Drishyam : Movie Review
4 stars out of 5 (Excellent)
Director : Nishikanth Kamath
Hindi (English subtitles available) , 2015
Before laying my Dhrishti on Dhrishyam in the theatre, I wondered why a talented helmer like Nishikanth Kamath should direct multiple movies the originals of which have already been made in other languages. His popular Marathi debut 'Dombivili Fast' seemed inspired by Hollywood's Falling Down, his 'Force' was a remake of the Tamil "Kaakha whole square' and his upcoming 'Rocky Handsome' derives from the Korean 'The Man from Nowhere'. Did this man often seem to get original pleasure by reprise? But when he said of Jeethu Joseph's 2013 Malayalam film that 'Dhrishyam is such a good story that it needs to be told', and then later when one has experienced this Hindi remake, one doesn't find it difficult to concur with this Konkani-Marathi gentleman. The pikchar has flaws alright, and it won't slide any time into my five-star list but what the screenplay eventually achieves is a triumph that defeats all the gripes gnawing at its greater glory.
Ajay Devgan again displays why he is one-of-a-kind. His persona of Vijay Salgaonkar is an unshakably bright counterpart of the darkly devious man he portrayed thirteen years ago in "Humraaz". This same smoothly chimerical actor stood with each feet on separate gliding motorbikes in 1991's exclusively commercial Phool Aur Kante, and could also switch universes to fragilely brood in Ghosh's 'Raincoat'. Cutting back to Drishyam, I suppose it takes a cool, composed, humble fearless upright man like Vijay to merit a wife like the deeply attractive lady of sharp beautiful soft contours embodied by Shriya Saran. I forgot Monica Bellucci temporarily.
So Vijay is a calm age-in-early-forties dude running the cable station of a Goan town. He's blessed with a dutiful wife and two sweet daughters all of whom love him knowing that he reserves great care for them despite his penny-pinching ways. They are then smashed into a storm that repeatedly brutalizes them, body and soul, as they are dragged literally (I use the word "literally" carefully - I've heard some say "my head was literally blown off!') into a police station. But the crashing tides are steadied by Vijay's mountain-steady Ark of mind - he herds all the animals of this story step by meticulously planned step to accept his logical raft that will rescue him and his family. But the bullies in uniform will stop at nothing...
So many Indians in so many movies have seen Indian policemen getting thoroughly demonized. Drishyam makes one want to wring the necks of at least two of its cops (Kamlesh Sawant takes the face-slapping cake here!), but how many of us have thought about how poorly salaried Indian policemen are? I am not idealistically dreaming that brighter pay will melt away all the corruption but I hope you get my point. Few professions in India are paid so less for so much of what they are expected to do. Beat up baddies, lock up crazed criminals, risk getting killed or mutilated each day, and then come home to the clink of loose change. Building moral muscle becomes a little more difficult when subsisting on peanuts.
Pic's admirable hits come in various forms : a lady sits on a bed with devastated demeanour, falling sari, and ravaged tresses and we suspect the worst...Jeethu Joseph's original Mayalam script, tailored for Hindi by Upendra Sidhaye, makes Vijay's escape-strategy a world-class chess-game - with one questioning move matched by another carefully planted answer. When IGP Meera starts dissecting it to expose its transplanted skeleton, the intricacy of analysis is reminiscent of those complicated noir movies of California's 40s and 50s. Once on a balmy afternoon in Kerala I was thoroughly engaged by a Malayalam suspense movie only to discover with disappointment years later that it was a copy of Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder. But I sure am proud about this home-grown script (Drishyam's only plagiarism allegation pertains to a supposed cadging from another Malayalam script. Tragic Post-Script : A few days after this review was posted, reader Sreejith M.P enlightens me that Drishyam has similarities to the Japanese novel "The Devotion of Suspect X" - an "inspiration" which has now incited litigational ire against 'Drishyam')
And Vijay is shown to be no emptily slouching TV watcher. He smartly distills and stores ideas from movies to use when life threatens far more danger than fiction (my own story is a little less heroic - I had learnt by myself, but was later reminded keenly by "The Last Emperor" how to urinate silently into a toilet bowl by directing the stream onto the commode's inner walls rather than into the water). Vijay surprised me when he comments how a putatively thrilling Hollywood movie chase sequence is actually a sham of fast cutting and loud background music. But Dhrishyam itself ironically falls a little short in this regard when a car-drowning sequence in it, could have been picturized with more slick suspense and less laboured tension. Nonetheless, songs are pared down to suit the narrative flow and Kamath story-tells with minimal concession to shameless commercialism.
Alas, Tabu's wooden performance capsized my expectations, after igniting frisson when I saw her introduced in a well-fitting Khakhi uniform. Tragically, even before any sorrow befalls her, she ditches that ideal dress to don forgettable outfits. Perhaps more importantly she also strips away any actual acting ability to unwittingly assume a two-dimensional facial expression. The subtle dynamics of this role of Inspector General of Police : Meera Deshmukh - tough-as-nails and yet showing a sporadic sensitivity and feminine tenderness that would have really lifted the role - has eluded this usually able and audacious actress in "Drishyam". When she cried at the end , I couldn't care less and actually wanted to shove her off from the bench (by employing female police like the film does elsewhere to do the job mind you, I am a gentleman desisting from direct female abuse). Compare this act with another age-in-forties actress Amrita Singh's admittedly different role in 'Kalyug' - you may argue they are too different to compare but when the dark and heartless latter showed pain, I empathized more.
Kamath too deserves blame for not extracting a better result from her, what's worse he finishes her intro by showing her marching down a police station corridor in slow-mo while the stupid background music melodramatically trumpets what a dangerous dame she is supposed to be - so it is with a moment's notice that Drishyam very occasionally lapses into retrograde dumps.
Meera's husband, portrayed by Rajat Kapoor, had a bigger impact on me, not in a positive sense but because he left me amazed at his repeated impotence as this man of influence stands around helplessly while people around him are brutalized, humiliated and children are tortured - yeah, he yaps out some pleas for leniency but real men leap out to do it themselves, not plead with others to do so. Perhaps Joseph and Kamath purposely planned this couple to be useless detestable people - so no wonder their precious son in the movie is a matchless criminal - I will hang this boy, irrespective of whether he looks only fourteen to fifteen, and no matter what you think of me.
But Dear Reader, let me finish by saying that while I am not usually gifted with predicting plot twists, I pre-figured the big surprise at the climax , but my pal Rajeev clapped when it was revealed. What's more surprising is that at the movie's end, the audience gave a small round of applause - I have never witnessed this for a Hindi movie in Auckland. Perhaps they liked Ajay Devgan a lot, probably they were unknowingly according hosannas to Kamath's clean unhurried nuanced direction, but I feel they were mostly clapping for how a fourth-standard drop-out shows us with class-topping brain and heart, how to survive and relentlessly manoeuver the Right way in a country where both the educated and the uneducated die each day at the altar of cowardice.
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