Malayalam movie Drishyam has been in the news for the right reasons and the wrong. One of the biggest hits in recent times, Drishyam has been appreciated for the wonderful performances of its cast and the tight plot which keeps the audience at the edge of its seat till the end. However, some people have accused the director of plagiarizing the plot from an old Japanese novel. Director Jeethu Joseph has denied these allegations.
Following this controversy, a top cop from the Kerala Police Force recently said that the film is a bad influence - when you are being blackmailed by someone, you should approach the police and not take the law into your own hands. Jeethu Joseph has defended his film, claiming that this is a work of fiction and shows how some people react in some circumstances. And rightfully so, we think. If there was no murder to cover up, then where’s the story? Besides, this is not the first time that we’ve had the audience rooting for the criminal in the story – who can forget Sethu (Mohanlal) from Kirridam or the three hilarious ‘kidnappers’ from Ramji Rav Speaking? Justice and the law are sometimes not the same and as viewers, we leave the theatre after watching Drishyam with a sense of satisfaction that everyone got their just desserts. There is such a thing as poetic justice, after all!
However, there are some things that we wish Jeethu Joseph had done differently in the film. The plot hinges around the MMS that Varun (Roshan Basheer) makes of Georgekutty’s (Mohanlal) daughter bathing when she goes to a nature camp (after much cajoling with her parents). He threatens to upload the video on the internet if she doesn’t give in to his wishes. The girl confides in her mother, Rani (Meena), and she intervenes, begging the boy not to do so as the entire family will then have to kill themselves because they’d lose their ‘honour’.
It is here that one feels Jeethu Joseph could have re-imagined the narrative. To start with, the circumstance in which this incident happens reinforces the widely prevalent notion that sending girls outside the safety of their homes is dangerous. One can excuse this since the script demands that the victim and the criminal intersect somewhere – and given the story-line, it makes sense for it to happen outside the home.
However, Rani’s pleas only play up to the belief that if a girl ‘loses’ her ‘honour’, then the only possible solution is death. Not just for her but for her entire family. We’ve seen this idea surface time and again in films, even though in real life, survivors of sexual violence and their families are beginning to fight their battles without being cowed down by the fear of loss of ‘reputation’.
Many are the cases in which criminals have made videos of their sexual crimes, believing that these give them power over their victims… even though what they are actually doing is creating evidence of their crime!
What makes these men so fearless? What makes them believe they can get away with their shameful behaviour? The answer lies in the culture we live in that inextricably links a woman’s ‘virtue’ with her worth, including her right to live. A culture that we all help create and sustain in so many ways, including the films we make and watch.
Earlier in the film, Georgekutty cracks a misogynistic joke. Georgekutty spends most nights in his office watching movies. One night, he watches a sex scene on TV, gets turned on and goes home. His wife Rani, who guesses what must have happened, asks him jokingly what scene it was that turned him on today - a bathroom scene or some such thing. And Georgekutty jokingly says, 'Alla, balalsangam' (No, rape). To this, Rani replies, 'Adhuthaney vendi varum', meaning 'That might just be required.' One cannot help but cringe – it is such banter, which we often dismiss with a laugh, that helps perpetuate rape culture. Rape jokes are not funny; they invalidate the trauma of the victim and bolster the rapist’s sense of power. The joke is never on the criminal, it is on the victim. Was it necessary to have such an insensitive ‘joke’ in the script?
It may not sound like a big deal but it is necessary for all of us to re-think what we see as humour, given the alarming statistics on gender-based violence in this country. Coming back to the crux of the plot, Rani could have still confronted Varun and asked him to delete the MMS without using the language and reasons that she did. She could have still protested on behalf of her daughter and fought for her, without framing the issue in the problematic paradigm of honour but as a violation of her privacy and bodily integrity. The story would have still held good.
Drishyam, without a doubt, is an excellent film and it deserves every bit of its success. More people should watch it as it makes for good cinema. And this is also why it becomes necessary to talk about its flaws.
We hear that Drishyam will soon be remade in other languages, including Tamil. May we hope that the film will be rid of these flaws in its other avatars?
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Sowmya Rajendran is a children's writer who occasionally offers her words of wisdom to adults. She lives in Pune.