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In making a semi-educated middle-class family man brave all odds and outsmart a corrupt system built to walk all over him, the Drishyam films give a sense of poetic justice. Because when a Vijay Salgaonkar wins, countless nameless, faceless Indians with bowed heads and silenced voices win too.
Seven years after an everyman hoodwinked the Goa police to save his family from the repercussions of having accidentally killed the bratty son of the Inspector General, the controversial case of the Salgaonkars has reopened.
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Although Drishyam 2 starts with a parallel incident that happened on the same night when Vijay Salgaonkar (Ajay Devgn) buried the teen’s body at the under-construction Pondolem police station in 2014, it is set in the present. Vijay is now a wealthy man. Along with his cable business, he now also owns a theatre and is producing a film. Despite the constant chatter around him and the furtive glances, he remains unfazed, nonplussed as if the incidents on the intervening night of October 2-3 never happened.
Meanwhile, the former IG Meera Deshmukh (Tabu) is back in town to commemorate her dead son’s birth anniversary. She is still nursing the wound that she refuses to let heal. Time has not numbed her vendetta. In fact, it has only invigorated it. She still wants what she did in Drishyam (2015)—the remains of her son’s body and all of the Salgaonkars behind the bars.
Drishyam became what it did because it presented a singular clash between two parents, one adamant to protect his own, the other to find hers. One could not win without the other losing, their chase constantly blurring the lines between right and wrong. Though the sequel directed by Abhishek Pathak tries to retain this conflict, it’s not as sharp or thrilling as the original.
Several reasons are responsible. To start with, no longer a part of the police force, Meera only participates in the investigation from the fringes, which drains all the blood off the hunt. Tarun Ahlawat (Akshaye Khanna) replaces her as the new IG. The film tries hard to establish him as an eccentric genius but he does precious little other than scowling and trying to build forced tension.
Then there’s the first half—slow as a snail. It’s as if writers Pathak, Aamil Keeyan Khan, and Jeethu Joseph (who has directed the two Malayalam originals) want to show you the details but don’t want you to see anything, using the first hour to visually illustrate the film’s opening voiceover: “It’s not about what’s in front of your eyes, it’s about what you see.” The tiny, seemingly irrelevant, and disjointed details begin to make sense only after the dots start to connect post interval with an intensity that jerks you out of passivity. Even if the first half’s unhurried pace is intended, it is painfully laborious.
Then there are shaky performances that range from weak to wasted. Throughout the movie, Devgn confuses stoicism with restraint. For a film that deals with the aftermath of an unfortunate incident that causes an upheaval in a family’s domestic life, changing it irrevocably, Devgn — who is at the heart of it all — remains surprisingly opaque. We never know what is going on in his head. Sure, it is a part of the construct on which this crime thriller firmly stands but not making the audience privy to his inner turmoil at all chips away at Vijay’s humanity. He never shows any of the emotions that his wife Nandini (Shriya Saran) dials up to an uncomfortable extreme.
There is little for Tabu, Rajat Kapoor (Meera’s husband), and Ishita Dutta (the elder Salgaonkar daughter) to do. Even Khanna’s act feels like a parody. But a film of the Drishyam franchise can sail through all of this and much worse, comfortably cushioned by its infallible story. In making a semi-educated middle-class family man brave all odds and outsmart a corrupt system built to walk all over him (yet again), the Drishyam films give a sense of poetic justice. Because when a Vijay Salgaonkar wins, countless nameless, faceless Indians with bowed heads and silenced voices win too.
Watch out for the second half. Its swiftness and velocity are contagious. Though the big plot twist at the end might feel outlandish, it isn’t entirely improbable. The Drishyam films are more of a survival drama than a crime thriller. As anyone who has survived a catastrophe will tell you, getting out requires superhuman endurance, elaborate planning, and audacious hope. But then, does one ever really get out?
The Hindi remake of the Malayalam original, Drishyam 2 is playing at a theatre near you.
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First Published: Nov 18, 2022 8:28 PM IST