Movie Review: Drishyam (2015)

Drishyam3 Stars (out of 4)

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Note: This review pertains exclusively to the 2015 Hindi remake Drishyam. I have not seen the 2013 Malayalam film of the same name, thus this review draws no comparisons between the two.

When Drishyam (“Visual“) succeeds, it does so mightily. Yet the film’s ending breaks crucial promises made to its audience.

Drishyam expects the audience to be almost as well-versed in films as its main character, Vijay (Ajay Devgn), a man with a keen memory for everything he watches on screen. Movies fill in the gaps in his education, which formally ended in the fourth grade. As an adult, Vijay is a kindly family man whose only vice is that he stays late at the office, engrossed in the movies he programs for the small-town cable channel he runs.

There’s a beautiful shot of Vijay returning one morning to the home he shares with his wife Nandhani (Shriya Saran), teenage daughter Anju (Ishita Dutta), and younger daughter Anu. The camera pulls back as Vijay walks down the sunny, curtain-lined hallway of his cheerful house. The same shot is repeated later with a sinister twist, the dark house eerily silent, the floor covered in muddy footprints.

Vijay’s knowledge of movies becomes essential when he must save his family from a predicament involving Sam, the teenage son of the Goa’s Inspector General, Meera (Tabu). Vijay coaches his family on what to expect from the police while Meera simultaneously unravels the details of Vijay’s plan.

Director Nishikant Kamat effectively shifts the tone from light-hearted to darkly serious, with periods of stomach-churning tension. Devgn is a steady presence, and Dutta portrays Anju as the capable daughter of a capable man. Saran’s character is harder to love since she’s slow get with the program, but her flustered reactions are probably the most realistic.

Scenes involving Sam are important in that they debunk a myth about rape some prominent figures in India still cite: that a rapist will relent if you beg him to stop. When Sam tries to blackmail Anju for sex, both she and her mother beg him to relent, but of course he doesn’t. Rape is about power, not sex, and the story establishes that Sam is used to getting what he wants. Meera and her husband Mahesh (Rajat Kapoor) fret that their indulgence may have turned Sam into a rotten person. Credit to director Kamat for such a realistic depiction of a sexual predator.

Kapoor is terrific as Tabu’s foil. He’s rational and willing to give people the benefit of the doubt; she’s as drunk on power as her son, and she will not brook any challenge to police authority. She finds her perfect ally in Gaitonde, a local constable with a taste for violence and a grudge against Vijay.

Despite the presence of several law-abiding police officers, the film operates on the assumption that the police as an institution cannot be trusted (by no means a unique sentiment in Bollywood). Precisely because of that assumption, Kamat disappointed me when he resorted unnecessarily to my biggest Bollywood pet peeve: a montage of people across India watching news footage of the events in the film.

If police abuse of power is such a given, why would the events of this small-town story become national news? And why does it need nationwide attention to be meaningful? Why does it matter what some random people in other parts of the country think?

After a tense first half, the film bogs down in the middle, as Meera investigates multiple witnesses, growing tired of their Stepford-like corroboration of Vijay’s alibi.

Though the story is aimed at movie buffs who may be able to guess at many details, it is fun to hear Meera and Vijay lay out their reasoning to their officers and family, respectively. Their deductions are handled in a logical way that doesn’t feel condescending.

Yet, the very ending of Drishyam betrays the film buffs in the audience. Without giving away details, during a conversation with Meera and Mahesh, Vijay does something stupid that no intelligent character in a thriller or mystery film should (or would) do.

The scene is presumably included in order to establish the character’s moral righteousness, but it’s unnecessary for a couple of reasons. First, it’s doubtful that anyone would find him immoral after having watched the first two-and-a-half hours of the film. Second, it makes him a less complex character. Instead of being a good guy who did something morally questionable, the scene tries to absolve him of wrongdoing, altogether.

It’s okay if movie heroes aren’t perfect. It can make them more relatable. If only Drishyam trusted its cinema-savvy audience to accept an imperfect hero, the movie itself could have come close to perfection.


37 thoughts on “Movie Review: Drishyam (2015)

  1. Paul

    An excellent review Kathy.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, which was a surprise as I already knew the story as I’d seen the original with Malayalam with Mohanlal as the star.

    Personally, I preferred the original for a number of reasons. I felt Mohanlal was perfect as the lead character. His whole persona was perfect for the part of George Kutty, who was renamed Vijay Salgaonkar in this remake (Why was that? Does anyone know?). That’s not to say Ajay Devgn was bad as he wasn’t at all. I thought he was superb and played the part brilliantly, but Mohanlal just seemed to fit that idea of the lead character exactly right.

    The plot was, for most of the time, an exact replica, but there were some notable differences, particularly the ending. What happened was the same, but the way it was filmed in the original was more tense and dramatic and, for some reason, more believable.

    And one more thing, the cinematography in the original was amazing and very atmospheric and the staging was perfect. In this remake it is still exceptionally good, but I don’t think it is quite as perfect as the original.

    On IMDB the original has a very high 8.9 from 6,000 reviews. I am sure this remake will score high too, particularly at the start, but once it settles down after a few days I doubt it will be higher than 8.9.

    All of that said, if you haven’t seen the original, or any of the other remakes, then this Hindi version is definitely worth seeing. I can understand from your reasoning why you gave it 3 out of 4 Kathy. I’d probably go for 3.5, but the original would – without any shadow of a doubt – get 4 out 4 from me.

    1. Kathy

      Thanks for your take on how this version compares to the original, Paul! They brought on a new screenwriter to adapt this screenplay from the original, and I’m guessing the name change was a way to differentiate characters between the films. From what you said, it doesn’t sound like they changed much else. I am curious to see how the ending plays out in the original version. That sort of gets at why I went with 3 Stars instead of 3.5 Stars (this is where I am obligated as a critic to say that star ratings are ultimately inadequate, LOL): I don’t know that I’d be in a rush to watch the Hindi version again. I’d rather watch the Malayalam version for a first time instead. That said, the Hindi version is a good movie with a lot of selling points.

    2. M. Scarborough

      “His whole persona was perfect for the part of George Kutty, who was renamed Vijay Salgaonkar in this remake (Why was that? Does anyone know?).”

      Yes, because the remake is in Hindi. They had to move the action to a Hindi-speaking locale, which would require a name change. “George Kutty” is stereotypically a Kerala name. It would sound odd to give that name to a Hindi speaker from Goa.

      Also, to put it delicately, “kutty” doesn’t sound good. In Hindi, it means a female dog, though the “t” sound is softer. But if you write them down in English, you can’t tell the two apart.

      This was not needed for names like Anju, which are common to both north and south.

  2. ashokbhatia

    Great review, Kathy, though I would rate it at 3.5 out of 4! It is good to see a realistic depiction of some of our social ills. To me, the last scene was impractical but handled rather well.

      1. ashokbhatia

        Three factors stand out: love for family can make one do strange things, there are indeed situations where the line between right and wrong gets blurred and love for movies can be instructive and rewarding.

  3. Paul Smithson

    I’ve just rewatched the last 20 minutes of the original and have to say that although it is very similar, undeniably, it is just more tense in the original and it is superbly filmed – almost Hitchcock-like. I don’t want to give anything away for those who’ve not seen it, but can say, without spoiling anything, that some things in the original are more eluded to rather than shown or spelt out, and the reveal is, in my opinion, superbly tense and edge of the seat stuff.

    On rewatching those 20 minutes I think I realize the key difference and that is empathy. I really empathized with the George Kutty character played by Mohanlal, but didn’t have quite as much empathy for the same character (with a different name) played by Ajay Devgn. This wasn’t so much the fault of Ajay Devgn, as I felt he was superb, but just the cumulative differences between the two productions, even going right down to the more humble clothes that George Kutty wore in the original, the less glamorous wife (Meena who played the original wife has a different kind of beauty), and the house, and the shots of the scenery, even – as daft as it seems – the more vibrant use of color in the original.

    Still, the Hindi version is an excellent film, and living up to the original is almost an impossible job. I seem to remember some reviewers said that the original Drishyam is to Malayalam cinema what Shawshank Redemption is to Hollywood. I’d have to agree. It really is THAT good.

  4. Vibhor Silewar

    Although I haven’t watched the movie yet, but a small correction: the director is Nishikant Kamat.

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  6. Raj

    “The camera pulls back as Vijay walks down the sunny, curtain-lined hallway of his cheerful house. The same shot is repeated later with a sinister twist, the dark house eerily silent, the floor covered in muddy footprints”

    I think the author missed the most crucial point in the whole movie, the single most crucial thing that elevates the movie to another level. The last shots are not of Vijays house, but of the new police station.

    1. Kathy

      No, Raj, you missed the point of that paragraph. I’m referring to the first time we see Vijay enter his house, and then to the shot of him entering his house on the night of the crime. It has nothing to do with the ending of the film.

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  9. julialmoore

    Great review. I had another quibble: I felt that the filmmaker could have been a bit more strategic in the use of costuming to emphasize Meera’s character and dual identity as a police chief and a grieving mother. We only see her in uniform in the first scene in which we meet her, but I feel that at points later on it would have been a strategic choice for the character to have been in uniform. I think it would have added to the complexity of the character, which I feel was blunted in a number of ways throughout.

    1. Kathy

      This is a great point, julialmoore. Once her son goes missing, we only see Meera in civilian gear. We stop seeing her as the high ranking police official she is, reducing her to just a grieving mother. I’m guessing that the rationale behind the costume choice is that her investigation into Sam’s disappearance is “unofficial,” but she showed no compunction about breaking the rules when she was on official duty. Even a short scene of Meera wearing her uniform while holding a press conference about her son’s disappearance would’ve reinforced that women are more than just mothers and can hold more than one identity at a time.

    2. Paul

      Well spotted Julie. I agree completely. In the original she has her uniform on for several seasons and it isn’t until the interrogation scenes where she has her non-police clothes on. As you point out I think this adds to the duality of her character by portraying her as both a professional and a mother. I do feel she was a more rounded character in the original; strong police women, desperate police woman, in-control police woman, desperate mother, struggling wife, and finally broken mother … to name but a few. The same was true, on the whole, of this new version, but you’re right, more good have been made of her costume.

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  20. Rebecca Armstrong

    I saw both the Malayalam and Hindi versions. They’re very much alike. I think people who prefer one over the other are probably reacting to language and context rather than the merits of the different versions.

    I speak Hindi as my mothertongue but not Malayalam, so I saw that version with English subtitles. There’s a marked difference in immersion, of course, if you have to read subtitles. And it’s not just the language, the culture is also different between north and south India. Although the Hindi version is set in Goa, the culture depicted is very much north Indian. The Malayalam version, I’m guessing is set in Kerala and depicts their culture.

    These things prevent one from gaining a full appreciation of the particular version if they’re not familiar with the language/culture. Probably this is why Hindi speakers prefer the Bollywood version while Malayalam speakers prefer the original.

    Yes, there are other differences. Mohanlal is the “average” guy, Vijay is more intense, but still quite believable. The wives are more alike, though Shriya Saran is younger and less matronly. I don’t see either as better or worse, just different. The story suits both.

    1. Kathy

      Thanks so much for this comment, Rebecca! As someone who isn’t from India and speaks no Indian languages, I always appreciate hearing how people with closer linguistic and cultural ties feel about the same film I saw. The comparison between the two versions is really interesting. Drishyam‘s story seems well-suited for remakes in other countries and languages, beyond just India.

    2. Paul Smithson

      Good points Rebecca. I speak neither language so saw both with sub-titles. As I think I said in my comments from last year, I enjoyed them both, but the original one edged it. I said in my review that I doubted the IMDB rating of the remake would surpass the original ones things settled down. I’ve just looked at I’m pleased to say I got it right. The original gets an amazing 9.0 and the remake 8.7, which just goes to show how amazing both of them are. Some films you can’t remember watching a week after you walk out of the cinema, but Drishyam is a movie I will never forget.

      1. M. Scarborough

        IMDB ratings tend to settle down after time. As of now, the Malayalam version is at 8.3 with 40k votes, the Hindi version at 8.2 with 75k votes. I don’t think the difference is meaningful, especially because South Indian voters tend to be more enthusiastic about upvoting their movies on IMDB.

        I liked both versions, but if I had to choose, I’d pick the Hindi version as better. Mostly because I preferred Ajay Devgn and Shrita Saran in those two roles. Tabu was also good, though a bit unidimensional in that role.

  21. kumudbartwal

    “If police abuse of power is such a given, why would the events of this small-town story become national news? ”
    Because the case involved the son of a decorated police IG.

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