Print Edition - 2015-08-15  |  On Saturday

How to get away with murder

  • The Arts
- Preena Shrestha

Aug 15, 2015-

The new Drishyam gets off to a rather stodgy start. There’s a definite sense of déjà vu in the air as we’re introduced to Ajay Devgn’s Vijay Salgaokar, a morally upright, cinema-loving, self-made business-owner from the small town of Pandolem in Goa, who is always on hand to defend the weak—much like Devgn’s titular protagonist in Singham, except, y’know without all the punching and kicking. Not surprisingly, there are some, specifically the corrupt sub-inspector of police Gaitonde (Kamelsh Sawant), who don’t appreciate Vijay’s persistent meddling in their affairs. But our hero couldn’t care less; he’s earning a decent living, respected in the community and has a pretty sweet home-life: wife Nandini (Shriya Saran) might lack anything resembling a personality, but she’s young and chirpy and worships him, as do their two daughters, the teenage Anju (Ishita Dutta) and little Anu (Mrunal Jadhav). Family meals and outings then comprise the sort of sickly sweet stuff that ads for breakfast cereal and detergent are made of—so cutesy you can’t help but cringe. Around 40 minutes into running time, however, there’s a perceptible, and very welcome, shift. The Salgaokars’ domestic bliss is rudely interrupted by an unanticipated event, and their lives forever altered. Vijay discovers that when it comes to family, his once-rigid, black-and-white moral code no longer holds; he is willing to do anything in his power—which, as we’ll see, is quite a bit for someone who readily admits dropping out of school after failing the fourth grade—to protect them. Indeed, employing what turns out to be a vast arsenal of information gleaned from watching movies, Vijay will indulge in a high-stakes, complex game of smoke and mirrors in a bid to keep his loved ones safe, and we find ourselves rooting for him every step of the way.

Drishyam is the fifth iteration of a story first released in Malayalam in 2013, a film of the same name that was written and directed by Jeethu Joseph (itself believed to be heavily inspired by Keigo Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X) and then remade in Kannada, Telugu and Tamil, before rounding off with this Hindi version directed by Nishikant Kamat. Not having seen any of the previous films means I have little to compare the Devgn starrer to, but Kamat—known most for 2005’s well-received Marathi film Dombivli Fast and the more recent but less successful Force in Hindi—has offered up an absorbing adaptation that retains our interest until the very end. A large part of this is thanks to the script’s ability to generate suspense, wherein little details are mined for maximum tension. A scene where we’re watching a yellow vehicle sink in a lake is an example of this, and many such ticklish, hold-your-breath moments are scattered throughout, leading up to an enjoyably unexpected finish.

One of the most gripping aspects is the way it blurs, in one fell swoop, the line between right and wrong, calling morality’s assumed objectivity into question. Is Vijay justified in trying to pull his family out of this mess, or does he deserve the punishment that he’s been evading?—it’s hard to say and it’s these very wavering sympathies that the film rides on. By invoking such issues as police corruption and brutality, and a flawed legal system, Drishyam well sketches the plight of an Everyman who is caught between the law of the land and that of sheer self-preservation. It’s an engaging premise and one that Upendra Sidhaye’s screenplay makes the most of, particularly in the tautly constructed second half, where our protagonist is working meticulously to cover his tracks, while his able adversaries try to pierce through his armour.

One could think of this film as offering Devgn redemption from all that preening in last year’s downright nonsensical Action Jackson; Drishyam is a return to more familiar territory for the actor, involving the sort of intense brooding that he’s got down pat. And Sawant is the perfect foil as his rotund nemesis, just the right amount of loathsome. The usually-on-form Tabu, however, is a tad disappointing in a key role here; she puts up a deeply internalised performance, necessary given the conflicted nature of her character, but one that appears to tip over into wooden unresponsiveness at certain points. Speaking of wooden, Saran and the two young actors prove woefully inadequate, especially considering the size of their stints; they represent the weakest links in the film, both in terms of characterisation and acting skills, making for some very stiff, unconvincing interactions.

That stiffness is also owing to the dialogues in Drishyam, which frequently comprise the sort of dramatic clichés that drain scenes of potential realism—the most telling instance of this is a long rant on Tabu’s part about “visual memory” that sounds like something out of a neuroscience journal, and which feels tacked ononly to justify the film’s clunky tagline: “Visuals can be deceiving”. And there are times where Kamat and Sidhaye seem to underestimate viewers’ intelligence, dumbing things down for our benefit, using flashbacks to establish connections to clues in the past that we could’ve easily managed ourselves. This unnecessary spoon-feeding is one of the reasons for the film’s substantial 163-minute length, which could’ve really used some trimming, particularly across that sluggish introductory portion. As far as cinematography is concerned, visuals here are fairly nondescript—stylistic flourishes have been kept to a bare minimum.

It’s difficult to figure out how much of the credit for Drishyam’s overall effectiveness should be attributed to Kamat—a major chunk of it, after all, must go to the strength of Joseph’s source material, much of which Kamat has apparently recreated frame for frame. Regardless of who did what, and despite the less-than-economical first half and less-than-stellar casting, as far as the end result is concerned, it’s far more imaginative and surprising than your average Hindi thriller.

Published: 15-08-2015 16:30

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