Drishyam 2

Often sequels disappoint when compared to the original, but Drishyam 2 is one of the rare exceptions to the rule. In another departure (as sequels can have only a tenuous connection to the original), the film continues the events depicted in Drishyam, where Georgekutty was under suspicion for the disappearance of the local IGA’s son. Each piece of the puzzle is meticulously crafted to seamlessly follow on a few years from where we left the family and the police investigation. The twists and turns are excellent, and the story is put together with a good blend of emotion and character development underlying the plot. There is a core of logic that ensures everything that happens is indeed possible, even if not probable, and it does all make sense. This is smart filmmaking and with such an excellent cast reprising their roles, Drishyam 2 is a sequel not to miss.

The past 6 years have not been kind to Georgekutty (Mohanlal) and his wife Rani (Meena) despite growing his business and opening a movie theatre. While initially the townspeople were supportive, there is developing resentment of Georgekutty’s financial success. Rani has been affected by the police investigation and is constantly fearful, asking a neighbour to stay with her when Georgekutty is away from home overnight and always seeming to watch over her shoulder. Their eldest daughter Anju (Ansiba Hassan) suffers from PTSD and epilepsy after the events of Drishyam, although younger daughter Anu (Esther Anil) is happily getting on with her life. Georgekutty has worked to develop his business while also working on writing and producing a film with screenwriter Vinayachandran (Saikumar). But despite his outward success, the police haven’t given up on the case of the missing, presumed murdered Varun, and IGP Thomas Bastin (Murali Gopy) is continuing investigations quietly in the background. This leaves Georgekutty anxious and vigilant even though he tries to carry on life as usual.

The film plays heavily on emotions when Varun’s father Prabhakar (Siddique) approaches Georgekutty and pleads for the body of his son, so that they can bury him and have closure. Naturally Georgekutty denies that he knows where Varun’s body can be found, but the scene is so well written that it seems possible that Georgekutty will crack and reveal what happened on the night Varun disappeared. Also notable is the subterfuge around the family where neighbours aren’t quite what they appear and even Anu’s college friends are secretly reporting back to police. Suddenly Georgekutty’s paranoia about discussing anything to do with the case is shown to be a wise move as a possible witness comes forward and the police pull the family back in for questioning.

What works well with this sequel is that it fits seamlessly into the narrative from the first film. Neighbours and friends who were initially backing Georgekutty and his family after the brutal interrogation of Anju and Anu are now sure that the family is guilty, and that Varun was innocent. In the local café, although owner Sulaiman (Kozhikode Narayanan Nair) is convinced of his innocence, the local auto drivers discuss rumours of murder openly and are convinced that Georgekutty is guilty. While Georgekutty’s success as a businessman seems to be behind some of their enmity, for many it simply appears that there is no other explanation for Varun’s disappearance, so the family must be guilty.

The story develops slowly, with most of the focus on the fear and guilt suffered by Rani and Anju. Despite no guilty verdict ever having been reached, the family is punished every day for Varun’s disappearance. Anju’s inability to cope with the outside world, Rani’s continuing fear and even Georgekutty’s paranoia have trapped the family in a cycle of anxiety and uncertainty which seems more profound than the distress suffered by Geetha (Asha Sarath) and Prabhakar. In contrast, the police investigation this time seems more targeted and less emotional, and although IGP Bastin is a friend of Geetha he brings a methodical and reasoned approach to the inquiry. As the tension mounts, Georgekutty has to defend his family once more as the evidence piles up against them.

Mohanlal is the standout performer here with the entire film hinging on his ability to deceive everyone and come up with a plan time and time again. He’s calm with the family, but Mohanlal ensures that his eyes show just how much stress Georgekutty is suffering and at times how trapped he feels. It’s a well nuanced performance that brings together bravado, intelligence and fear as the key elements defining Gerogekutty’s continued attempts to deceive everyone, including his own family. While the narrative may be of a man driven to extremes to defend his family, there also appears to be an underlying satisfaction with being able to outwit the rest of the community. The complex characterisation of Georgekutty is perfect, and Mohanlal pulls it off effortlessly in every scene. Meena too is excellent and shows her fear, anxiety and confusion with her hunched shoulders and dropped eyes as well as with her dialogue and expressions. I loved how well her relationship is developed with her next-door neighbour Saritha (Anjali Nair), particularly in how she stands up to Saritha’s abusive husband Sabu (Sumesh Chandran). I enjoyed the contrast between how she can stand up for Saritha but seems unable to show the same courage in her own life, presumably because the years of uncertainty are weighing her down. 

The slow build-up has a terrific pay off and the climax is as convoluted as any aficionado of detective fiction could want. Even if the events seem almost too impossible, there is still the slight chance that they could indeed have occurred. This is a film that cleverly tells a story but which also manages to explore emotions and delve into the consequences of getting away with murder. Well worth the 8 year wait, don’t miss this chance to catch up with Georgekutty and his family. 4 ½ stars.

Cold Case (2021)

I often write that I’m not a fan of horror films, but I seem to find myself enjoying them. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I’m not a fan of Western horror films since recent offerings from India such as Tumbbad, Alidu Ulidavaru and older films like Gehrayee have all been excellent. So, when an Indian horror film is mixed in with an investigative thriller, I’m definitely going to watch! What is interesting about Cold Case is firstly how well the title suits the film in all respects, and secondly the juxtaposition of a police inquiry with a psychic investigation of the same crime. The cast are excellent, the effects generally good and despite some second half doldrums, overall Cold Case delivers on both crime and supernatural storylines.

The film starts with a couple of exorcisms, with the second featuring a child supposedly possessed by his murdered father who then names his killer. The subsequent police case is part of a TV program by journalist Medha (Aditi Balan) who works on features dealing with the paranormal. She is a confirmed sceptic though and doesn’t believe in ghosts or paranormal ideas at all. Medha is looking for a new house after separating from her husband and on the way to view a prospective place to live, she passes a fisherman. The camera moves from following Medha to focus on the fisherman, who pulls up a black plastic bag in his net that he finds contains a skull. As Medha decides to take the house, the police team of ACP Sathyajith (Prithviraj), Muhammad (Anil Nedumangad), Rajprakash (Bilas Nair) and newly appointed officer Neela Maruthan (Pooja Mohranraj) start their investigation into the suspicious death suggested by the skull.

Medha moves into the new house along with her daughter Chinnu (Ester Evana Sherin) and her maid Chandrika (Shailaja P. Ambu). Through conversations with her overly spiritual mother Padmaja (Parvathy T) and her lawyer Haritha (Lakshmi Priyaa Chandramouli), Medha reveals that she is divorcing her husband Arya because he won’t stand up to his controlling mother Roshni (Sanuja Somanath) and that her sister who was studying parapsychology suicided a year before. Medha herself is a strong and confident woman who is forging a good career for herself and is confident and well able to take care of herself. That’s just as well, since shortly after she moves into the new house there are a series of odd occurrences centred around the fridge. The first is actually the most disturbing when Chinnu drinks some water from the fridge and grimaces, then pours it down the sink. Bizarrely the water doesn’t drain, and when Medha uses a skewer to unblock the drain, she pulls up a tangle of black hair. It doesn’t sound scary but it definitely raises chills!

As Medha starts to suspect there is something very odd about the fridge, she enlists the help of a medium, Zara Zacchai (Suchitra Pillai) who wears some impressive scleral contact lenses! With Zara’s help, Medha discovers the identity of her ghostly visitor, just as ACP Sathyajith, using more conventional means, also discovers the identity of the skull. Both are one and the same – Eva Maria (Athmiya Rajan). 

The police investigation follows a more conventional route, using forensic anthropology, digital reconstruction and dental records. There is speculation that the body may be that of a girl who went missing, rumoured to be linked to the Home Minister’s son. While there are other missing persons being considered, the lack of any of the rest of the body also confounds the police efforts. While the investigation discovers more about Eva Maria, Medha’s paranormal investigation is also close to finding out the truth and eventually ACP Sathyajith and Medha come together to solve the crime.

Overall the paranormal storyline is more successful with some genuinely creepy moments, although the final scene is less effective. Cinematographers Gireesh Gangadharan and Jomon T. John use a mix of dark sets and flickering shadows to increase the scare factor while director Tanu Balak drip feeds the scares to increase the tension. The police investigation doesn’t move out of a fairly well-worn path, and the promise of having a new officer involved sadly doesn’t amount to anything. Prithviraj is good but the rest of his team are relegated to simply being there so that ACP Sathyajith has someone to whom he can explain his reasoning. This is a step too far into tell, rather than show territory and the storyline suffers as a result. There are plenty of red herrings, but none of them seem to be all that plausible and the team quickly narrow in on the life and disappearance of Eva Marie. 

Aditi Balan has more to do and better dialogue as well. Her struggle to keep Chinnu in the face of her mother-in-law’s determined efforts to keep the child provides a good backdrop, while Chinnu’s attachment to a particularly creepy doll and her fascination with a well on the property also add to the tension. Suchitra Pillai is also good as the eccentric psychic, adding some good drama to Medha’s more pragmatic approach to the haunting. One of the few false notes in this part of the film is Medha’s lack of surprise and to some extent her apparent lack of fear in the face of the supernatural happenings in her house. While some of this is explained by her role in debunking the paranormal for TV, Aditi Balan never seems to be quite worried enough about the strange things happening with her fridge. 

I really liked the idea of parallel investigations, one police and one paranormal. Although the police investigation doesn’t work quite as well, the cross-over between the two is interesting enough to be entertaining. I found the paranormal aspects to be creepy, but not scary enough that the film can’t be watched alone at night. The subtitles on the streaming version I liked were good too, although I did read that the translation of ‘northern Indian’ for Eva Marie’s husband was inaccurate and it should have read ‘Hindu’, which seems like an odd mistranslation but doesn’t have any significant impact on the plot. This may not be scary enough for fans of true horror, and it’s also not convoluted enough for aficionados of crime thrillers, but the two aspects together make for an overall entertaining whole. Worth watching for Prithviraj, Zara Zacchai’s séance and Aditi Balan’s pragmatism. 3 ½ stars.

Kilometers and Kilometers

Jeo Baby’s romantic comedy Kilometers and Kilometers takes a meandering route with both the screenplay and the road trip that forms the centre of the story. The basic premise is a love story between a rude, privileged American and a struggling Keralan mechanic although the film does briefly touch on a number of different themes including the value of money, Indian patriarchy, family relationships and cultural differences. For the most part though, it’s a fairy-tale style road trip across India that works reasonably well as a light entertainer, mostly due to Tovino Thomas and an excellent soundtrack.

The film opens slowly with the first half hour concentrating on Josemon (Tovino Thomas) and his family. The opening titles charmingly explain the back story of Josemon and his father’s Bullet motorbike which was bought at the same time as Josemon was born. He grew up with the bike, and after his father’s death, the bike has come to be Josemon’s connection to his father, full of good memories and the love they shared. But the family is struggling to pay their debts, and at every turn Josemon is being urged to sell his beloved Bullet to pay the bills. 

At the start of the film everyone is celebrating Onam, with the local festivities being sponsored by a local made good, who has just returned from America. Right away, America is held up as the land of riches while meanwhile Josemon is shown entering every competition in an attempt to get as much of the ‘cash prizes’ as possible. He’s also not above small deceptions such as tampering with the church water pump to get some paid work from the priest when he is asked to fix it. But on the whole, Josemon is a nice guy, trying to do his best for his family and shouldering the usual head-of-the-family burdens. I always thing this is a uniquely Indian view-point, in many ways similar to the UK about 50 years ago, where the head of the family looks after all the finances. Perhaps this really is still the case, but for me this adds to the fairy-tale aspect of the story.

Luckily for Josemon, just when he is about to sell his bike, providence arrives in the form of American tourist Cathy (India Jarvis) who wants a driver to take her on a road trip through India. Cathy has won a heap of money from a casino and is spending all her winnings on a once in a lifetime trip abroad. She’s travelling all by herself and doesn’t seem to have made any attempt to learn any of the local language or tried to fit in with any local customs.  All plausible but none of these fit with my idea of travelling through India. While some of what she says and does is common sense for travellers; not eating from the local stalls, drinking soft drinks instead of water, she seems fairly clueless in many other ways. For instance, at one point she is travelling on the bike and wandering around various tourist sites wearing incredibly micro-shorts, something that jumps out as being incredibly inappropriate even for a dumb tourist. 

Cathy also has a bad attitude initially, berating Josemon for giving all his money to his family and expounding her own personal theory that money is everything while personal relationships are meaningless. At the same time, she is appalled by the dichotomy that is India, seeing children begging in the streets while milk is poured over giant cut-outs of movie stars and being shocked by the need to bribe police. To all of these, Josemon merely says that this is just the way it is, without ever really showing anything other than calm acceptance. I like how Jeo Baby brings out these issues which strike almost every visitor to India, although he doesn’t ever address these as anything other than simply the way life is. I did completely sympathise with Cathy though when she is shocked by Josemon’s attitude to litter, which is something that always shocks me in India. For a country that recycles so much, the attitude to rubbish as something that can be just chucked down in the street anywhere always seems incongruous to me.

The trip dynamic changes when an impulsive decision by Cathy results in a disaster befalling the pair. While Cathy is frustrated by Josemon’s tendency to help everyone he meets on the road, his kindness is rewarded and they fall in with Sunny (Sidhartha Siva) a Malayali living in Punjab. At this point Cathy changes from a typical tourist staying in posh hotels and refusing to share her belongings to a more relaxed persona, happy to spend nights in a concrete pipe and eat simple local fare. It’s a fairly fast transformation, but still not completely unlikely, and the change in circumstance allows a romance to develop between Josemon and Cathy. It’s not all smooth sailing and it never seems likely to be a completely happy ending, but again this all makes sense in the context of the story, and this latter half of the film is smoother and tighter than the earlier scenes. 

The film depends heavily on the on-screen presence of Tovino Thomas and his likeable personality. He oozes charm and his frustration with Cathy is totally understandable. The language barrier is cleverly exploited both for comedic value but also to emphasize the huge cultural difference between Cathy and Josemon and the two actors work well together to illustrate these differences. India Jarvis is also good in her role, but has a harder job since her character is not well developed. She starts as a ‘typical’ foreigner, ignorant and rude, but has to evolve into a more empathetic character while still holding rather odd views about money and family. He idea that money is more important than relationships isn’t a common viewpoint, whatever the background, and it’s a difficult one to reconcile with her change of heart as the film progresses. The kindness Josemon and Cathy meet along the way, while possible is also rather rose-tinted, but also doesn’t seem quite enough to cause such a big change of heart. The pair also don’t have fantastic chemistry, Tovino Thomas seems to get on better with Sidhartha Siva and Basil Joseph as Kuttan his best friend, but mostly this adds to their awkward relationship rather than being a downfall of the film. The other cast members including Joju George, Sudheesh and Pauly Valsan are all good in their small roles.

The other standout of the film is the music. Both Sushin Shyam’s soundtrack and Sooraj S. Kurup’s songs are gorgeous and suit the mood of the film perfectly. While Sinu Siddharth’s cinematography is beautiful with wonderful attention to the lighting, we don’t get to see as much of the different locales in India as I would have liked. The action is all firmly focused on Josemon and Cathy, often on country roads and nondescript fields which could be literally anywhere. I did feel very nostalgic for Mumbai though when the pair finally make it to the city at the end of their journey. 

Although at heart Kilometers and Kilometers is a fairly routine rom-com, adding a foreigner with actual personality is fairly novel, while the contrast of positives and negatives of life in India are rarely shown together in such stark clarity. There is nothing ground shaking here, but despite the slow start and wandering story, I still enjoyed this trip across India by motorbike. 3 stars.