A “fourth standard fail” simpleton named Vijay Salgaonkar (Ajay Devgn) lives happily with his family in the interiors of Goa. An addict of cinema, this man has worked himself up from scratch to own a cable television business and is so enamored by films that he sometimes does not even go home nights as he watches what he is airing.

Most of his native intelligence is sharpened and honed by what he sees in cinema. His family comprises of Nandini, a “10th class pass” as we are told (Shriya Saran), and two daughters (Ishita Dutta and Mrinal Jadhav).

The honest and hardworking Vijay is often at loggerheads with a corrupt cop (Kamlesh Sawant) when they encounter each other in the café opposite the police station. The fuming cop tells Vijay that his day will come too.

Meanwhile, the elder daughter goes on a school camp where a young boy shoots her bathing with a hidden mobile-phone and comes to her village to tell her that he will circulate the video if she does not meet him alone at night. Instead, she brings her mother.

The two plead with the spoiled brat and even try to grab the phone.

In the ensuing fracas, the boy is killed, and the two have no option but to bury his body in the space Vijay has created in their backyard for a compost heap. Vijay returns the next day from work to be told what happened. He decides that they should go on as if nothing has happened, as he cannot allow his daughter’s and their own lives to be ruined.

They then discover a car key near the body’s position and realize that the brat had come down in a car. Vijay gets rid of the car and the SIM card of the boy’s phone. But then it turns out that the boy was the son of a ruthless woman police commissioner Meera (Tabu), who in this case, is also the merciless mother of a missing son — and the evidence points to Vijay. Yes, there is evidence.

What happens next is to be watched on screen, and shows that for both Vijay and Meera, the lines between right and wrong are completely blurred when it’s a matter of protecting one’s family.

The two twists in the pre-climax and climax are simply fantastic, and the riveting drama is so well projected in the second half that a couple of cynical scribes at the press screening even assumed that the idea must be pilfered from a foreign source!

What pulls down the film is the crawling pace in the first 30 minutes and the overlong 160- minute length divided into, roughly, a 60-minute first half and a long second one of 100 minutes. A clear 25 minutes of the first half could have been dispersed completely, and the long-drawn over-realistic family sequences trimmed drastically to give pace and pith to the film.

This is where director Kamat and the screenplay writer falter, and happily for us, the second half, though again “edit-able” by a good 10-15 minutes, scores with the real tautness of a good thriller.

Technically apt (the background music by Sameer Phatarphekar is a highlight, as is Avinash Arun’s camerawork), the film scores high through its performances. In the under-performance of the year to rival Salman Khan’s in “Bajrangi Bhaijaan,” Devgn goes completely off his customary forte—comedy and action— and subtly shows how still waters run deep—his character is truly nuanced, sharp despite his lack of education, a man who develops and masters deviousness when the safety of his family is needlessly but dangerously threatened.

Tabu as Meera is correctly ruthless yet vulnerable, and the kids Ishita Dutta and (especially) Mrinal Jadhav are very good. Rajat Kapoor is competent, and Kamlesh Sawant is brilliant. From the smaller characters, the blackmailer kid does not impress, but Prathamesh Parab as Devgn’s lieutenant and the rest are good.

“Drishyam” could have been a masterpiece, but with all its flaws, it is still a great watch, though its business will be moderate, though good enough considering its reasonable budget.

Rating: ***1/2

Viacom 18 Motion Pictures and Panaorama Studios present

Produced by: Kumar Mangat Pathak, Abhishek Pathak & Ajit Andhare

Directed by: Nishikant Kamat

Written by: Jeethu Joseph & Upendra Sidhaye

Music: Vishal Bharadwaj

Starring: Ajay Devgn, Tabu, Shriya Saran, Rajat Kapur, Ishita Dutta, Mrinal Jadhav, Kamlesh Sawant, Prathamesh Parab and others.

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