Growing up in the ’80s, Vasan Bala was warned to stay away from Mumbai’s infamous Antop Hill. It was a “tadipaar” area, but right behind his school, where murders took place and corpses were dumped.
Antop Hill was also where Raman Raghav, the serial killer of the Bombay of the ’60s, roamed. So when Bala visited Antop Hill last year to shoot Raman Raghav 2.0, the experience was almost surreal. “It was like standing over things that had happened in those days. I’m sure that even today, if you speak to someone from the slums, you’ll hear of uncles or grandfathers involved in criminal acts,” he says.
Bala is the co-writer of the forthcoming crime thriller, which positions Raman Raghav’s story in contemporary Mumbai, with the 1979 Japanese film Vengeance is Mine as the filmmakers’ Bible when they were shooting.His initial research involved speaking to his parents and others from the generation who had lived the Raman Raghav legend: “who knew what it was to walk the streets alone, in constant fear.”
Raghav also existed at a time when news was not the crazy, 24/7 phenomenon it is today. Thus, finding his backstory to understand his murderous psyche was challenging, with only stray bits of information available. “We knew he was from somewhere in Tamil Nadu, worked odd jobs at a factory, would abscond and then come back. No one knew of his childhood, his family, whether he was married and so on,” Bala says.
The limited news coverage available only covered Raghav’s court visits – what he wore, how he walked and behaved – and the team had to build him from there.
But the team used one fact about Raghav to its full extent: his schizophrenic tendencies. Raman Raghav believed he received instructional wireless messages from God, an aspect of his psyche that Bala believes might provide viewers with some insight into the cold-bloodedness of his murders.
In making Raghav’s story contemporary, director Anurag Kashyap introduced a parallel track of a cop on Raghav’s trail, using his trademark psychedelic tone. “This version is probably just a strain of the real Raman Raghav. The missing chapters are still blurred. But now, you get some glimpses through his reactions and interactions which create a picture of what he could have been. Maybe his first murder was when he was a child… you begin to ask these questions,” says Bala.
Being the protégé
Bala, who’s worked with Kashyap on practically every film since Gulaal, left a secure banking job to pursue his dream of filmmaking. “I was wide-eyed, like everyone else. You enter with a militant, anti-Bollywood zeal, like you’re doing the greater good for cinema. Of course, those myths have been demystified now,” he says, laughing.
From assistant direction and costumes to writing and casting, he’s done it all. “Because there were hardly any resources, we would make props, double up as junior artists, do production… it was a 360 degree education in filmmaking. Now, everything is compartmentalised. You even get paid monthly,” he says.
Bala had known Kashyap for a year before they started working together so their friendship predates their professional relationship. “We lived in his house, played table tennis, watched films, ate the same food. There were huge gatherings of aimless people who had no jobs,” he recalls.
The duo also has in common a fascination for complex, noir characters and a predisposition towards Mumbai. Bala’s debut feature, Peddlers, which went to Cannes in 2012, weaves together the narrative of a corrupt cop, a drug peddler and a young immigrant mother in the city. “I come from a middle-class family which has no drama. So I’m always fascinated with characters I would probably never meet. I can imagine them and take them to the worst possible consequences, it’s kind of sadistic in that sense,” says Bala. Despite the critical acclaim it received, the crowd-funded film was never officially released.
Watch the trailer of Peddlers
Now, Bala claims he’s lost his naiveté and is casting for his next film, which is being championed by Vikas Bahl. “Kashyap is a great guru and mentor, but never my producer. He’s like the father of the bride. He’ll be very excited about my script, but he’ll never want me to make the film,” he says, laughing.
From HT Brunch, June 26, 2016
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