In Malayalam, “Drishyam” means “Visual” or “What is seen” – in this context, each movie is a “drishyam”. The director carefully chooses to show you what he wants you to see. He strings up the images in a certain fashion so that the narrative is built in your mind (remember the famous “Odessa steps” sequence?). In the process, he is like a magician, cheating your senses to create the visual he wants you to see – and you are willing to be fooled. The art of the movie, creating the illusion of movement by the juxtaposition of static images, is itself a form of cheating.
In “Drishyam”, the protagonist Georgekutty does a similar sleight-of-hand to create a fictitious alibi for his family, to save them from being indicted for a murder which they had to do. Being up against the system and very powerful people, he has no hope of any mercy from any quarter: he has only his sharp wits and the street knowledge he has picked up from watching movies (he is a cable TV operator) to pit against the powerful police force and the antagonism of one particular policeman. It is to the credit of the director and scriptwriter that Georgekutty succeeds in fooling us also till the very end of the movie. (I will stop my explanation here. Any more would be telling. See the movie!)
The movie works on many levels. First of all, it is an out-and-out thriller, without any of the trappings of traditional thrillers: there are no gunfights, no fistfights (“dishoom – dishoom”) and no hair-raising chases. Even though the theme is loaded with possibilities, there are no sex scenes (apart from a bit of loaded dialogue): a very adult theme has been handled with restraint. Suspense is built up gradually through intelligently cut scenes, rather than jump cuts and jarring music. The craft is near-perfect for an Indian film – my only complaint is that the film is a bit overlong, about twenty minutes could have been reduced by shortening the length of some scenes and reducing the initial “family” scenes.
Moving a little bit further in, it is the fight of David against Goliath that has really entranced the people. Police in India are not seen as trustworthy by a large part of the populace. They bend to (have to!) political pressure and corporate muscle: they are constrained by resources: and quite a few of them are corrupt (like the villain of the piece, Constable Sahadevan). Knowing this fully well, and knowing that they stand very little chance against the police behemoth, Georgekutty fights back with the only thing that is available to him: an astute brain. No wonder we root for him all the way.
If we dig down even deeper, ultimately we find the glorification of the family unit. Georgekutty tells his family: “As long as I am here, none of you will go to jail.” In a country where most government institutions are seen as failures, this is the assurance that keeps all of us going – our family will be there for us, whatever happens. Ultimately, I feel this is the reason behind the thundering success of the movie.