It’s rarely that a film shot on U-matic Hi Band holds its own after 18 years. Sriram Raghavan had a preview screening of his tele-film ‘Raman Raghav’ when we were students at the FTII. He was a senior only by a very few years, but respected because of his cinematic diploma ‘8-Column Affair‘.

‘Raman Raghav’ at the time re-emphasized his ease with the craft. What has stuck in my brain all these years is an effect he used for the narrative climax, the moment when the police inspector notices and then, recognizes Raman Raghav in a crowd. The effect in itself is simple, a re-wind, but its logical use took it out of the realm of gimmickry.

Yesterday, while re-watching the film, what struck most were the locations in Mumbai, and the masterful use of them. Sriram managed to execute some difficult shots in difficult locations, including a long track shot, back and forth, and back and forth again, in an alley in the slum. He said that they managed it in 3 takes. If they’d taken any more, they may have got beaten up, as they had blocked all traffic to and fro for the slum dwellers. I wouldn’t blame the slum dwellers because the crew had also blocked the communal toilets.

The cinematographer, Hari Nair, seems to have been unfazed even in the tiniest lanes around Dongri. There is another memorable track back shot from a car with the actor running towards the camera, through a crowded marketplace.

But the quieter locations too, like the canal, where Raman hides his paltry treasures and his murder weapon; the railway tracks and the shots of the telegraph poles lend a poignancy to the poverty around. While some of the performances are very ‘television’, oh, let’s act our hearts out variety, Sriram in some scenes has used ‘real’ people which adds to the documentary feel of the film. But what makes the film absolutely ‘real’ is Raghuvir Yadav‘s outstanding performance. His quiet, unpredictable, short-tempered and child-like Raman Raghav is menacing, creepy and yet, pitiful, with no overt drama, with just the fact of his being the way he is, a sick man.

Sriram mentioned that there was a lot of resistance from his producers against the casting of Raghuvir Yadav who was then very very popular as the simpleton, comic Mungerilal from Doordarshan’s TV serial ‘Mungerilal ke Haseen Sapne‘. After the first morning of shoot, they wanted to go through the rushes, ostensibly to make sure that everything had ‘come out’ well. But Sriram realized only 2 years later, that they may have stopped shooting if they felt Raghu-bhai was not working out right.

The film is about a serial killer, Raman Raghav who killed 42 people in the 60s in Mumbai. It was privately commissioned as one of the pilot episodes for a TV serial on police cases that had been successfully solved. But sadly, the serial never got made, and ‘Raman Raghav’ remained unseen by most people.

Yesterday, while we watched it, it ended with the voice-over that Raman Raghav died in prison due to medical complications on 7 April, 1988. Yesterday, was the 7 April, 2010. Sriram also told us of another queer coincidence that occurred when they shot the film.

There is a scene in the film where Raman having lost his first murder weapon, goes back to a local iron-smith to get another welded. The vision in his head calls for an iron pipe turned in a particular way. Sriram said that even in 1992, when he shot the film, there were not many iron-smiths around who still worked the bellows and the hammer with their hands. They found one forge in Jogeshwari, and it so turned out during a conversation with the iron-smith, that it was the same forge where Raman Raghav had actually had his weapon made in the 60s. The iron-smith then was the present iron-smith’s father.

My usual grouse against films made about criminals is that the cinematic medium in itself willy-nilly turns the criminal into a hero. But ‘Raman Raghav’ escapes this trap. You never forget the horror of the killings though you do feel pity for the mentally sick Raman Raghav. The noise from the telegraph poles that hums in Raman’s ears, made me wonder how much easier it must be for people to go mad these days, in this city, with the continuous noise of traffic, horns, and film music dinning in our ears.

The sound of the film remains unmixed. The DVD quality, copied as it is from Hi-Band, is not of the best. And yet, the film holds your attention for 70 odd minutes. Goes to prove that a good script, camera work, editing and performances can beat DI and special FX any day.

Oh yes, we also spoke at length about piracy yesterday. It was strange that most of us ‘intellectuals’ gathered there were against intellectual property rights and for piracy. (More on that in some other post). So if you find a copy of ‘Raman Raghav’ somewhere, even if it is pirated, watch it. Specially if it comes accompanied with lots of food lovingly prepared, lots of friends, and lots of gup-shup. Thanks to the MAFIA.