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A killer follow-up act

Aditya Mani Jha | Updated on February 22, 2021

Deft touch: It’s a marvel to see Mohanlal’s demeanour and body language change ever so subtly whenever his character Georgekutty is on the defensive   -  IMAGE COURTESY: AMAZON PRIME

Against considerable odds, 'Drishyam 2' delivers a story that’s just as good as — if not better than — the original. Only a brave man would bet against Jeethu Joseph and Mohanlal outdoing themselves in a third part

* The PTSD depicted in Drishyam 2’s first 30 minutes hits that much harder when you have gone through the harrowing last 30 minutes of Drishyam (2013)

* Mohanlal’s outstanding work in Drishyam 2 is a reminder that given the right script, Malayalam cinema’s phenom can still turn it on big time

* The denouement also announces its meta ambitions

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How much should a sequel depend upon the audience’s familiarity with the original movie? It’s an interesting problem.

Generally speaking, sequels tend to be judged by the new features they bring to the table — the shocking death of a major character, perhaps, or an ominous new villain announcing their arrival in the sequel’s first act. From a commercial point of view, franchise producers aim for a rarely achieved sweet spot: Sequels should be ‘standalone’ enough to reel in all-new audiences while still rewarding those who’ve come back to the table for seconds. Marvel, for example, has approached its sequels this way over the last two or three years (Thor: Ragnarok is a great example).

Jeethu Joseph’s Drishyam 2, which was released on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, makes its choice loud and clear with its first act — these are twin stories, separated by six years in the internal chronology. The PTSD depicted in Drishyam 2’s first 30 minutes hits that much harder when you have gone through the harrowing last 30 minutes of Drishyam (2013), where Georgekutty (Mohanlal), his wife Rani (Meena) and their daughters Anju (Ansiba Hassan) and Anu (Esther Anil) were all thrashed mercilessly while in police custody. Anju, the story went, had inadvertently killed Varun, the son of DIG Geetha Prabhakar.

Drishyam 2’s first half artfully depicts the individual fallouts from that ordeal, while also setting the stage for a full-blown revival of the police’s ill-fated investigation six years earlier. Georgekutty, now more confident and the owner of the new theatre in town, chooses blanket denial, refusing to talk about the past. He also sinks money in an ongoing film-making venture, much to Rani’s frustration — as we know from the first film, cinema and cinematic devices are crucial to the way Georgekutty thinks.

These choices end up boxing the already-traumatised Rani into a corner. She has no real confidante and, besides, she is worried that the whispers against her family are hurting Anju’s marriage prospects. Anju, meanwhile, struggles with night terrors and occasional fits of epilepsy. Men in uniform are a major trigger for her; these are difficult scenes to watch and Ansiba Hassan does a fine job.

All of this is framed in philosophical terms: Is it really a blessing to get away with murder (or in Drishyam’s case, manslaughter, since Anju did not intend to kill Varun)? Or is it in fact the beginning of a different kind of punishment, a life spent looking over one’s shoulders? It’s a bold move on Joseph’s part to assemble the whole first half of an out-an-out thriller with this slow-burning, almost noir-like existentialism.

Without giving away spoilers from the first film, let’s just say that by the halfway mark of Drishyam 2, Georgekutty’s big Houdini move from six years ago has been well and truly undone. Former DIG Prabhakar (Asha Sarath) is back with an old and formidable ally in tow, the new IG Thomas Bastin (Murali Gopy, excellent). With the investigation into Varun’s disappearance reopened, she tears into Georgekutty and his family all over again — Sarath is a lot of fun to watch here, her eyes blazing with righteous fury and just the right amount of dysfunctionality (this is a woman whose life turned upside down six years ago).

Mohanlal’s performance, however, remains the crown jewel. This remarkable actor may not have much left to prove after four decades and 300-plus movies. It’s true that over the last few years, he has been churning out a great many formulaic action movies. But his outstanding work in Drishyam 2 is a reminder that given the right script, Malayalam cinema’s phenom can still turn it on big time.

Georgekutty continues to be a compelling hero with two distinct personas. There’s the endlessly polite, cautious local businessman, grown a little bit complacent with age, like an affable elderly cat sunning herself in winter. And then there’s the tautly strung man of action willing to push moral and legal boundaries in order to win — it’s a marvel to see Mohanlal’s demeanour and body language change ever so subtly whenever Georgekutty is playing defence, so to speak. It’s like watching one of those viral videos where a much smaller animal protects their offspring from the clutches of an apex predator (a cheetah or a lion), using the element of surprise.

The denouement of Drishyam 2 also announces its meta ambitions. By externalising the events of the first film (into a novel that Georgekutty has written, a thinly veiled summary of the original investigation), Joseph allows himself the luxury of ‘debating’ the various ways Georgekutty’s story might end. It’s a smart narrative choice and reminiscent of the meta machinations of Wes Craven’s Scream series.

Can they keep the fun going for a third part? I don’t see why not. Against considerable odds (how do you top that ending?), Drishyam 2 delivers a story that’s just as good as, if not better than, the original. Only a brave man would bet against Joseph and Mohanlal outdoing themselves again, a few years down the line.

Aditya Mani Jha is a Delhi-based writer

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Published on February 22, 2021
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