One of the big downsides to being an avid movie watcher in this age of information overload is that it’s hard to go into a film knowing virtually nothing about it. Trailers tend to give away too much. And between the innumerable promotional interviews, and all those “experts” weighing in on social media, the joy of discovery sitting there in a dark cinema hall is often lost.
Which is why I will advise you this: go in to watch Drishyam knowing as little as you can about the film. In fact, you might want to stop reading this review right about now. I will try, nevertheless, to reveal as little of the plot as I can.
As you may already know, this Ajay Devgan starrer is a remake of the 2013 Malayalam film of the same name starring Mohanlal, which was recently remade in Tamil as Papanasam starring Kamal Haasan. Nishikant Kamat, director of the terrific Marathi film Dombivli Fast and the mediocre Bollywood film Force, helms this Hindi version and seldom deviates from the original blueprint, which is a good thing for the most part.
Devgan stars as Vijay Salgaocar, a middle-class family man, living with his wife (Shriya Saran) and two young daughters in a small town in a non-touristy part of Goa. Theirs is a happy unit, even if Daddy would rather spend his time watching movies in the small office he owns than take them to the city for shopping outings.
Early on we get a sense of Vijay’s ordinary life: the modest restaurant he eats at, the regular folks that are his friends, the local cable TV business he runs, a corrupt cop he often locks horns with, the practical knowledge he’s acquired from his obsessive love of films, and repeated reminders that he couldn’t even clear Class Four in school.
Like in the Malayalam original, this exposition takes up a chunk of the film’s first half. But to give credit where it’s due, Kamat gets to the real plot comparatively sooner. An unfortunate incident pits Vijay and his family against another family…that of Meera Deshmukh (Tabu), a powerful and ruthless Inspector General of Police, and her husband (Rajat Kapoor). Both Vijay and Meera will go to great lengths for the safety and protection of their respective children, and therein arises the film’s conflict.
Jeethu Joseph’s terrific original script isn’t fashioned as a whodunit – because we know who did it – but in fact as a battle of wits, a cat-and-mouse chase. There’s a real thrill in watching one side concoct an elaborate web of lies, and the other side work systematically towards finding the chinks in their story. Because the script so brilliantly subverts the right/wrong template, there are moments where you’ll find your loyalty towards the ‘good guy’ wavering.
The film’s second half moves briskly, save for the unnecessary songs that act as speed bumps in the narrative. The suggestion that Vijay’s entire strategy is plotted around ideas that came to him from watching movies is never adequately illustrated by Kamat. And in sticking too faithfully to the original, he repeats some of the indulgences and mistakes of that film.
But so strong is the plot of Drishyam that very little of this ultimately matters. You’re riveted as the drama unfolds, even if you may have guessed one or both of the delicious twists in the final act.
It helps that Kamat has a trio of dependable actors in key roles. Kamlesh Sawant is appropriately despicable as Inspector Gaitonde, the vengeful cop who revels in the violence he is encouraged to inflict on Vijay’s family. Ajay Devgan, in a part that offers no scope for showy histrionics, is nicely understated as the desperate parent who must constantly think on his feet. But the film belongs unquestionably to Tabu. Never reducing the role to a stereotype, she brings multiple layers to a complex character, evoking both contempt and ultimately sympathy through a carefully nuanced performance.
When was the last time you enjoyed a film for its gripping plot, its compelling story? Drishyam, with its refreshingly original screenplay and its many moments of tension, is just that. Kamat’s Hindi version pales in comparison to both the original Malayalam film and the Tamil remake, but the plot nevertheless keeps you hooked till the end.
I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five. Now forget everything you just read and go watch the film.