Director Nishikant Kamat’s Drishyam in Hindi, starring Ajay Devgn, follows in the footsteps of Kamal Haasan’s Papanasam (Tamil film released on July 3), which was born of Drishyam in Malayalam (2013) starring Mohanlal. Both the south films were directed by Jeethu Joseph based on his own script which was “inspired” by Devotion of Suspect X, an acclaimed 2005 Japanese novel by Keigo Higashino.
Drishyam’s long family tree is impressive. It has great pedigree. And its key role has been played by three much-loved luminaries of Indian cinema: Mohanlal, Kamal Haasan, Ajay Devgn.
That’s because Joseph very cleverly adapted a thrilling mystery and set it in the Indian context by adding two crucial desi elements — cinema and parivaar, and placed at its centre an interesting morality play that involves a protagonist who goes from being a wimp to a stalwart for the sake of his family and its izzat.
This Drishyam, subtitled Visuals Can be Deceptive, is set in a small, slow village in Goa, where Vijay Salgaonkar (Ajay Devgn) lives. An illiterate — he couldn’t clear Class 4 — and an orphan, he now has a family and runs a small cable TV business. He often doesn’t return home at night to his family, preferring to stay in his office and watch films. He watches everything — action flicks, mysteries, thrillers, court room dramas, adult stuff, silly serials.
During the day he goes for tea and lunch to Martin’s Corner, a small restaurant that sits across the road from the village’s two police stations — the old, crumbling one and the new one that’s under construction. Sub-inspector Gaitonde (Kamlesh Sawant) also visits Martin’s Corner for tea and lunch, but never pays.
A lot of time is spent in establishing Vijay’s character. He hates Gaitonde because he’s corrupt and won’t stop taunting him, gently.
Though Vijay loves his family dearly, he is stingy. His soft-spoken wife Nandini (Shriya Saran) and two sweet daughters have to literally extract family outings from him that involve shopping and ice-cream.
So when his eldest daughter talks about going to a nature camp organised by the school, he’s reluctant because it’ll cost Rs 1,800. But agrees eventually.
On the camp she (Ishita Dutta) meets one Sam Deshmukh who, on return, walks into the lives of the Salgaonkar parivaar, threatening everything. A hadsa takes place which soon demands the personal attention and intervention of Meera Deshmukh (Tabu), Goa’s inspector-general of police.
The small, simple Salgaonkar family of one man and three women is up against the might of the state’s police. And the only thing protecting them is Vijay’s brilliant manipulation.
The film cleverly places us on the side of the Salgaonkars by invoking honour. And then, through its characters, creates an interesting tango of morality.
The IG is a tough cop who has no qualms using the third degree. But she’s also a worried mother who is after the truth. Then there’s Vijay — a simple man who speaks against corruption, only to take a different view of a crime when things get personal. And, finally, there’s Gaitonde — a corrupt-to-the-core cop who doesn’t like Vijay. But when Gaitonde starts telling the truth, his own team disbelieves him.
There’s a delightful sting in Drishyam’s tail. But we mostly trudge to it rather than sprint.
Nishikant Kamat, who made the fabulous Dombivili Fast (Marathi, 2005), is not in very good form here. His Drishyam is erratic, both in narrative and acting — it’s good and tight one minute and slack and stupid the next. That’s partly because though Joseph’s story is interesting, Upendra Sidhaye’s screenplay is inconsistent — detailed and clever when it’s telling and solving the mystery, but slack and dull for the rest of the time.
Ajay Devgn plays an interesting character well by underplaying it. But he too is inconsistent. He’s a middle-class man in one scene, and a swaggering rakshak in the other. This would have worked if he had give his character some inwardness. To be fair, the script doesn’t help him. But with the same script, Hassan was able to bring alive the character with interesting bits and bubbles that Ajay, like Mohanlal, isn’t able to do.
Also, he’s not helped much by his colleagues and the director. There are too many dull scenes made worse by bad acting by most of the cast, except Kamlesh Sawant who plays Gaitonde. He’s outstanding.
But then there’s Rajat Kapoor. He is so terrible in some scenes that even when he’s grieving it’s funny.
Strangely, Tabu, whose IG Meera in uniform gets a dramatic hero’s entry, does absolutely nothing. Sure, it’s only an outline of a character. But there are intense scenes she sleepwalks through in terribly distracting falsies.