witness the beginning of the end for New Hollywood as the era of the blockbuster would emerge and the creative control would again shift back into the hands of the Studios, a process that would be officially established with the release and the gargantuan failure of Heaven’s Gate (Michael Cimino, 1980). Thus one might look at Taxi Driver as a kind of summing up of the prevailing zeitgeist of the preceding decade as Travis Bickle comes across as a protagonist who has internalized the entire crisis in the context of a different morality which he fails to understand or negotiate with.
As the film begins, the very first line spoken by Travis is “I can’t sleep nights”. Combined with the jacket he is wearing and the information about his honourable discharge from the US Marine Forces there is a direct hint about his experience of the Vietnam War and the nightmarish horrors of which he can both be the perpetrator as well as the victim. And now back on the streets of New York, the classic soldier, the war veteran rests uneasy, alienated from his own space and time. As he cruises along the nocturnal streets, he finds himself a stranger in his own land while the city seems to be inhabited or rather taken over by “whores, skunk-pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies”, every sense of the “other” that Travis, a white male soldier of the nation can recognize. He travelled to the other side of the world, fighting in the name of a system, an institution, an ideal, a government, all of which had apparently failed him. His racial hatred and bigotry leads him to declare his faith in some higher power as he deliberates, “Someday a real rain'll come and wash all this scum off the streets”.
Travis Bickle’s repulsion about the sexually deviant can be observed as a displaced emotional outlet for his own sexual repression. In fact, the much talked about graphic violence in the film is a release of his drives which are essentially sexual. The scene where he drives an unnamed passenger played by Scorsese himself, Travis hears his racist and misogynist rant as the passenger talks about his plans to destroy his cheating wife’s vagina with a handgun. The scene acts like a perverted summary of Travis’ thoughts with the obvious connotative connection between masculinity and violence. And this happens right after his failure in pursuing a romantic affair, a heterosexual relationship with Betsy (Cybill Shepherd). Incidentally, in an earlier scene, Betsy who is a campaign volunteer for Senator and presidential candidate Charles Palantine can be seen and heard discussing the Senator with a male colleague. And she maintains that he is an “intelligent, interesting, fresh, fascinating man” and also “sexy”. So it cannot be only political motives at play when the first planned victim of Travis’ violent streak happens to be the Senator, after he ‘accidentally’ shoots a black youth committing a robbery in a grocery store.
Taxi Driver succeeded in positing an American ‘hero’ with an uneasy relation to his own sexuality and violence. Travis Bickle was a character far removed from the morally grounded white Anglo-Saxon males dominating the Classical Hollywood mise-en-scene. Interestingly, when Taxi Driver aired on TV, the filmmakers added an unexplained disclaimer to the broadcast:
To our Television Audience:
In the aftermath of violence, the distinction between hero and villain is sometimes a matter of interpretation or misinterpretation of facts. Taxi Driver suggests that tragic errors can be made.
In the ambivalent cache zone where the conventional ideas of hero and villain collide and overlap, in the proverbial grey areas, Taxi Driver consciously subverts the idea of an American identity, presenting terrifying notions instead. And in the process, the film also steers clear of providing a definite, reliable and stable viewing position. Whether it is through the close ups and extreme close ups of Robert De Niro’s face and eyes or the extensive use of voice over narration, the only viewing position the film provides or gives access to, is the disturbed psyche of Travis. But as Travis himself confessed to his fellow cabbie Wizard (Peter Boyle), “I got some bad ideas in my head”. It’d be a position standing at the far end of Hollywood’s moral universe.
(iii) Traditionally, the characters in Indian crime films represent different moral or ideological positions, with the drama emanating from the conflict between these positions. Hence, the disruption to social codes involving caste, family lineage and marital disharmony often provides material for the drama……In the late 1950s and 1960s, there was a shift in the location of the crime film from the village to the city…The shift was reinforced in 1975 during the period of emergency rule, especially with the popularity of actor Amitabh Bachchan, who starred in Yash Chopra’s Deewar (1975). The familiar plot concerns two brothers exiled from their village. One becomes a policeman, the other a criminal. This film consolidated Bachchan’s vigilante persona…..
- Historical Dictionary of Crime Films by Geoff Mayer[i]
As mentioned in one of the earlier sections, Indian crime films have been traditionally perceived as extended morality tales with a more violent expression. Deewar (Yash Chopra, 1975) can be considered as the moment when Indian crime films experienced a paradigmatic shift via the ‘angry young man’ persona of Amitabh Bachchan. The Indian crime films till then were centred on a linear plotline and failed to acknowledge or address the concerns such as the system/state, the idea of law or the functions of economy. It was also the period when the Indian democracy, nearly three decades old at that time, had its end of innocence in a rude awakening with the declaration of emergency. Breaking out of classic templates like an individual fallen on hard times and thus straying from the path of good or linear tales of revenge, Deewar was probably the first crime film, not only aware of entities like State and the system but the narrative was matured enough to directly address the concept of law in a greater context of morality. And furthermore, the film ended up providing the classic template of the mother figure (Neerupa Roy) as the moral epicentre which was in turn a direct echo of the character played by Nargis in Mother India (Mehboob Khan, 1957).
Right from Deewar, the city of Mumbai (then Bombay) would become the site of endless conflicts and thus the backdrop of several crime films. Almost all throughout the vigilante angry-young-man phase of Amitabh Bachchan, of which Agneepath (Mukul S Anand, 1990) can be considered to be the epilogue, the male figure sets out on a morally upright path, to avenge a wrongdoing. However he gets caught between the classic opposing forces of the light and the dark (right and wrong/justice and revenge) where the opulence of the city or the attraction of a woman represent the dark side while the strong moral code of the mother, a pristine and asexual figure often draped in white is the perennial source of light. While the hero might have the agency of the narrative, it is the character of the mother, even in her absence like in Parinda (Vidhu Vinod Chopra, 1989), who provides a convenient viewing position, an ultimate register to judge between good and evil.
Interestingly, this mother figure gradually began to disappear from the cinematic imagination in the early 1990s. One must keep in mind that it was also the era of liberalisation of the Indian economy. In 1991, India's fiscal deficit was close to 8.5 per cent of the gross domestic product and India's foreign reserves barely amounted to US$1 billion and evidently, India was facing an economic crisis. Thus, Prime Minister PV Narsimha Rao and Finance Minister Manmohan Singh implemented liberal policies to open up the economy shifting from the prevailing socialist ideals to a more capitalistic one, and in the process dismantling the Licence Raj, a system that inhibited the prosperity of private businesses. Among other things, its direct effect was felt on the crime films as the idea of the smuggler as the villain became irrelevant in the face of the new economic reforms. Also the resistance towards the western way of life began to wane in the wake of imported goods and services flooding the Indian market. All of a sudden, the mother figure, the pillar of traditional moral values became a burden of the past. Jyotika Virdi in her book The Cinematic ImagiNation: Indian Popular Films as Social History writes,
“...Hindi cinema also uses a specific construction of traditional Indian womanhood to connote a unified nation. Mastery over women plays a central role in such a signifying practice. Men equate women’s legal equality with losing community identity.... the symbol of woman as home and nation turns out to be an unstable signifier. Varying political contingencies animate the woman as a sign: she is a stand-in for the nation at one historical moment, and for the religious community in another.”[ii]
In the absence of the traditional moral universe, the urban crime films set in Bombay underwent a steady mutation throughout the early and mid-1990s, negotiating with the emerging facets of the capitalist economy and ended in an equally rigid system marked by values of kinship and allegiance as the Indian Gangster film was born. One of the first films which was built upon this ‘new’ moral framework was Satya (Ram Gopal Varma, 1998) about which Dr. Moinak Biswas writes in his essay titled Mourning and Blood-Ties: Macbeth in Mumbai,
“A source of fascination in the cinematic underworld is the criminal fraternity itself. Ramgopal Varma’s Satya presented a powerful picture of this bonding, deeply saturated as well as fragile, often ethically strong through its very withdrawal from the moral law…...the dissolution of actual sibling or parent-child bonding of the earlier examples of the genre, say of Parinda or Gardish, into the pure invention of a community in Satya. Often the nexus, and not the thrill of action, becomes the affective wellspring of the film, its real lure. If the ruthless pursuit of money reveals its violent side here it is in relation to the currency of bonding, its appeal largely deriving from a secret recognition of the impossibility of the legitimate family.”[iii]
The writing credits for Satya was shared by Saurabh Shukla and Anurag Kashyap and latter would go on to play a pivotal role in what can be described as carrying forward the urban crime films set in Mumbai into the 21st century. Following his writing collaborations with Ram Gopal Varma he went on to direct his debut feature Paanch in 2003. Set in Mumbai, the film is about five members of a rock band who get involved in robbery and murder. However the film faced trouble with the Central Board of Film Certification and never got released. But Kashyap kept revisiting the streets, buildings and alleyways of Mumbai in his subsequent films including Black Friday (2007), No Smoking (2007), Pramod Bhai 23 (short film, 2010) and Murabba (short film, 2013). Ugly, released in late 2014, saw Kashyap return to the contemporary urban crime film genre. Apart from presenting a rather dilapidated image of the metropolis, the characters and actions set mainly in the marginal peripheries or the underbelly of Mumbai, the film almost forcefully claimed the notions of crime and corruption from the so called ‘villain’ or ‘criminal’ or ‘gangster’ figures and presented them as integral to the daily and mundane urban middle class life and psyche, carried out in kitchens and living rooms by parents and siblings and friends and neighbours.
With the release of Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016), it almost seems like the inevitable next step from Ugly. The project of minimal approach and economy ends in almost stripping down the genre of urban crime film to its bare minimum essentials in Raman Raghav 2.0 where family, kinship, community, everything disappears leaving behind two characters and the city’s underbelly almost embodying the entire crisis and conflict in a classic doppelganger scenario. The film is about Ramanna who considers Raman Raghav, the notorious serial killer who terrorized the streets of Bombay in the 1960s, his perverse idol. And as Ramanna goes on his own killing rampage, ACP Raghavan (Vicky Kaushal) is hot on his heels. While the film begins with a familiar serial killer/police procedural premise, it soon leaves behind these concerns and engages solely with the idea of a psychotic mind and the city, examining the notion of crime in terms of action and consequences.
Having said that, the delusions suffered by Raman Raghav, some of which were recorded when he was arrested in 1968, were far more creepy and even symptomatic such as the two distinct worlds – that of ‘Kannon’ (Law) and that of his own and the presence of a three Government system - the Akbar Government, the British Government, and the Congress Government! However the ones which kept re-surfacing and relevant to the film as well, were regarding his obsessive concern about his sexuality. Among them were an unshakeable belief that other people are trying to put homosexual temptations in his way so that he may succumb and get converted to a woman, that homosexual intercourse would convert him into a woman and finally that he was "101 percent man", the latter he kept on repeating.
This concern about masculinity is palpably present throughout the film and as mentioned earlier, the film’s use of the doppelganger trope presents the two main characters as twisted mirror images of one another. While Ramanna cannot stand to be challenged as evident in the scene at the sister’s apartment and demands respect from his brother in law, “to be treated like a man”, Raghavan makes it clear to Simmi (Sobhita Dhulipala) that he will not use any protection while having a sexual intercourse, nurturing his male ego. The violence in the film clearly stems out of the repressed sexuality of the lead pair of characters. There is a scene, where a man taunts Ramanna about wearing earrings like women and he retorts with a threat of ‘penetrating’ the man with the iron rod, his weapon of choice. Similarly, Raghav can also be seen in a nightclub looking for a woman and on finding one, he draws out his gun as he approaches her.
Raman Raghav 2.0 displays a number of tendencies and possibilities but at the same time leaves them unexplored or inadequately explored. Discussing about these aspects might turn speculative rather than analytical, but nonetheless Ramanna does tend to serve the role of a perverse father figure to Raghavan in the film. In the final chapter when the two characters engage in a conversation, again rather redundant as a scene driving home the point about the doppelganger trope, Ramanna tells Raghavan that he was present when the latter committed his first murder, a guardian witness while the other takes his first baby steps into a murky world. Another significant moment was when Raghavan received the diary where Ramanna had chronicled the details of his deeds. The moment is Raghavan’s entry into the Lacanian Symbolic Order. Henceforth, his violent tendencies would find expression, language and meaning and thereby as Ramanna explains to him with almost paternal affection, salvation, something he was searching for in women (sex) but would only find in violence.
Similarly, the relation between the psychotic mind of Ramanna and the city was not explored to the fullest leaving certain ideas and hints, exciting but unfulfilled. In the few shots and scenes, Ramanna comes across as a scavenger dwelling on the peripheries and surviving on the leftovers. He gazes at the aircrafts flying overhead, staring at the heights of modern achievements from the wastelands of modernity. And finally he emerges out of the filth of the gutter, covered in muck and barely recognizable gliding across the slums and alleys like a spirit of the underbelly. But uneven editing decisions prohibited this idea from taking a more defined shape and thus held it from becoming more poignant and symptomatic.
Unlike Ugly, where the city was inhabited by corrupt populace, Raman Raghav 2.0 has done away with the idea of city/community/population. There is one psychotic killer at one end while on the other there is a cop whose soul has been tarnished. The other cops seen in the film tend to have a very functional role in the narrative and not for a single moment there is any suggestion of a ‘community’ of cops waging war on crime. Similarly, the other characters encountered in the film are extremely marginal including drug dealers, illegal immigrants, daily wage earners and manual labourers from minority communities, etc. These are ‘factors’ which are unaccounted for in the censorship procedure and thus cannot be indicative of the idea of an urban populace. Interestingly, in this overtly masculine world, there the two female characters who leave a mark are Ramanna’s sister Lakshmi (Amruta Subhash) and Raghavan’s girlfriend Simmi. Both of them are victims of sexual and physical abuse and both of them are killed, Lakshmi along with her husband and son, which terminates any possibility of procreation and thus family. But the film doesn’t present their respective victimhood as a possible viewing position and thus, in the absence of the traditional moral universe of a crime film, the only possibility of a viewing position available to the audience is the deranged mind of Ramanna. And that gaze is that of God’s CCTV. It produces fragmented images of violent drives in varying shades of grey.
(iv) Director Martin Scorsese has stated time and again that Taxi Driver has been deeply influenced by The Searchers (John Ford, 1956). In fact, one can even say that Taxi Driver is a re-imagination of the Ford film with similar crises and concerns in an urban/modern context. Interestingly, The Searchers marked an important break in the trajectory of both Classic Westerns as well as John Ford’s filmography. It distanced itself, for the first time, from the romantic ideas of the Western myth and presented a sharp critique of the character of the Westerner. The protagonist Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) riding across the Western landscape in his quest for vengeance and regaining honour tends to reveal a certain excess in terms of psychosis and violence. In other words, the moral universe of Westerns is unable to contain his thoughts and actions which have strayed far from the righteousness of the classic American hero.
The Scorsese film seems to take off from the point where Ford left. Travis Bickle’s set of actions, if taken out of context and studied, would appear to be in harmony with that of the traditional American heroes. He is out to rescue a girl from going down a morally corrupt path, a classic damsel-in-distress. However, the sheer excesses, both in his character as well as the nature of violence in the film, puts the idea of ‘morally upright’ in an uncomfortable light. In the wake of the new prevailing moral universe which facilitated the New Hollywood Cinema, the traditional male figure with his moral ideals turn into a terrifying notion, a scathing critique of the Classic American Hero.
On the other hand, Raman Raghav 2.0 seems to appear at the far end of the urban crime film spectrum set in Mumbai. The traditional concerns and conventions of the crime film genre, whether police procedural or gangster, are bared down and done away with in the Amurag Kashyap film. And most significantly the notions of masculinity and the governing moral universe have apparently been squandered away in the film. Passing through a trajectory of system, family and community, the crises in the film are invested in two individuals and their conflict. In Ramanna, one finds a character with no moral code to answer to for his actions and furthermore he is an anthropomorphic personification of a domino effect, Raghavan being the next piece of tile. His deranged mind, which is at the same time accessible in the film but indecipherable, replaces the conventional moral universe.
On hindsight, both Taxi Driver and Raman Raghav 2.0 are films that deal with a psychotic mind and the city and both of these films confront the popular imagination of a masculine hero, revealing the violence inherent to such ideas. Also, characters like Travis Bickle and Ramanna make their presence felt only when the popular imagination has exhausted the possibilities of a moral framework. Otherwise the films and their concerns are different. They are even formally different. But after the end credits have rolled out for Raman Raghav 2.0 and the film has gone to sleep, it probably dreams of Travis Bickle driving his taxi on the streets of New York.
[i] Mayer, Geoff. Historical Dictionary of Crime Films. Scarecrow Press, 2012.
[ii] Virdi, Jyotika. The Cinematic ImagiNation: Indian Popular Films as Social History. Permanent Black, 2007.
[iii] Biswas, Moinak. “Mourning and Blood-Ties: Macbeth in Mumbai”. Journal of the Moving Image, vol. 5, 2006