Luck is everything. My good luck in life was to be a really frightened person. I’m fortunate to be a coward, to have a low threshold of fear, because a hero couldn’t make a good suspense film – Alfred Hitchcock
Stunning, gripping, edge-of-the-seat, shocking, engrossing… use any of these adjectives for this Ajay Devgn version of Drishyam, and you are spot on. There is just one caveat: DON’T compare it with the original in 2013 which had Mohan Lal.
Director Nishikant Kamat’s tale of a common man’s dilemma, courage and deceit could suffer in comparison with the original by Jeethu Joseph, it is still one film that will reinstate your faith in the suspense genre. If Kahaani was the last memorable mainstream Hindi suspense thriller you watched, then Drishyam will be a grand new entry to that list.
The film is set in the Goan countryside where Vijay Salgaonkar (Ajay Devgn) lives with his wife Nandini (Shriya Saran) and daughters Anju (Ishita Dutta) and Anu (Mrinal). A school dropout, Vijay runs a cable business and is a hardcore film buff. A simpleton, films and TV shows are his reference to the world of educated people, but he’s not apologetic about it.
The good thing about Vijay is that Kamat clearly doesn’t try too hard to shape his character: he’s simple, but sharp as a razor at the same time. Vijay holding forth on Habeas Corpus (relief from unlawful detention) to a group of villagers is a masterstroke of characterization — you laugh at him because you know that his worldly wisdom is courtesy the small TV in his office, but, at the same time, he leaves you mightily impressed with him.
Our happy-go-lucky man is good at other things too: He is honest, and has a sharp tongue. The second quality pits him against a brutal, and corrupt, cop Lakshmikant Gaitonde (Kamlesh Sawant).
Vijay’s world is turned upside down when the only son of IG Meera Deshmukh (Tabu) goes missing and he’s made the prime suspect in the case. This is the point where Drishyam takes off and sets the tone for a gripping cat and mouse game between the system and a technically illiterate villager. And all through the struggle, you are not sure who’ll win in the end, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is where this film scores.
What Jeethu Joseph, also the writer of the original film, wants you to believe is a world of paradoxes where a couple makes fun of each other’s educational background without getting too serious about it. His Drishyam was set in Kerala, a premise portrayed as a collective society.
It was about a set of people who displayed the courage to take on the tyrant administrative agencies. Georgekutty (Mohanlal) represented the aspirations of a common man who is tired of corruption but wants to fight it without going off limits. So, this comes as a surprise when we meet Singham Devgn as a cable operator. But there begins the magic of cinematographer Avinash Arun who leads us slowly into the interiors of old Goa on the banks of Mandovi. Soon, initial apprehensions about Devgn’s legacy melts away and we see a character determined to present himself as an intelligent fellow against the perception of his immediate surroundings.
Kamat intrigues the audience with an abrupt event and then lures us into believing that everybody has got their priorities and they’re bound to fulfill them even if it costs them dearly. Beneath such a rhetorical exterior lies a story that thrives on smooth transitions and fine performances. This is not something like North By Northwest where the suspense instantly grows on you.
Drishyam initially appears as a regular catch-me-if-you-can kind of a thriller, but then it very strategically does away with the minor suspense plots and attaches strong motives to every primary character. As a result, all the concepts of wrong, right or being wronged culminate at a point where you can’t any longer sit in a corner and just watch the proceedings.
You’re not even over Vijay’s funny reaction on his wife’s tussle with high heels when tension engulfs you from all sides. In the beginning, you think Devgn’s trying too hard to fit into a common man’s shoes (He hasn’t done anything like it in a long time). But he rises with the story’s tempo. He shows his mettle just at the right juncture. He churns out his best in the scene where a police jeep enters his tastefully designed house. The lines of fear replace his nonchalant confidence in a split second and that in turn makes the audience anxious for the next twist.
Drishyam is not your usual cold, hard and superfluous reality sort of a film where the lead character’s graph depends on the resolution. In fact, it outlines every facet of the dice right from the opening shot except that one important frame which holds the key to the chamber of secrets. It’s a multi-layered story that’s not confined to just one household. It could be anybody’s story and that is what makes the film beautiful.
Despite bizarre soundtracks for each of her entries, Tabu holds her own as a top-notch police officer. The film’s 160-minute length restricts the actors from rushing into overblown emotional scenes. Rajat Kapoor also makes his presence felt as an urbane businessman. Shriya Saran and other supporting cast are also satisfactory, but one character whose piercing eyes and proverbial ruthlessness will haunt you for days is police officer Gaitonde. He is so good at bad things that you would wish the worst for him.
Gulzar’s lyrics open the film and Vishal Bhardwaj’s music keeps haunting you till the end credits roll, ensuring Drishyam’s spot in top Hindi suspense films of all time.
Drishyam works because it doesn’t talk about a hero but a common man. Drishyam works because you feel for every character in the film. Drishyam works because it leaves you stunned. Drishyam works because it keeps you glued to your seat till the last moment. Drishyam works because it’s a finely crafted suspense thriller after a really long time. Drishyam works because you thought Indian filmmakers can’t make good thrillers. Drishyam works because it shows two different India. Drishyam works because visuals can be deceptive.