December 19, 2013
Mohanlal, Meena, Ansiba Hassan, Esther, Asha Sarath
Drishyam is a thriller that packs in some wonderful and some troublesome unstated observations on the hazards of modern technology and of the family in a patriarchal social set-up. The film stars Mohanlal as Georgekutty, a movie-crazy small-time businessman who grew up as an orphan in rural Kerala. Georgekutty watches films in all languages, at all times of day, deriving knowledge from them and even inspiration for his real life from various scenarios he has witnessed on screen. His wife Rani (Meena) is a homemaker whose immense fondness for her husband does not stop her from repeatedly pulling his leg about his movie mania. Their daughters Anju and Anu enjoy the perennial affectionate banter flowing between their parents.
Despite his eccentricities, Georgekutty is well-liked in the area by everyone except a local policeman Sahadevan (Kalabhavan Shajon) who is confronted for his corrupt practices by our leading man. Elsewhere in the picture is a wayward boy called Varun (Roshan Basheer) whose mother, Inspector General of Police Geetha Prabhakar (Asha Sarath), is blind to her child’s ruinous ways despite warnings from her more level-headed husband (Siddique). Georgekutty’s blissful existence is rocked when these two worlds collide unexpectedly one day.
Since Drishyam was released in Kerala a few months back, I assume most of the Malayali film buffs among you have watched it. For the benefit of those who’ve not (after all, it’s just a December 2013 release) I’ll avoid giving away too much of the plot. Let’s just say that it involves an unauthorised shoot on a cellphone, blackmail, the potential shaming of the victim rather than the perpetrator, an accidental murder and ingenious cover-up. Writer-director Jeethu Joseph’s storytelling style is so smooth that it’s hard not to be completely immersed in the film until that final, breathtakingly revelatory scene comes around right at the end.
Aiding him in this journey is some wonderfully apt casting and his own straightforward, unornamented, largely balanced writing. For instance, while it is a cellphone camera that creates havoc in the lives of the players in this film, Joseph does not fall into the trap of damning all new technology in an unthinking manner as so many conservatives tend to do. Likewise, while there is no doubt who the boss is in Georgekutty’s household – as it would be in any patriarchal family in the real world – we are also pointed in the direction of another reality: of Prabhakar and IG Geetha Prabhakar’s more liberal home where husbands and wives are equal partners, as they should be.
Where Drishyam displays undertones of gender prejudice is in the fact that while the good children in the film are children of a traditional middle-class family where the Mum does not work outside the home, the bad kid who destroys their peace of mind is Geetha Prabhakar’s son. Yes yes, I know some of you may point out that the narrative does not at any point, in so many words, accuse Ms Prabhakar of being a negligent working mother; nor does it lecture us, in so many words, about the neglect of children in homes where mothers are busy professionals; yet in a society where this is a prevalent notion, it would be naïve to deny this subliminal message being sent out by the film. The writer could have made the villainous Varun’s mother a stay-at-home mom, and his dad could have been the influential IG, without affecting the flow of events one bit; Georgekutty’s wife Rani could very well have been working outside the house; neither of these altered elements in the story would have made an iota of a difference to the impact on us of Georgekutty’s actions, but sadly – whether intentionally or unintentionally – Drishyam cashes in on widely held social stereotypes.
That being said, this is an incredibly enjoyable thriller. Drishyam is riveting from start to finish. In media interviews, Jeethu Joseph has insisted that – contrary to speculation in film viewing circles – his story was not inspired by the Japanese novel The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino, which too was about the admirably systematic, highly calculated, perfect cover-up of an unplanned crime. I suppose one has to give Team Drishyam the benefit of the doubt on this one since Joseph insists that he was inspired instead by a certain real-life incident; however unconvincing that claim may seem.
The acting performances in this film are uniformly powerful, with the ever-dependable Mohanlal getting to flex his histrionic muscles in the sort of role we don’t see often enough from him these days. The children, Ansiba and Esther, have the natural ease of veterans before a camera. My pick of the cast though is Asha Sarath as Geetha Prabhakar. Her character is the least likeable of the four adult leads yet she manages to garner empathy with the shades of gray she summons up where a lazier actor may have settled for black and white.
The duality of the social comment emerging from the film is unfortunate and an important matter that merits debate; what’s beyond debate though is the fact that Drishyam is a captivating, enthralling entertainer. It’s the sort of film where you fear going out to buy popcorn during the interval because you may miss a second or two of the proceedings after the break. There’s no greater compliment than that for a thriller.
Rating (out of five): ***3/4 (Stars out of 5)
CBFC Rating (India):
Poster courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drishyam