Forgive me if this sounds patronising but it definitely is not meant to be. I'd always heard that the market for Malayalam movies was not big (monetarily) and so I'd imagined that their movie budgets would be low (discounting for the star salaries) resulting in poor production values. Not true.
I was also under the impression that Mollywood either churned out loud, trashy, nonsensical films or boring, arthouse flicks. Not true.
A 165 minute thriller. With just 2 songs. A second half which is significantly longer than the first. An overall lazy and languid style of film-making. It just wouldn't work for me. Not true.
Meditative silences randomly interspersed with long, dramatic monologues characteristic of radio shows / TV serials of the 80s (remember them??). How can it succeed? It just did.
Drishyam released in December and ever since, I'd been hearing nothing but rave reviews about the film. It seemed to be one of those rare Malayalam movies that seemed to have won over both the fans and critics in equal measure. Racking up an incredible 50 crore, the movie's success was attributed to the fact that besides connecting with the die-hard Lalettan fans & the important family audience, it pulled in a lot of non-Malayalam speaking crowds outside of Kerala and even abroad. With this as the context, I had been meaning to see the film for quite some time but my only concern was the language barrier. Bangalore does not have a Sathyam cinemas to screen movies with subtitles & so as I dithered and the movie crawled into its 7th week of running, it finally came down to just one 10 am show at PVR, Koramangla....and that's when I heard Kamal was planning to remake it in Tamil with Gautami and Nadia. *shudder* Flashback to Unnaipol Oruvan and A Wednesday *shudder shudder*
My mind was made and I finally saw the movie this week. WOWWWWWWWWWWWWWW....Yes, I got only 80-90% of the dialogues and would have loved to see it with people who know the language better but the film absolutely lived up to the hype.
What worked for me:
The script & screenplay: Whoever thought a thriller with strong human drama elements could keep an audience hooked for 165 minutes. Despite the slow pacing, I never found myself getting restless and could hardly wait for the next scene to unfold and the story to move forward. The twists were logical and the attention to detail was meticulous. The only complaint I had was the excessive amount of explanatory scenes but I guess that's a compromise the director had to make the film more accessible.
Camera-work: Sujith Vasudev's cinematography was top notch and the very first scene shot inside a rickety local bus itself was an apt pre-cursor of things to follow. Lovingly mounted shots of life in small town Kerala and some innovative framing (angles, lighting) techniques made this movie a soothing sight for tired eyes.
Characterisation: Every single character was very well fleshed out and they stayed in my mind long after the movie ended. While you can never justify why some of them reacted/behaved the way they did, you could understand their motivations for doing so and that was where the writer won. There was no clear but overly simmplistic black or white, there was grey and various hues and shades of the colour.
The casting & performances: I'm not familiar with the works of most of the supporting cast but there wasn't a a single over-the-top or off-note performance from anyone in the cast. The supporting actors be it the rich industrialist (Siddique) or his IG wife (Asha Sarath), the in-laws (Sreekumar and Shobha Mohan) of the hero or even his two young daughters (Aansiba and Baby Ester) were consistently brilliant as were the canteen owner & the office assistant. Meena as Rani George is quietly competent but the show-stealers are Mohanlal as Georgekutty (another chameleonic act) and Kalabhavan Shajon as the lead antagonist Sahadevan. These two alone are reason enough to merit a repeat watch.
The direction: All things aside, the real hero of the film is the man at the helm, Jeethu Joseph. This film is ample proof that we have in our midst, a man with genuine story-telling prowess, one with exceptional control over his craft and an ability to keep us engaged without any needless gimmicks.
A movie as successful as this cannot be without its share of controversies and I am not talking about the plagiarism part here. There has been an incredible amount of heated arguments and internet chatter on the propriety of Georgekutty's actions but here is how I see it
There is always a correct/right (legally of course) way of handling a problem or a crisis and then there are other ways. What Drishyam does not DO is take a firm stance in one side or even justify the choice its protagonist makes. Different people put in the same spot might react differently and since the movie is a work of fiction, the director just makes a choice on which route Georgekutty takes. They say "Art imitates life and vice versa" but it would be ridiculous to blame the director for propogating the view that it is fine to take the law in one's hands as long as the ends justify the means.
I've never ever tried to put myself in the shoes of a fictional character and decide at a moral crossroads but if I had to, I swear I would have done exactly the same (or even more) as what Georgekutty does. Parenthood sure does strange things to you !!!
Final words: This is a must-not-miss movie. I could not give it a more ringing endorsement than what I have hopefully done above. Catch it in a theatre asap before you miss out