Nishikant Kamat’s gripping thriller leaves difficult questions once the initial feel-good factor fades.
Spoiler Alert: Read this piece at your own risk if you intend to watch the movie and haven’t yet managed to.I must acknowledge at the outset that I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Hindi remake of Jeethu Joseph’s Drishyam. I do not agree with Deepanjana Pal’s review, in which she rubbishes almost everything in the Hindi version except Kamalesh Sawant’s acting as Sub-Inspector Gaitonde.
I do not qualify to comment on Charmy Harikrishnan’s claim that the Hindi version falls short of the Malayali one, for I haven’t watched the Malayali edition. Nor have I watched the Tamil version, but I’m willing to admit the possibility of Kamal Haasan performing better than Ajay Devgn—in my opinion, Haasan is a better actor.
But overall, I’d go with the majority of the reviews in the newspapers, as well as IMDb, and rate the Hindi version of Drishyam as a captivating movie. Director Nishikant Kamat manages to keep the suspense flowing right till the end, allowing one to walk out of the movie hall satisfied as a viewer.
Tabu managed rather deftly to transition from the tough cop, who obviously has no qualms about using brute force—established in her very first scene—to a mother whose heart cries out for her errant son.
I do not want to get into any unnecessary debate about the acting skills of the cast in the Hindi version; to me they were all fairly credible, though Shriya Saran’s Nandinee Salgaonkar did look a trifle too young to be Vijay Salgaonkar’s (Devgn) wife and to be a mother of two, including a teenage daughter (Anju, played by Ishita Dutta) who looked about 15 at least.
Although the film does not comment on the age difference between Nandinee and Vijay, it does tell us that the elder daughter was not her biological daughter. A four-month-old abandoned infant picked up by Vijay from the roadside, Anju was later legally adopted by the Salgaonkar couple. To me, Tabu (who plays Meera Deshmukh, Inspector General of Police, Goa) managed rather deftly to transition from the tough cop, who obviously has no qualms about using brute force—established in her very first scene—to a mother whose heart cries out for her errant son.
The tussle between Ekta Kapoor and Jeethu Joseph over the originality of the story on which all versions of Drishyam are based is in itself a thrilling yarn. Kapoor sent a legal notice to Viacom18 Motion Pictures claiming copyright infringement, since her company, Balaji Motion Pictures, had bought the right for a Bolywood adaptation of Keigo Hagashino’s 2005 novel, The Devotion of Suspect X. There are uncanny similarities between Jeethu Joseph’s story and the Japanese novel, but Joseph has been clever enough to adapt it in a manner that allows him to claim the story as an original one by him.
There are uncanny similarities between Jeethu Joseph’s story and the Japanese novel, but Joseph has been clever enough to adapt it in a manner that allows him to claim the story as an original one by him.
Both plots revolve around a man trying to cover up a murder that he did not commit, but while Higashino’s Tetsuya Ishigami is a sharp-witted mathematics professor, Vijay Salgaonkar is a Class IV-failed school dropout. Ishigami uses his sharp mathematical brain to generate alibis that the police find difficult to dismantle, whereas Salgaonkar uses his obsessive engagement with films to do the same. In the Japanese novel, a woman, Yasuko Hanauka, along with her daughter, accidentally murders her abusive ex-husband Togashi, who reappears to extort money from her. In Drishyam, Vijay’s adopted older daughter Anju accidentally kills IG Deshmukh’s son, when he tries to blackmail her and/or her mother into offering him sexual favours on the basis of a video of her bathing that he had managed to clandestinely record when the two were in a nature camp together.
Ishigami’s secret love for his neighbour Yasuko is what prompts him to cover up the murder in a manner that she can’t be nailed. But Vijay Salgaonkar does it to protect his family, true Indian style. These clever distortions in the central character make it difficult to pin Salgaonkar as an image of Ishigami, and to declare Joseph’s story as nothing more than a smart Indianised adaptation of Higashino’s Suspect X.
There are other differences, of course, between the original Japanese novel and Jeethu Joseph’s story. The detective involved in The Devotion of Suspect X is a man, Kusanagi, to whom IG Meera Deshmukh hardly bears any resemblance, other than the fact that they are both convinced that the protagonists were involved in the murder, even when faced with seemingly foolproof alibis. The two most telling variances, in my understanding, that would allow Joseph to claim the story as an original one are:
- In the novel, police begin to suspect Yasuko when Togashi’s dead body is discovered and identified. In Drishyam, the non-discovery of the copse is what finally leaves the police red-faced and the Salgaonkar family free.
- Higashino weaves the battle of wits around two educated, sharp-witted men: Ishigami, the mathematics teacher known since his college days for his intelligence and problem solving abilities, and Dr Manabu Yukawa, Ishigami’s college mate, a physicist by training who frequently acts as a consultant for the police. In Joseph’s version, there is no counterpart to Dr Yukawa. The battle is between Vijay Salgaonkar and IG Meera Deshmukh, who uses the brutality of the tainted Sub-Inspector Gaitonde, breaking all policing norms, to try and force a confession from any one member of the Salgaonkar family—even if it is the little girl (Annu, played by Mrunal Jadhav).
However, that is not what I really want to write about. Rather, I want to share with readers the afterthoughts that emerged as the feel-good factor post watching the movie gradually faded. What is the real politics of the film? What are the values that director Nishikant Kamat has so very cleverly handed down through this rather gripping murder mystery?
It is one thing for a physicist and a mathematician, equal in their academic credentials and intelligence, to be locked in a mind game. It is quite a different story when the duel is between a qualified IPS officer who has risen to the post of Inspector General, her trusted lieutenants and her polished businessman husband (Mahesh, played by Rajat Kapoor) on the one hand, and a school dropout who had not even completed his primary-level education on the other.
What is Kamat trying to sell—the so-called power of the common man, or the hidden value of Bollywood movies, which are more often than not disparaged for being unrealistic and utopian?
I am no great admirer of the Indian education system per se, and definitely not a subscriber to the view that native wits dull due to lack of formal education. I’d even go a step further to say that sometimes the education system needs us to keep our critical faculties at bay in order to get good scores in exams. But to reinforce in popular culture that formal education is of no value in real life is a trifle too much in a country like ours.
Also, it is not Vijay Salgaonkar’s innate intelligence that he uses to baffle the police. It is the lessons he has drawn from his obsessive engagement with Bollywood movies that he uses to generate alibis so perfect that the police cannot destroy them even when IG Deshmukh works out in her head how Salgaonkar had carefully created them.
This point is underscored more than once in the film, which leaves me wondering just what director Kamat is trying to sell—the so-called power of the common man, or the hidden value of Bollywood movies, which are more often than not disparaged for being unrealistic and utopian? Or, is it an oblique critique of these movies by emphasising that they might actually help someone commit the proverbial perfect crime? Is this confusion a part of the plot, or just an unintended fallout? Whatever, it leaves me disturbed to see filmy gyan being prioritised over other critical faculties that are supposed to be honed by formal learning.
Gaitonde’s brutality is further highlighted by his ruthless treatment of the entire Salgaonkar family, including the little girl. But why is this necessary? How would it affect the manufacturing of flawless alibis, if Gaitonde had been an honest cop?
Of course, the director’s bias is solidly with Vijay Salgaonkar, getting everyone to heave a sigh of relief when the exhumed carcass is that of a dog. Perhaps that is why he has been established as a righteous person not afraid to challenge a corrupt policeman—Sub-Inspector Gaitonde, the only one who claims to have seen Salgaonkar drive the missing youth’s car.
Gaitonde’s brutality is further highlighted by his ruthless treatment of the entire Salgaonkar family, including the little girl, a rawness that IG Deshpande deliberately uses to force a confession. Even his seniors are convinced that the SI is trying to frame Vijay because of the bad blood between them. But why is this necessary? How would it affect the manufacturing of flawless alibis, if Gaitonde had been an honest cop?
The director is definitely not trying to tell us that only corruption among police personnel allow criminals to get away from under their nose, for no one—not even IG Deshmukh—manages to break down the Salgaonkar family’s alibis, though there is no suggestion that anyone else is corrupt. On the contrary, in fact.
There is an ultimate warning to the police force’s abuse of power: that ours is a democracy where common people are protected by law in the long run. I doubt the veracity of this assertion in this country of fake encounters, Vyapam deaths and too many other incidents of a similar nature, but Kamat definitely has a right to his own optimistic opinion.
Is Kamat then trying to tell the police that corruption could prove costly, since Gaitonde is suspended in the end? But then, IG Meera Deshmukh has to resign from the force because of her abuse of power with the Salgaonkar family. There is no suggestion that she was corrupt, but she did throw all norms out of the window to force a confession from them. So, there is an ultimate warning to the police force’s abuse of power: that ours is a democracy where common people are protected by law in the long run. I doubt the veracity of this assertion in this country of fake encounters, Vyapam deaths and too many other incidents of a similar nature, but Kamat definitely has a right to his own optimistic opinion. My query remains focused on the need to make Gaitonde corrupt to draw that extra dose of sympathy for Vijay Salgaonkar.
The subtle hint that the tough cop was rather indulgent towards her son, probably a factor behind his being the rascal that Sam is depicted to be, could also be construed to reinforce the inevitable guilt complex of a career woman. On that score, however, Kamat manages to dispel that through her husband’s assertion that they were probably over-indulgent as parents since the son came rather late in their life.
But the tigress-of-a-mother aspect of IG Deshmukh’s character, which gets her to disregard all policing norms despite her husband’s warning, combined with her final breakdown, somehow privileges the mother over the policewoman. There are reasons to feel uncomfortable about that. When will we ever learn to allow our women some degree of freedom from this ‘mother’ image?
When will we ever learn to allow our women some degree of freedom from this ‘mother’ image?
I am also somewhat troubled by Vijay Salgaonkar’s characterisation. He prefers sitting at his cable network office and watching movies rather than returning home at night to be with his family. He is too much of a penny-pincher to buy a mobile, but he has no qualms about keeping the receiver off the hook in his office, leaving his family no means of getting in touch with him even when they are in distress. It takes Sunny Leone visuals for him to go home for some intimate moments with his wife. But he leaves no stone unturned to protect his family from the unintended crime.
What is the message here? For women not to crib about an apparently uncaring husband/father? That no matter what, he will emerge as the larger-than-life protector in the moment of real crisis? Leaves my feathers ruffled, for I would rather have average men be a little more involved in the everyday lives of their wives and children than be the ultimate saviour from an unintended crime.
And finally, as a caring husband/father, is it okay to painstakingly train his wife and children how to lie without batting an eyelid to cover up an unintended crime, rather than providing them the courage and the confidence to face up to an unintended crime? Perhaps not, but then, such a Vijay Salgaonkar would be entirely unsuitable for Drishyam, where the core theme is the perfection with which he constructs the alibis and coaches his family to hold on to them.
What is the message here? For women not to crib about an apparently uncaring husband/father? That no matter what, he will emerge as the larger-than-life protector in the moment of real crisis?
I definitely do not want to suggest that the film should not have been made. But somehow, a man doing this for the woman he secretly loves is more acceptable than a father doing this to his children—especially in a culture where notions of parenting are still pretty pre-modern at many levels.