Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Date with a Serial Killer

...or how I had one of the most memorable evenings in recent time.

Thanks to a post shared by Facebook pal Aseem C (who I should make the effort to meet in real life soon), I got to know of a screening, arranged by Drishyam Films, of director Sriram Raghavan's early effort, a docu-drama on Raman Raghav, the notorious serial killer of 60's Bombay. The film itself for the longest time was almost a myth. It was made by Raghavan sometime in 1991; I recall reading about it around a similar time, while in college. Then I had no clue who Sriram Raghavan was, but I still remember that particular article had a B&W still of actor Raghubir Yadav in the title role (which made me think the film was in B&W, which would be another interesting way of filming it). But Raman Raghav was never ever released anywhere or screened on any television network, so you can imagine my thrill at the prospect of being actually able to watch it.

I registered on the Drishyam Films website last Friday but didn't receive any response communique from them, not even to the message I sent on their "Contact Us" tab about whether or not my registration was confirmed. It was therefore with some trepidation that I made my way towards the venue (the PVR multiplex at Citi Mall, Andheri West - formerly Fame Adlabs), since it meant I had to rush directly from work and jump through multiple modes of transport (including the occasional bits of jogging on and off the pavement, when the Navratri climax evening traffic meant any vehicular transport was useless). Breathlessly I reached the venue just a little after 8pm when the screening was scheduled to begin. The real bit of uh-oh moment occurred when at the counter my name was not present in the participants list and I was asked if I had received any confirmatory message. On giving my whole story (with woebegone face and specific emphasis on the enormous distance I had traveled across the city specifically to be able to watch this film), I and some others were asked to wait with the promise that if some half dozen or more reserved names didn't turn up within the next 10 min when the screening was due to start, the tickets would be handed on a first come basis. While I sympathize with anyone that didn't make it on account of being stuck in Andher Nagri's traffic, I was quite happy to receive a ticket at the end of that interval and bounded happy-puppy-like up the stairs to the screening floor. I was making my way among the crowd to the venue screen when I saw in front of me, Sriram Raghavan himself, chatting with some people I presumed to be part of the organizers. With the mixture of schoolboy glee and tongue-tiedness that invariably hits me upon meeting a celebrity I admire, I announced myself as a fan who had seen all his other films including The Eight Column Affair (a brilliant short made during his FTII stint), Ek Hasina Thi, Johnny Gaddaar and Badlapur (for reasons well-understood I left out a certain overblown where-did-the-fun-go secret agent misfire). Taking advantage of  his soft-spoken thanks I held out my DVD covers of JG and Badlapur for autographs, which he kindly obliged (Woohoo!).

Eat your hearts out, hehehe!

The charmed nature of the evening continued. After being called on stage (the emcee was Atul Sabharwal who had scripted My Wife's Murder), Raghavan briefly explained the history of the film, cautioning repeatedly to temper our expectations with the fact that it was shot nearly 25 years ago on the U-matic videotape format. Even the mandatory pre-movie playing of the national anthem was made more interesting with an all-instrumental interpretation featuring the who's who of Indian classical music. Then, the film rolled.

If Sriram had any fear of the audience being disappointed in this early no-budget effort (3.5 lakhs all inclusive, he later revealed), they proved entirely groundless. Raman Raghav is a testament that a talented director will shine regardless of the budget and format. Even in his maiden feature, he shows the trademarks of his better known films - the long meticulous tracking shots, the careful scene transitions, the jolts of brutal action to punctuate the intensity of the scene than revel in the gratuitous overkill, the ability to introduce sly humor in the midst of suspense, surgically precise editing, astounding attention to detail and almost symphonic arrangement of "movements" in the sound design. The other strong point of the film is of course Raghubir Yadav's portrayal of the killer. The film being based on true events and recorded testimonies, Raman Raghav is not presented as some ultra-genius Hannibal playing cat-and-mouse with the cops, but a morose and simple-minded but highly disturbed individual who killed without any consideration to human life and got away for as long as he did on sheer luck.

Quick snap on a crappy phone-cam, L-R Sriram Raghavan, Raghubir Yadav and Atul Sabharwal.

Anyway, I won't spoil any of the film for you people, and I really hope there is some opportunity for this to come out on home video or on youtube so it can be seen by a wider audience. From Raghavan's own words at the post-film QA, it has only been shown at some festivals (including the first Bombay Film festival). While he does not own the rights, he can connect interested folks to the rights-holders (If that happens, I know there are at least a dozen people on my list of friends alone, who would be thrilled to get this on home video). The other pleasant surprise of the evening was the announcement of Raghubir Yadav to participate in the QA session. In his characteristic impeccable Hindi, a relaxed Mr. Yadav talked about his experience of making the film, shooting in outdoor locations which would not be possible anymore, his preparation, including avoiding baths so that he always had an unclean feeling. Sriram talked about how this was originally conceived as a series of video-films on various high-profile cases the police had solved, but I have not heard of any other films in this line so perhaps it did not materialize as planned. Sriram's own approach to the script changed once he started filming, focusing more on the character of the deranged killer, although he did have to retain a certain amount of police investigation material to meet the producer's requirement.

So a fantastic movie evening for this self-proclaimed film buff. I just had time for a quick bite (a pretty decent chicken burger at a Dunkin' Donuts), then off homewards so I could write you lucky folks this here blog.

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