By any yardstick, the 2013 blockbuster Drishyam is a hard act to follow. Writer-director Jeethu Joseph's crime thriller starring Mohanlal, Meena, Asha Sharath and Siddique was so well-rounded in the writing and execution of its murder-and-subsequent-cover-up mystery and such a box-office superhit that it was remade in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and Kannada, headlined by some of the biggest male stars of those industries, in addition to foreign revisitations in Sinhalese and Mandarin.
At the time, Jeethu was questioned about his script drawing on Japanese novelist Keigo Higashino's The Devotion of Suspect X, but he denied the charge and said he was inspired instead by a real-life incident. Be that as it may, Drishyam 2 is all the redemption he needs. In a country that does not have a great track record with whodunnits, pulling off a brilliant howdunnit and howhegotawaywithit like Drishyam was an achievement. Returning with a howhe'sstillgettingawaywithit and actually pulling it off is nothing short of incredible.
Drishyam 2 is a surprisingly satisfying sequel to a spectacular first film.
Jeethu Joseph's new crime drama is set in the same Kerala town where the events of its precursor took place. Georgekutty (Mohanlal) is now the owner of a cinema theatre. His prosperity is reflected in the larger, posher house he currently occupies with his wife Rani (Meena) and their daughters Anju (Ansiba) and Anu (Esther Anil) on the same land where they earlier lived. He is still movie crazy. Rani and he are still a committed couple yet constantly sniping at each other as before. And they are still a rock-solid team in the upbringing of their girls.
The difference between then and now is twofold. First, the townsfolk had backed the family when IG Geetha Prabhakar (Asha Sharath) got after them on the suspicion that they killed her son. They are not so supportive any more, driven as they are by jealousy at Georgekutty's rise in life.
Second, the experiences of Drishyam have had a deep psychological impact on both Rani and Anju. Rani is tormented by Georgekutty's refusal to ever discuss what happened back then. The first half of Drishyam 2 constructs their continuing trauma and gradually establishes the fact that the police never gave up on the case. The second half is about the resumed investigation.
Like romances that end on happily ever after and steer clear of uncomfortable truths in everyone's "after", suspense sagas require viewers not to think too much about what happens once the curtain falls. Drishyam 2 is clever in the way it smoothly slips back into the world of Drishyam and explores in the most believable fashion occurrences that would be inevitable if such a crime were to be committed in real life.
The result is that nothing about Drishyam 2 feels contrived, nor does it come across as an opportunistic effort to cash in on the success of Drishyam. On the contrary, it now feels as if Part 1 is incomplete without Part 2.
This is not to suggest that Drishyam 2 is flawless. Without giving away any spoilers, let us just say that the first big break the police get here comes through a means employed ostensibly without the multiple clearances it would require from various authorities. Yet the officer responsible for this decision is later shown to be a stickler for legal processes. Why would a man who otherwise goes by the book risk engaging in an extra-legal activity, when any evidence thus gathered cannot stand in a court of law?
Even with this loophole, Drishyam 2 is an enjoyable experience, not only because of the tension of wondering whether Georgekutty, Rani and their daughters will finally crack, but also because Jeethu paints a convincing picture of small-town life, displays an understanding of human psychology and ties up most other loose ends neatly.
Of course this is still a patriarchal universe that rests on the father-as-protector trope. And in a fleeting moment that adds absolutely nothing to the plotline, a policeman is shown loudly stating that laws to protect women are misused " removing that line would have taken nothing away from the film, but the fact that the writer chose to feature it does indicate a bias in a real-life scenario where this claim is incessantly used to discredit women survivors of violence by people who never rant about the reality that men have forever misused every law and system in existence.
Forgive these missteps, and there is great fun to be had in watching Drishyam's plot hurtle towards the moving and thoughtful finale. It does take time " perhaps too much time " to pick up pace in the first half and a long song to illustrate Rani's state of mind does feel superfluous, but after an exciting twist at the mid-point, (that I assume would have been the interval if the film had been released in theatres), it is unrelenting.
As a man who always feared that he might one day be found out, Mohanlal in Drishyam 2 is the actor we know he is capable of being when he is not wasting his natural talent on overbearingly loud, spiced-up conventional commercial cinema. He is pitch perfect in his return as Georgekutty, as is Meena, who gets a much more substantial part in the proceedings this time round.
Ansiba and Esther Anil have less to do here than in Drishyam, but they are effective in their small parts.
Asha Sarath and Siddique are just wonderful as Geetha and Prabhakar, the tortured parents desperate for closure. Jeethu sparkles in the writing of these two, retaining empathy for Georgekutty and Rani without at any point villainising the other couple. The flash of humanity that Geetha in particular retains despite her heartbreak and the rage she directs at Georgekutty is the little touch that makes Drishyam special.
Among the additions to the cast this time round, Murali Gopi stands out for his efficient portrayal of a determined policeman. And Anjali Nair is excellent in a crucial supporting part.
When I first heard that Jeethu Joseph was making a sequel to Drishyam, I was cynical. I mean, c'mon, why? Too many film and serial makers have been done in by their inability to stop when the going's good, the most recent example in the suspense arena being the disappointing Season 2 of the series' Big Little Lies that smashed it out of the park with Season 1. Drishyam was too well done for its legacy to be disturbed by a poor sequel.
But guess what, viewers? That cynicism was misplaced. Jeethu Joseph has dunnit. He really has.
Drishyam 2 is streaming on Amazon Prime Video