Director: Jeethu Joseph
Cast: Venkatesh Daggubati, Meena, Nadhiya, V K Naresh, Sampath Raj, Kruthika, Esther Anil, Suja Varunee, Satyam Rajesh, Shafi
I've already seen Drishyam 2 in Malayalam so obviously the twists in its Telugu variant Drushyam 2, on Amazon Prime Video, weren't as thrilling to me as they would be to viewers who are seeing this film for the first time. But, it also helps that Venkatesh's Rambabu gives a different flavour compared to Mohanlal's Georgekutty.
Rambabu seems more playful, given Venkatesh's history of doing comedies and 'family' friendly films, making him more of a family man than Georgekutty. In the first part and to most extent in the second, this makes Rambabu's plight more desperate. His plans to save his family seem more reactionary than Georgekutty's cunning or genius schemes.
The story takes off six years after the events that affected Rambabu and his family in 2014. They've moved economically upwards in life and seem to have moved on from the 'event' that almost destabilized their existence. All these years later, the past begins to catch up with them. Unlike earlier, members of Rajavaram village suddenly have divided loyalties. The film then explores whether Rambabu manages to save his family once again or not.
This Telugu remake too is helmed by Jeethu Joseph and he makes minor changes. Where Georgekutty wakes up because of a pressure cooker whistle in the original, Rambabu is made to wake up because his wife, Jyothi (Meena), is praying in the morning. This change places Rambabu's actions more in the realm of sin and repentance rather than good and bad.
This sequel works stronger than its predecessor, directed by Sripriya, because it is more cinematic. The earlier version, at best, felt 'boxed' with extreme close-ups and at worst was staged like a TV serial. Probably owing to its higher budgets this time, the camera angles are sneakier, there are long shots and movement.
The real inciting incident in Drushyam 2 is when Prabhakar (Naresh) visits Rambabu and they have an earnest conversation between two deeply disturbed fathers. But Prabhakar is soon proven to be more devious than he lets on. Similarly, people in the village who seek small favours from him are the ones who, behind his back, spread malicious gossip. You can sense Rambabu thinking that the worst he's feared has come true and he is caught in a contradiction of providing his family a normal life and making sure he's left no footsteps behind. For instance, his daughter Anu (Esther Anil) remarks that his car after two years has no scratches on it and he replies by saying that the car has become a fifth member of the family indicating that caution has become a way of life.
Venkatesh's performance shines in this film because he is better at playing mental anguish of being caught than someone who's struggling in a world where he can't decipher if he's innocent or guilty. Rambabu considers himself guilty and that helps how Venkatesh plays him. Oddly, when he has to play Rambabu in the more mundane and playful scenes, he tends to ham it up like he does in his goofball comedies like F2: Fun And Frustration which feels tonally off.
Meena's Jyothi is a little feistier than her Malayalam counterpart Rani but Meena's good performance is hampered by the dubbing where her language has a hint of a non-native speaker. Given that the film is set in Araku Valley, her accent feels hard to locate in this film.
One of the highlights of the film is the casting of the new supporting characters beginning from the more obvious choice of Sampath Raj for the Inspector General Goutham Sahu to casting Satyam Rajesh and Shafi in the roles they play. It's a pity that these actors aren't utilized more often in such meaty or different roles.
The film falters in moments where precarious times are being set up through conversations and gossip. These scenes feel staged. Maybe, choosing lesser-known actors for these scandalous whispers may have increased the believability.
Once Geetha (Nadhiya) and Prabhakar re-enter the film's universe, Jeethu Joseph's story and screenplay is so strong that the actors can afford to coast through. Even the dialogues which are jarring at times are easy to overlook because the plot and twists are set up so beautifully that it's hard for it to go wrong. Especially, in the hands of the same director.
I was looking forward to how Venkatesh would play Rambabu in the last half hour. Mohanlal played Gerogekutty like a gambler taking calculated risks with a sack full of luck whereas Rambabu's world seems more sinister. Venkatesh plays the character more like someone who's rigged the entire casino. In the final scene of Drishyam 2, Thomas Bastin says something to the effect of being sure that Georgekutty is still watching them. Here Goutham Sahu says "Rambabu must be watching us with a thousand eyes." This feels more mythological and a valuable addition to a Telugu remake where the audience will appreciate such myth behind characters.
Drushyam 2 is Rambabu's script and we are all living in it.