"In my first draft, the climax was not in the police station — it was the two families standing over his grave. It was just a thought, but it felt forced," director Jeethu Joseph of the Drishyam franchise, starring Mohanlal, tells Baradwaj Rangan, of the iconic stretch in the first film. They discuss Georgekutty's world, crime and punishment, and more. Excerpts.
I want this confession from you. Before you became a director, you were a criminal, right? I cannot think of how you can think of all these things!
No sir, before becoming a filmmaker I was a rubber planter. I come from an agricultural family. My father used to be an MLA. I come from a village, and I have three brothers and one sister, and I'm the only person working in the industry.
How do you think of such things?
I don't know, I read a lot of Agatha Christie's novels and James Hadley Chase books, Sherlock Holmes… So, even during childhood my passion for movies in the mystery and thriller genres was there.
At what point did you think Drishyam could have a sequel?
Immediately after Drishyam, everyone asked about the possibility of a sequel. I said, it's finished and there's no chance for a sequel, because I was not seriously thinking about it. After a year or two, people started creating stories of their own and someone approached Viacom with a sequel. Around 2015, producer Antony Perumbavoor asked me to give it a try, and I started thinking about the possibilities. It took five years to reach this present script.
When you were writing Drishyam, did you decide that the body will be buried under the police station and then work backwards? Because, it became the most memorable part of the film.
In my first draft, the climax was not in the police station — it was the two families standing over his grave. It was just a thought, but it felt forced. I thought of other possibilities and suddenly thought, what if it's under a police station? It will be interesting. At that point I had made a documentary on Janamaithri police (community police in Kerala). I learnt some things — if the station is very old, they will change it, so I thought of making the station a character in the story. I always think the audience is much more intelligent than me, so I thought we need to deceive the audience. So I thought of starting from the police station, making the protagonist an accused and I made some corrections in the family portions. In two or three scenes, Georgekutty says, 'Don't worry, I will not send you to jail.' He's indirectly saying that 'Worst case scenario, I will take the blame and go.' Automatically, the audience thought that, 'Oh that's why he's sitting there, he's caught.'
When you were writing the sequel, did you think of treating it as a family drama? Like, how does the family react to this guilt or all these mixed feelings inside their head?
Yeah, when I started thinking about the sequel, I thought where should I concentrate? I started in 2015. I thought it should be a continuation of the story, not a different story with the same characters. Anyway, a crime has been committed by the family and they're not professionals, there will be trauma. So I thought of concentrating on the trauma and then thought of different aspects. Of course, at the end of Drishyam, society believed that Georgekutty and his family were innocent and Sahadevan is trying to frame them.
Now, it's a different story because Georgekutty is well off, he started a theatre, and there is this thing called neighbourhood envy. So people start talking of 'no smoke without fire', and they start to believe that this family has something to do with the disappearance of that kid, so they start creating stories. How's it going to affect the family, especially the elder daughter, since she committed the crime? She's in her early twenties, it's the time of her marriage and these problems can be there. When you consider the family, there are four members and each has a different type of trauma. Georgekutty is afraid, but does not show it; and Rani is in total darkness, she doesn't know anything. Whenever the police starts to dig somewhere, she gets nervous but Georgekutty is very cool, he knows nothing is going to happen. The elder girl has mental health issues, she has convulsions, she has nightmares. The younger girl is least bothered, because it's not going to affect her. I kept all these things in mind and started working on it.
The real challenge was to maintain the identity of the characters. Of course, there's a five-year difference, the characters are physically and mentally grown, but the characters should have a basic identity — especially Georgekutty. He's illiterate, and an extraordinary genius. He's a fighter, an orphan who rose to this level. So when this problem occurred, he fought back with whatever information he had. So the problem is I have to maintain these things, in the sequel he has to show something extraordinary. I started speaking to doctors, a forensic surgeon friend and a relative in the police force and then created this particular sequence. After finishing the script, I took it to a forensic doctor and asked him, 'This is my idea. If you're watching this film, would you think it's stupid?' He helped me with corrections and said 'this can happen'.
One cannot come at 5 in the morning and do this, but Georgekutty has been preparing for this for two to three years and he can easily do this because there is no camera in the forensic office, and they're supposed to seal these things. They're taking it in cardboard boxes or sacks. This kind of incident has never happened in Kerala, so there's a chance. The security takes his friends into his room for a round of drinks. So, everything fits perfectly. Then, I got the idea and worked on the final screenplay. I told my family I'm working on this, and they said, 'please don't do it and don't spoil your name.' So, I told them I'd work on a first draft and if it worked, we would go ahead with it. I sent them to different rooms and gave them copies, so they could all read the script at the same time.
My elder daughter, who wants to be a filmmaker, told me, 'Daddy, this is good cinema.' I said, 'In terms of box office collection, I'm not trying to make a film like Drishyam. My intention is to make a good film'. All of them liked it and asked me to go ahead with it.
I did something similar with my ADs. I gave the scripts to my ADs, but before sending them to different rooms, I told them, 'Imagine you're going to watch Drishyam 2, so tell me what your expectations are before going into the auditorium'. They put forth their hopes from the film, and I told them to come out after reading it and tell me their opinion. This is how I took feedback. They mentioned logical and length issues. I corrected them before sending it to Mohanlal.
All the things that the character says is due to luck or God, you actually went and consulted a forensic surgeon?
Yeah, we can't expect 100% logic in cinema. Then it becomes real life. In thrillers, there will be reality and fantasy. So I tried to present these sequences in a realistic way, adding things for it to be interesting and to provide edge-of-the-seat entertainment. I believe 70 per cent of the logic is seen, but still there is some problem.
What do you think is a problem? Could you give an example?
I can tell you personally, not in this interview. (laughs) When I'm doing a film, people are looking for logic, I don't know why. Of course, I'll give them some examples of films to say that there are logical problems, and why they aren't talking about it. But what they're saying is 'In your film, it should be logical, we can't accept logical issues.'
Before the release of the film, you kept saying family drama, so when I started watching I also thought 'okay, family drama,' but at the point where the neighbours are revealed to be cops, I thought 'Oh, my God, Jeethu is doing the same thing again.' Did you deliberately want to downplay the thriller angle during promotions?
Of course, because the expectation was too high. I was trying to make a good film, so I seriously feared that high expectations would make people say the aspects of the film were predictable, or this is not a good film. So my intention was to downplay it.
You've also made Drishyam 2 a thriller, did you feel at any point that you've compromised the family angle? Because, you show Rani's character perfectly, but did you feel that you could have written more for the daughters had you written it as a family drama? How did you balance it?
Yeah it's difficult. The audience says that there's a lag in the first half. I believe a lag is important in films, because in their subconscious mind we are feeding them emotions. The audience is not realising that. They are all expecting a thriller from me so they don't want to see the family sequences, but a family audience enjoyed those sequences. Even in the first part, the duration of the family sequence was an hour-and-a-minute and the second half is one-hour-and-forty-nine minutes, so everyone said this is unbalanced and this will affect the film. After watching the film, people came out and said 'The film is very good but the first half has a lag.' But this kind of lag works for the subconscious mind — we need those scenes.
I actually wanted to work more on the daughters and Rani, I worked on two to three scenes, but when I suggested it to my ADs, they asked me to remove it.
Did you ever think when you were writing this draft that Georgekutty would have moved to at least another house? Because first, he's not telling his wife or daughters anything, he's trying to keep that secret from them and that is their protection but because they're living in the same house, they're constantly being reminded of what happened. Did you ever consider if he should stay in that house or move?
Actually in the beginning I had that thought, but the problem is that we will miss certain things. Suppose Rani is standing in front of the window and looking at the place where the body is buried and even when Georgekutty is sitting he's looking at the place where the interrogation and all happened. We'll miss that kind of thing, and these are some adjustments actually.
You start the movie with an eyewitness, and there is an interesting parallel between Georgekutty and the eyewitness Jose, where both of them have committed an accidental murder and are trying to be with their family. Was this a coincidence or an intended approach?
My idea was based on desperation, Georgekutty and his family are desperate, The police department and the deceased boy's parents are desperate, and finally, Jose is also desperate. All four of them are selfish, based on their desperation from which their motives are born. That's why I felt it was an interesting angle to explore. Initially, my assistant directors were not keen on the arc created for Jose and his family, but my wife and kids agreed it was required. It was the same during the discussions for the Telugu remake. I feel Jose's family arc is crucial to the story.
When Jose goes to the cops after suddenly remembering the incident, he mentions he should have gone to Georgekutty instead so he could have received a higher sum of money. Did the dilemma happen to him for real?
There is a scene earlier on when Jose meets Georgekutty at the teashop, but Georgekutty doesn't recognise him, which irks Jose. The reason to include this scene was to indicate Jose is not happy with Georgekutty's response, and so chooses to approach the cops. Without that scene, there could have been a possibility that Jose might just blackmail Georgekutty, instead.
In the first stretch, Rani mentions that Georgekutty has been working on the script for the past three years. It has been six years since the events of the first film. So, what was he up to during the first three years?
He was waiting until the buried body turned into a skeleton. This can also raise another question — what if he had been caught in the first three years? Well, in that case, he would be behind bars. It's sheer luck that Georgekutty has come this far.
You lay out one aspect in the beginning that turns out to be important. Georgekutty and Rajan have alcohol in the car; only later is it revealed who Rajan is and his whereabouts. Is Georgekutty's new habit of consuming alcohol just a façade to get close to Rajan or is he consuming it as a way to calm himself?
Georgekutty's intention to consume alcohol is to resort to a friendship with Rajan. I felt alcohol is a catalyst of sorts that helps establish how intimate the relationship between Georgekutty and Rajan is.
This is a man who has been dreading for six years that he might get caught. He tells his family not to talk about the incident in the house knowing the house might be bugged, right?
Georgekutty does not know that his house has been bugged. The intention behind his mentioning to not talk about the incident is because he wants his family members to forget it. That's why he is surprised when he notices Saritha's character was an undercover cop. Even while I was writing the script, I never thought that Georgekutty would suspect his neighbors.
At what point during your screenplay writing did you decide that Georgekutty has built a theatre?
Even in the first film, we have established that building a theatre is Georgekutty's long-awaited ambition. In the second we see he has fulfilled the ambition by selling some agricultural land. Another purpose of showcasing the theatre is to bring in the undercover cop scenario.
During the first interaction between Siddique and Mohanlal, what made you think it has to be with Siddique alone and not include Asha Sharath's character?
The character Prabhakar that Siddique plays is not vengeful. The request he places to Georgekutty is genuine and Georgekutty has a certain level of trust in Siddique, rather than in Asha Sharath's character.