'Drishyam': Film Review

Drishyam Still - H 2015
B4U Pictures

Drishyam Still - H 2015

Elegant Indian thriller with restrained performances.     

Nishikant Kamat's thriller portrays a decent man pushed to the limit by corruption and crime.

Played by the luminous Tabu (whose list of strong female characters includes Life of Pi, The Namesake and Haider), Drishyam's formidable villain — Goa state Inspector General Meera Deshmukh — is a fierce and ruthless lioness who will stop at nothing to discover why her teenaged son has gone missing.

The truth is that her son is a spoiled lout given to harassing young women; when the boy attempts to blackmail a young girl into sexual favors one rainy night after surreptitiously recording a video of her naked on his mobile phone, he gets his violent comeuppance.

Deshmukh decides to put the screws to the girl's father, a deceptively simple family man named Vijay Salgaonkar (Ajay Devgn) whom she suspects is behind his disappearance, and faced with a too-perfect array of evidence "proving" the family's innocence, Deshmukh orders a phalanx of police goons led by corrupt sub-inspector Gaitonde (Kamlesh Sawant) to extract a confession. Vijay may have dropped out of the fourth grade, but he's got some clever ideas of his own to keep his family out of jail, and many of the film's most pleasurable scenes track how Vijay draws upon his exhaustive knowledge of movie justice to coach his family on how to behave as the cops close in.

Since the original Malayalam version of the same name became the language's highest grosser in Indian history, and Kannada, Tamil and Telugu versions also earned an audience, a Bollywood adaptation was the natural next step. This expertly directed and acted thriller is likely to benefit from strong word of mouth, although some scenes of brutality (including scenes of women and children being beaten in a police station) will discourage family viewers. Producer Kumar Mangat Pathak, known for the critically acclaimed police drama Special 26 (2013) and Vishal Bhardwaj's powerful Shakespeare adaptation Omkara (which also starred Devgan), wisely chose director Nishikant Kamat to lead this version.

Kamat, best known for the searing everyman revenge tale Dombivali Fast, which won India's top film award in 2005, has adapted Jeetu Jose's 2013 Malayalam drama for the Hindi-language Bollywood audience. Kamat has replaced the Malayalam film's lead, South Indian superstar Mohanlal, with Bollywood actor-producer Devgn as Vijay, a simple middle-class cable TV network owner in small town in coastal Goa who learned everything he knows from watching the video movies he beams to his customers.

Like Dombivali Fast, Drishyam portrays a decent man pushed to the limit by corruption, and Kamat's restrained treatment turns a story ripe for melodrama into a thoughtful depiction of an honest, upstanding family forced to commit a crime in the name of truth and honor. Devgn and Tabu, who were cast romantically in Takshak, Haqeeqat and Vijaypath, are formidable opponents here. Among this thriller's many pleasures are scenes of Vijay crafting an alibi as the cops work to unravel his story step by step; as well as every scene featuring Tabu, who plays a smart, complex woman who confidently leads a police force while keeping her inner pain as a mother under wraps — when her son's abandoned car is discovered in an abandoned quarry lake, her voice nearly imperceptibly cracks when she recognizes it. 

Technical credits are top-class, with Bhardwaj contributing several moving songs to the film's background soundtrack; cinematographer Avinash Arun capturing Goa's harsh sunlight and simply lit rooms; and editor Aarif Sheikh ably driving the film's momentum with suspense and well-placed humor.

Opened: July 31, 2015 (B4U Pictures)
Production: Panorama Studios
Cast: Ajay Devgn, Shriya Saran, Tabu, Rajat Kapoor
Director: Nishikant Kamat
Screenwriter: Upendra Sidhaye
Producers:  Kumar Mangat Pathak, Ajit Andhare, Abhishek Pathak
Director of photography: Avinash Arun
Production designer: Rita Ghosh
Editor: Aarif Sheikh
Composer: Vishal Bhardwaj
Unrated, 163 min.