Despite it having its fair share of twists and slyness, Jeetu Joseph’s Tamil remake of his acclaimed Malayalam drama/thriller Drishyam achieves its true triumph in storytelling — solid storytelling.
What blew my mind about Drishyam is how it extracts intrigue out of the mundane aspects of daily life, how it addresses every doubt that popped in my head, as if the movie could hear my thoughts and, of course, Mohanlal’s performance.
Performance sounds like a vulgar word to describe how beautifully he assumes the role of Georgekutty, an extraordinarily perceptive family man shielding his own from freak circumstances through the knowledge he’s gleaned from movies.
Papanasam doesn’t deviate from the original structure but there is a conscious effort to explain the strategy of Drishyam’s understated intelligence. The ploy more or less works because the events look convincingly premeditated in context of the alibi and as a result the characters better fleshed out.
At its heart, Papanasam is the story of two parents doing everything in their capacity for the sake of their respective children. Part cover up, part police procedural, the story unravels within a cosy community in a sleepy town of Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district. It’s the sort of ambiance where everyone knows everyone else and Suyambulinga (Kamal Haasan) a cable television operator gets along fine with everybody barring a corrupt constable of the local police station.
A school dropout, Suyambulingam is conscious of his lack of education but proud of his self-made stature, something he constantly points out to his slightly more educated wife (Gautami) and their two school-going daughters (Niveda Thomas, Esther Anil).
Frugal with his money, he’s mad about movies. The latter brought back memories of Pierce Brosnan’s cinephile detective in TV series Remington Steele and his penchant to solve cases citing movie references.
The three-hour long Papanasam uses a good deal of time to familiarise us with these disarming characters and their happy-go-lucky lifestyle. Meanwhile, there’s another family contending for our attention — Inspector General Geetha (Asha Sarath) and her husband (Anant Mahadevan). What links them to Suyambulingam is something I recommend you discover on your own.
But remember, suspense isn’t the objective of Joseph’s script. It’s not so much the nature of offence as the ethics and acumen behind camouflaging it. Papanasam views crime as a point of view in an exceptional scenario but is sensitive enough to acknowledge the guilt arising from this conflict of interests.
Most fascinating is the angle Joseph’s script picks to focus on what could turn into a generic whodunit. Instead he designs a neat ruse to orchestrate a riveting tussle between one person’s brilliant ability to plan ahead of his pursuers and another’s knack for instincts that come frustratingly close.
I have not read the Japanese novel Devotion of Suspect X but watched the 2008 film based on the same. Decidedly dissimilar in motivation, theme and mood, there’s no denying the similarity in the alibi employed by a lonely Mathematician genius and Joseph’s inspiration in Drishyam and Papanasam. Only here the stakes are far more emotional and heartrending.
If I were to compare, I still like Drishyam better but Papanasam is a laudable runner up even if somewhat self-aware. Joseph’s is a quality script that can go hardly wrong. Most of the times it doesn’t.
Yet the restraint, rawness and tension of Drishyam, especially during the tormenting torture scenes is downgraded to accommodate high drama and highlight the hero in its leading man.
Also, some of the English subtitles are plain comic. Sample these: Hey, my crackpot dear my handsome hulk forever? / Is being a Scrooge an encumbrance?
What it does better the second time around is cast more effective actors for certain roles. Niveda brings wonderful vulnerability as Haasan’s first born and it’s to a first-rate Gautami’s credit that they never look like a make-believe family.
I was pleasantly surprised by Anant Mahadevan’s excellent portrayal of a quietly suffering father disgusted by the tough interrogation methods adopted by cops. Kalabhavan Mani is another scene-stealer as the constable harbouring a fatal grudge.
Joseph repeats many of his cast members like Asha Sarath as IG Geetha and reveals a better understanding of her anguish than in Drishyam.
And then there is Kamal Haasan. Mohanlal set the bar unreachably high but a valiant Haasan gives it his own fresh take. He brings in his knowledge as a filmmaker who knows more than the script. And his characteristic lack of inhibition blazes through its sentimental climax scene.
Yes, it’s a showy delivery but given the tone of Papanasam, it works. So does the movie.