By now Drishyam – the original Malayalam version with Mohanlal – is like one of the epics. It’s as if the story is part of Indian folklore and everybody is remaking it and has their own version of it. The problem is Drishyam is not tweak-friendly like the Indian epics. The original director Jeethu Joseph and Kamal Haasan did something exceptional in Tamil, attempting some subtle changes. That’s why they are who they are. Otherwise, a large part of it is a business decision. So far we have had Kannada, Telugu, Tamil versions and now comes the Hindi one starring Ajay Devgn, Shriya Saran and Tabu. The Hindi version directed by Nishikant Kamat sticks to the original almost scene by scene (I haven’t watched the Telugu and Kannada versions).
I’ll admit to a certain weariness that comes with watching several versions of a heavily plot driven film like Drishyam. You lose the suspense or edge-of-the-seat factor and it is all more of the same. Kamat has made no attempt to change any aspect of the principal character or the facets of the setting like they did in Tamil. And one could very well ask why should he? This is the Hindi version and made strictly for people who haven’t watched the original or any of the other remakes. Vijay Salgoankar (Ajay Devgn) is a simple man with simple needs running a cable TV company – Mirage Cable, get it? – in a small town in Goa. Anything more is going to give away the plot. The Malayalam original is recreated as is but the performances are not up to the mark to repeat the magic. Vijay is shrewder and brighter than what he projects (therefore Drishyam) or his educational qualifications – he hasn’t studied beyond fourth grade – but that is cruelly reduced as knowledge he only borrows from cinema. His frugality is also an important quality in the film but the film is happy throwing only casual mentions of this. Kamat’s Drishyam is not necessarily a dumbed-down version. It’s a version that lacks the nuances that were aplenty in the writing of the Malayalam version. Devgn is a little too casual and one dimensional in playing his part that the theme of family, a very integral part of this story doesn’t come to the fore. The casting of Shriya Saran to play a mother of a teenager was always problematic and the performance doesn’t help in any way to mitigate that. As stiff as she is in intense scenes, it is also difficult to accept her as someone who needs the permission of her husband to go shopping in Panaji because her six months old clothes were too cheap and lost their colours. Kamat does well to bring in the diversity of the surroundings. There are Salgaonkars, Gaitondes and Deshmukhs of Goa and there is Martin running the cafe opposite Vijay’s office. The class divide and its politics is well retained here. There is a healthy mix of Hindi and Konkani (and Marathi I guess) in the dialogues that lends the setting a sprinkle of exactitude.
As for the best performance in the film look no further than Tabu. She gets a solid introduction as IG Meera Deshmukh and also missing Sam’s mother with equal parts aggression and vulnerability. The original had Asha Sarath who leaned a little on the theatrical side and gave a performance that was all attitude. Tabu changes it up a bit and underplays while still retaining that facade of assertion. The genius of the original Drishyam was about how well it married great writing, plot and at the same time stuck to all the mainstream wishes of a hero coming out in triumph. Therefore the film has a lot of mass-y scenes that were helped by the gravitas of Mohanlal (and Kamal Haasan in Tamil). Tabu is able to bring her act but Devgn simply cannot summon that kind of poise to make these moments work. That’s why Kamat’s Drishyam is a Tabu show all the way even though her part is effectively only in one half of the film.