Writer-director Jeethu Joseph’s Mohanlal-Meena starrer Drishyam 2: The Resumption is perhaps one of the most successful sequels to come out in recent times. It capitalises on the lingering intrigue around the first part and leads the audience into the protagonist Georgekutty’s (played by Mohanlal) world, six years down the lane. Quite a lot has changed for him and his family post the traumatic incidents of the first part, Drishyam. While on the outside the family atmosphere remains the same, on the inside they are haunted by the possibility of being found guilty of the crime they have been successfully covering up all these years.
Drishyam 2 is a decent second installment to a much pedestalised, celebrated first part. While all the positives of the film still stand, the entire franchise of Drishyam suffers from some foundational problems that need to be brought into conversation. Mainstream entertainment cinema has seldom been mindful of the representation of women. It often plays into the tropes of popular morality which distorts women’s agency, and the universe of Drishyam is no exception.
The daughter’s body: A site of shame
The central conflict of Drishyam 2 is rooted in an incident the elder daughter faced in the first part of the franchise. Varun films her taking a bath on his mobile camera. Thereafter, he blackmails her with the clip and tries to coerce her into giving him sexual favours. He reaches her house to threaten her and her mother Rani intervenes. Rani begs at first and asks him to leave to which he responds by demanding Rani to sleep with him instead. His eventual death is the consequence of Anju, the elder daughter’s act of self-defense. This is the incident that sets in motion the central narrative of Drishyam – Georgekutty’s cover-up of a murder to protect his family from going to jail.
It is very important to note here that the foundational conflict in the universe of Drishyamrides on the idea of shame connected with the daughter’s body and nudity. Though Georgekutty’s attempt is to protect his family from the possibility of a jail term, his larger concern is his daughter’s reputation in the event of the clip being floated into the public domain. Six years down the lane, the sequel also makes it evident that a woman’s life must be a constant effort to please the society that is ready to assassinate her character at the drop of a hat. The people in the town are shown spinning rumours around the girl’s relationship with Varun, concluding that Georgekutty murdered him after he found her and Varun engaging in sexual intercourse. This makes the girl increasingly underconfident and as a repercussion, the younger daughter is strictly chastised by Rani. It almost feels as if Drishyam 2 is a statutory warning for women to be cautious of their bodies and sexuality to be able to maintain reputation.
The correlation of a woman’s body to her social acceptance is not new. Women have always been mandated by social morality to adhere to its mandates in order to be respected. Here, we are talking about a girl who is the victim of sexual misconduct and its resultant trauma. Not once in the course of either film does anyone assure her that her value does not lie in a clip that was recorded by an abuser. Instead, her entire existence is pigeon holed into that incident and her trauma is amplified each day.
When a film like Drishyam 2 with such mass appeal sanctions such a conservative approach towards a woman’s nudity, it sends a problematic message to the society. We are aware of real-life instances where women die by suicide after being blackmailed with their nude images and videos. In a society that is already founded on patriarchy’s unforgiving dos and don’ts for women, a film that fortifies such views must be questioned.
Had the girl been supported by her family to recognise that she was being stalked and blackmailed, the entire premise would have been altered. She would have resorted to legal remedies and he would have been put behind bars. Instead, the family goes to great lengths to cover up the entire thing so that their daughter’s future will not be affected. Let us also understand here that in this context ‘future’ refers to her eventual marriage into a ‘reputed’ household. It also pushes me to imagine what the case would have been had the clip been that of consensual intercourse between the girl and Varun. Then, the negotiation perhaps would have been about getting Varun to marry her, despite the fact that she was being blackmailed by him, also to save her ‘future’. She would of course be blamed and locked up while they negotiate the marriage, that goes without saying.
In essence, Drishyam 2 underlines the patriarchal idea of a woman’s body as something that must be concealed and made available to a man only through a chain of patriarchy-approved events irrespective of the context. It pays no heed to a woman as an entity with agency, expression or right against abuse, and instead constantly attempts to victim-blame Anju (the elder daughter) for what were the actions of the perpetrator.
Two mothers: Both products of patriarchal morality
Another significant theme in the franchise of Drishyam is how the incident affects two other important female characters – Rani, and Geetha Prabhakar (played by Asha Sharath). Geetha is Varun’s mother and an Inspector General of police. While Rani is concerned about her daughter’s image in the public eye, Geetha pines for revenge. In the sequel, Rani’s character is emotionally manipulated based on her concern about getting her daughter married. She believes that marriage is her only way out and even asks a psychologist if that is an option to help her daughter with her trauma. Geetha, on the other hand, uses all her institutional power to hound the family. The sentimental representation of Geetha as a mother who lost her son is extremely problematic. It must be understood here that Varun was an abuser and Rani’s daughter the survivor. It is a prey-predator relationship and nothing else.
While the sequel is invested in Georgekutty’s brilliance, this fact is conveniently forgotten. The survivor’s family is cornered while the abuser’s mother, a public servant and keeper of law and order behaves as if it is her right to do so. In a narrative that focuses on glorifying the hero’s saviour complex, the women in the story become pawns.
While applauding the making and performances, it must be pointed out that the franchise of Drishyam is set in a patriarchal universe with the man of the family as the protector. Jeethu Joseph uses the small-town life as a tool to convince the audience that this is how it is in real life. The entire psychological fabric of the characters is founded on the anti-female morality of the town they live in. The first part also has instances where Georgekutty refers to his wife as someone who is bound to stay in the house, cook and nurture. This set up makes the film convincing, but it is not agreeable enough to let it go without question.
Let me underline here that the film would have worked well even if the murder of Varun was not related to the girl’s nudity. If the film is only about a man circumventing the law, it could have been done so without being essentially anti-female. Therefore, the choice of the writer-director to anchor Drishyam 2 on a woman’s chastity is an active one, guided by patriarchy’s indifference towards female agency.
We must remember that cinematic liberty is also a political tool. There is not a single dialogue in the original or the sequel where the victim of Varun’s abuse is told that her life is more than an unfortunate instance of sexual proposition. Not a single scene in Drishyam 2 is dedicated to remind the audience who Varun was and why he was murdered in the first place. Geetha is never questioned on using her professional clout to avenge the murder of her son, an abuser, who should have been booked by her department had he been alive. The use of domestic violence by the shadow police as a trope to lure Georgekutty’s family into confession is another example of how the film misunderstands violence against women and treats it as a means to further the hero’s story.
Films like Drishyam with the most loved, bankable stars reach all kinds of audience. Hence, they have a responsibility to be informed by egalitarian politics and a better understanding of female representation. The film capitalises on our conservative morality and uses it to garner popularity. The net effect is that it normalises women being restricted from mingling with men, going on school excursions and encourages the isolation of survivors of sexual abuse.
For everyone out there who is blown away by Georgekutty’s sharpness of mind, let me also remind you that this is not about him. Varun was a conniving, stalking, intimidating sexual abuser. There was no need for the family to stretch it this far. Blackmailing a woman with her nudity is a crime and it is her right to seek legal remedy. She does not have to hide inside her bedroom for having a body and sexuality. Her empowerment does not lie in a man protecting her reputation by going on a spree of cover-up. It lies in her ownership of her body, her raised finger against her abuser, with or without solid support systems, to do so. As a society, we must ensure that she will have the back up she requires. That is the only acceptable way for a progressive, egalitarian society to be. Georgekutty and Jeethu Joseph seem to have forgotten this. But let us not.
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