Review of Malayalam movie Drishyam 2: The other side of truth

Print edition : March 26, 2021

A still from “Drishyam 2: The Resumption” featuring Esther Anil, Meena, Ansiba and Mohanlal. A nail-biting thriller, the movie raises questions about crime and punishment, sin and guilt, repentance and redemption.

Murali Gopy, Siddique and Asha Sharath in a scene from “Drishyam 2”. The film ends up as a morbid game between the aggrieved family and police hounds.

The sequel to Drishyam in many ways encapsulates the post-truth world we live in, where everything is in flux, and competing versions of ‘truth’ vie for public attention, inflame collective opinion and even set the political agenda.

The timing and mode of release of Drishyam 2: The Resumption could not have been more perfect. The pandemic-imposed social distancing norms, the paranoia about contact with strangers, and compulsory family seclusion provided the perfect setting for a film about a similar state of mind. It is about a family that is distanced socially, paranoid about strangers and for whom any contact with the outside world can turn fatal. Providing the larger setting is a social system where only influence and money matter, community relations are more about utility than bonding, and neighbourhood ethos is more of gossip than care. So, bypassing the social space of theatres and reaching out to home screens directly through OTT (over-the-top) release vibes well with the film’s theme too.

The film is about a family, hunted by the system, evading its clutches. With a crime to hide, everyday life in the family has been on edge for years. To incriminate them in what was an impulsive act of self-defence, the entire police machinery works overtime; it snoops, scares, conspires and uses mental and physical pressure to trap the family. What other option does the family have but to turn the rules of the game set by the opponent against itself? Georgekutty, the protagonist (played by Mohanlal), does that with great elan and skill, which is also why the viewers are all on his side rather than the system.

If Drishyam 1 was a family drama of crime, the sequel is primarily a crime thriller where the family takes on the whole system, society and the world. It is not the usual investigation thriller that progresses by tracing evidences, unravelling the plot and cornering the villain in the climax. Rather, it is a crime story in reverse; everyone—the police, the people and the aggrieved—knows who the murderer is; here, the whole effort is to find the evidence to link him to the act.

In the prequel, Georgekutty fools the system by fabricating evidence, recreating the day of the crime and manipulating the witnesses. That he could bury the body—the clinching evidence—in the most unlikely of places is what protects him from the arms of the law. But he is fully aware that the remains could be found any day. So, as the police is hell-bent on finding it, his life-mission is to divert and confuse them. It is one man’s and his family’s fight against the world, with no public sympathy or political cover to help them. He foresees all the possible scenarios, scripts them in detail, and also keeps a constant watch on his tormentors. He is fully aware that it is a long-drawn-out struggle where anything can happen, and anybody could be an informer. His entire life is a nightmare that shrinks into a constant replay of potential events that the finding of the remains could trigger. It may or may not happen; it may happen now, later or never, but he has to be prepared and ready.

It is this one-track mind that saves him at the end and keeps him one step ahead of the system. But the price he pays for it is his happiness and the future of his wife and children. They live in the shadow of danger, religiously following his script they have rehearsed ad nauseum. Without a moment of ease or self-abandonment, it is a life lived in perpetual fear.

The long shadow of crime

Drishyam narrates the tussle between two crimes (Varun’s attempted sexual assault followed by his murder), two systems (institution of the family and the legal system), and two families (that of Georgekutty and Geetha Prabhakar, ex police chief and Varun’s mother). At the end of Drishyam 1, when Varun’s father pleads with Georgekutty to reveal the truth about his son, the latter gives him an enigmatic but definitive reply: “My family is my world, I haven’t dreamt of a world beyond that. An uninvited guest intruded into our private world, who was capable of destroying it. He didn’t heed our pleas, and in a moment of panic, we sent that guest back, making sure that he would never return to ruin our life.”

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Although Varun’s parents retreat from the scene, they come back more viciously in the sequel to take revenge and settle scores. Everything ‘legal’ and ‘systemic’ is in their favour; they have the police force, administrative system and legal institutions to work for them. At the other end, Georgekutty is all alone in this never-ending, nerve-racking battle. The systemic bias is evident from the fact that there is not even a passing mention, leave alone admission of guilt, about Varun’s attempted sexual assault that eventually led to his murder. Even in the informal discussion between the judge and the Inspector General at the end of the movie, the concern is more about the lack of systemic support for the police force to punish such killers. Evidently, it is a “law and order” world where justice is of no consequence, and the powerful and influential can have their way. Georgekutty, who is at the receiving end, is bound to be its dark other. It is this utter insularity and deliberate disconnect from any form of reciprocity or sociality that closes any possibility of repentance, redemption or transformation. It is nothing but endless resumption of fear and revenge.

Two murderers

Georgekutty and Jose George, both from the same village, are party to a crime on the same day, but the trajectories of their life after the crime follow opposite directions. Drishyam 2 begins with a flashback from that fateful night: Jose, running away after murdering his brother-in-law, happens to see Georgekutty at the construction site of the police station. They are both fugitives from law and party to inadvertent murders. Both run away from its consequences: Jose is caught the same night, is convicted and jailed. The other smartly evades conviction. For both of them family is supreme: Georgekutty will go any extent to protect his family, and Jose, though shunned by his family after release from jail, is desperate to win it back and is ready to do anything for that. Finally, it is Jose who proves to be Georgekutty’s nemesis: it is his testimony that leads the police to where the body is buried and reopen the case.

What are these parallel stories doing in Drishyam? Is Jose, who is caught and punished, the counterpoint to Georgekutty, who evades and eludes capture? Does Jose’s fate—his arrest, conviction and miserable life thereafter—point to the trajectory that Georgekutty’s life would have taken if he was/is caught? Maybe. But when it comes to family rules, the lessons are stark and clear: Georgekutty succeeds in protecting his family, while Jose wrecks it by getting caught in the net of law. While Georgekutty owns up his daughter’s crime, Jose’s wife rejects him. Jose kills an insider and a member of the family, while Varun is an intruder into the family.

Gendered terms

The difference is also gendered: in the case of Jose, the crime is committed by him, a man. But in Georgekutty’s case it is committed by a woman, his daughter, and hence it is to be hidden and erased from personal memory and public visibility. Jose’s crime, though done in a fit of rage, breaks his family forever, while in the case of Anju (the daughter), it unites and binds the family even more closely. As the family is the be-all and end-all of life and the world in the film, the punishment for breaking family rules or not standing up for it is always harsh.

At the centre of morality and law of the family are women and their chastity. They have to be constantly protected from the outside world. All the women in the film lean on their men or are damaged internally. Rani (the wife) is scared, insecure and nervous and proves to be vulnerable by spilling secrets. Anju, the murderer, is now paranoid and epileptic and needs constant care. Anu, the younger sister, too, is scared but careless and almost falls into her classmate’s trap.

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On the other side, Geetha Prabhakar is the revengeful mother, who is ready to go to any extent to punish Georgekutty’s family. She does not even hesitate to harass the epileptic Anju or to torture a minor to wreak vengeance. Only men are capable of keeping their cool, of being conscientious and taking control of things. Many a time, Prabhakar has pangs of guilt and cautions his wife about crossing limits, but at no point does Geetha have any qualms about her act or feelings of remorse about her son being a stalker.

Thomas Bastian, the police chief who now investigates the case, considers it a war, which he refuses to lose. Women are in need of protection, control, guidance, approval and monitoring. To ensure the safety (and honour) of the family, women have to be insulated from the world. If at all they venture out of the family or mix with the outside world, it leads to trouble.

It is Anju’s nature club trip that brings her into contact with Varun. In the sequel, Georgekutty cleverly arranges the sleepover of Anu and her friends at his own home. But even then, Anu almost falls into the trap laid by the police through her classmate, who tries to trick her to reveal the secret by pretending to do a short film. In the case of Rani, the only friendship that she develops, with her neighbour Saritha, proves to be treacherous and fatal. The women in the family are not even allowed to own up or take the agency even for the crime they have committed themselves. Instead, Georgekutty rescripts the whole thing to take all the blame and erases all traces of their involvement in it. In stark contrast to the women, all the contacts that Georgekutty makes with the world are deliberate, all his moves are planned and scripted. He scripts the family’s future and any digression from his script is dangerous and fatal.

As it progresses, the film turns into a mind game between two men—Georgekutty and Thomas Bastian—who mastermind every move. If Georgekutty takes upon himself the crime of the women in his family, Bastian takes over the investigation from his female colleague and vows to take revenge on her behalf. In this manly world, women constitute risk (of being enticed by men and the outside world), weakness (of spilling secrets), failure (to succeed in one’s professional life), moral turpitude (bending and breaking rules), and even treachery (more than Sabu, it is Saritha who betrays her trusting neighbour). Women hide, snoop, abuse, rave, rant, murder and spill, while men cover, control, direct and script events.

From cable television to cinema and CCTV vision

The title of the film means ‘visual’ or what is visible: in the film, it extends to what is seen and also what can be made visible (evidence) and registered in one’s mind (memory). Both films employ, produce, manipulate and record different kinds of visuals and modes of visualising. In the prequel, Georgekutty is more dependent on and involved with his cable television channel (Rani Vision). An avid and compulsive film-viewer, he draws inspiration from movies to find ways to cover up the murder and escape the police net.

When it comes to the sequel, he has moved forward in the register of visuals and its technologies. If he dreamt of buying a theatre earlier, in the sequel he already owns a movie hall (also named Rani). He also has CCTV cameras in his channel TV office to monitor the outside world. Apart from publishing a novel titled ‘Drishyam’, he is busy scripting a film based on it, which he plans to direct. It eventually turns out to be the script of what happens in reality. So, from being a victim of vision and visual evidences, Georgekutty becomes a producer and surveyor of images. He looks out and looks ahead in time; his cameras are pointed towards the police station to monitor the moves of the outside world.

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Obviously, he is one step ahead of the system, which can only capture sound by bugging his house, and employ shadow police as neighbours. While the police listen and follow, Georgekutty looks and watches. While the police probe into the past and present, he scripts the future. If he used available visuals and fabricated memories and tutored witnesses in the prequel to evade the system, in Drishyam 2 he scripts reality, produces and monitors images, and manufactures experiences and accomplices.

Troubling questions

Apart from being a nail-biting thriller, Drishyam 2 raises troubling questions about crime and punishment, sin and guilt, repentance and redemption. What is the punishment equal to a crime? Who decides and administers it? Legal thinkers make a distinction between sin and crime, though both are always considered reprehensible. If sin is a breach of moral law, crime is a violation of the written law.

In Georgekutty’s case, he draws his inner strength and moral courage from the conviction that what he and his family committed maybe a crime, but not a sin. What they did was not a deliberate act, but an act of self-defence against a violent intruder into their private world. So, he may be guilty in court but not before his conscience. Georgekutty himself admits that his family is subjected to a lifelong punishment of living in constant fear. So, should they be punished? If so, how, of what kind and for how long? And is punishment meant to reform criminals, assuage the aggrieved or to warn society at large?

The film is averse to probing any such moral issues and ethical conflicts, either at the individual or social/systemic levels. Failing to explore or express any kind of personal-transformative or social-redemptive dimensions, the film ends up as a morbid game between the aggrieved family and police hounds. There is not even an iota of doubt, a moment of rethink, or space for self-reflection. No one bothers to go back to the cause, circumstances and nature of the crime, nor are questions of justice ever raised. Nothing is proven—we only have Georgekutty’s version of what happened—and no one is brought to book or punished. In such a scenario, it is all about vengefulness and survival, traps and escapades, and endless processes of mutual surveillance and suspicion. As the judge remarks, there is no dearth of unsolved cases, and Georgekutty’s can easily be yet another.

This non-closure in many ways encapsulates the post-truth world we live in, where everything is in flux, and competing versions of ‘truth’ vie for public attention, inflame collective opinion and even set the political agenda. In such a post-moral world, everything is permitted: snooping into people’s homes, abusing minors, and also burying evidence and fabricating accomplices. The whole world shrinks into the confines of the four walls of home: and it is family and familial love above law and social justice, survival and revenge above life and redemption, and most crucially and definitively, man above woman.