*MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Drishyam 2, the sequel to Jeethu Joseph's 2013 blockbuster, has been the talk of the town ever since it released on February 19 on Amazon Prime Video. This time though, the discussions are not only on the plot and the performances; they're also on the original crime that triggers the events that unfold.
A privileged young man, Varun Prabhakar, films Anju (Ansiba Hassan), a young girl, in the nude when they are at a nature camp together and threatens to leak her video unless she provides him sexual favours. A frightened Anju confides in her mother Rani (Meena) and the two of them meet Varun at night, hoping to persuade him to delete the video. However, Varun not only refuses to do so, he also threatens to sexually assault Rani, prompting Anju to hit him on the head and kill him inadvertently. What follows is the family's desperate attempts to cover up the crime, with the father Georgekutty (Mohanlal) engineering a masterplan to hoodwink the police.
While I enjoyed the first film very much, I was deeply disturbed by the language that Rani uses to try and change Varun's mind. She says that the family will have no option but to kill themselves if their honour is tarnished due to the video. Further, though both her parents are reluctant to send her to the camp (Rani because she believes it's unsafe for a girl and Georgekutty because it's expensive), it is Anju who does not relent and gets her way. What happens at the camp almost validates Rani's fears -- that a young girl always needs to be under the supervision and protection of her family.
It can be argued that the film is set in Rajakkad, a small town in Idukki, and that such thoughts only reflect prevailing social norms. Rani is, after all, characterised as a somewhat naive woman who desires to live an upper class life but can't let go of her conservative, small town mindset. And it is indeed true that most families in such a scenario, urban or rural, will respond with shock and concern over what society would say if such a video comes out. The shame of sexual crimes still rests on the victims and not the perpetrators. But that said, it's also true that a popular medium like cinema reiterating such notions without challenging them only goes to strengthen such ideas.
A filmmaker at this juncture has at least three choices ahead of them. One, stick to the prevailing social norms, even if they are regressive; two, have the victim(s) rebel against the idea and question it openly -- but this would mean that Drishyam would have had a very different kind of family and the plot, too, would have taken an entirely different trajectory.
But there is a third choice -- where after their panicked response, the characters have time to think about what happened and at least one parent tells Anju that a leaked video shouldn't be considered the end of her life. Considering they have another daughter, Anu (Esther Anil), who is witness to the incidents, such a conversation would have fit the script organically and without sounding preachy. However, Drishyam did not have such a moment and neither did its remake.
When I critiqued the film from this perspective back in the day on another platform, I received a barrage of abuse from offended Mohanlal fans (though my quarrel really was with Jeethu Joseph). Eight years on, however, there is more discussion and debate on how films deal with sexual violence. There is also a shift in how society views such crimes, with victim blaming narratives called out in the media and social media equally.
Since Drishyam 2 takes off from from where Drishyam ended, the crime, the motive, and the cover-up remain the same. However, I do feel that Jeethu has dealt with the subject better in the sequel.
In Drishyam 2, both Georgekutty and Rani are unequivocally supportive of Anju. In reality as well as cinema, it is common for parents of a young girl who has been subjected to sexual violence, to restrict her movements and keep her at home. However, Anju continues her education and goes to college. Though Rani wants her to get married, Georgekutty supports his daughter's decision to study more and get a job.
The focus of Drishyam 2 is not the clip which triggered the series of events but the murder and subsequent cover-up. The clip recedes to the background; it is Varun's dead body and its location which is the focus. The family is haunted by guilt, especially Anju, who is terrified of the police and cowers whenever she sees a cop. While in the first film, Georgekutty rushes in to stand before his daughter when a policeman comes to ask her for directions, in the second, he encourages her to open the door to the police so that she can confront her fear.
Importantly, the parents also take professional help to help Anju deal with what has happened. Anju develops epilepsy due to her panic attacks but again, the parents do not point a finger at her. They take the therapist's advice and let her sleep alone in her room with an alarm switch so she learns to be independent and manage her demons. Even the conservative Rani, when speaking to her neighbour Saritha (Anjali Nair), says clearly that her daughter was not at fault at all and that it was the young man who was of a vulgar mentality.
The family wants Anju to make friends and socialise more, as opposed to withdrawing into a shell. The treatment of the younger girl is also a good pointer to how the narrative positions Anju. The parents don't clip Anu's wings because of what happened to her older sister at the nature camp. They send her to St Joseph's, a posh co-educational school, away from home. While Rani objects to her wearing her nightdress and walking around the house, Georgekutty is indulgent. It is 'in character' for both of them, with neither connecting 'such behaviour' to the sexual crime.
The clip is, in fact, more of a concern to Varun's mother, former Inspector General of Police Geetha Prabhakar (Asha Sharath), than it is for Georgekutty and family. She is ashamed of what her son had done but is keen to protect his crime. She insinuates that it was Anju who lured him into a trap, but the audience is not expected to empathise with this 'boys will be boys' projection. Her husband Prabhakar (Siddique), who has been uncomfortable with the investigation from the beginning, continues to find the nature of questioning unfair though it is their son who is dead.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of how Georgekutty and his family view the sexual crime after all these years, lies in what happens at the end of the second film. Georgekutty gives the ashes of the young man who filmed his daughter in the nude to his parents so they can perform his last rites; it is for the sake of Varun's parents but it is also to assuage the guilt that the Georgekutty family feels. It is not that Varun was blameless -- but could his crime have been dealt with differently if the magnitude of the consequences had been perceived differently? Was it really a matter of life and death, as Rani once said it was?
In the 2013 film, Georgekutty's family was worried about what society would say if the clip was leaked. In the 2021 film, they have learnt to brazen it out, stand by each other, ignoring the wagging tongues. I believe that just as the audience has evolved, so have they.
Watch: Trailer of Drishyam 2