Frames in Movies

Mohanlal in Drishyam – A Masterclass in Subtle acting

Mohanlal has built a career out of performances that are restrained and subtle to the point that he mostly doesn’t give away an inch than what a character actually needs. Georgekutty in the second half of Drishyam has to keep a lot of things to himself. He cannot afford to be expressive and give out to others on what is going through his mind. Only he knows what is his next move.

One of Cinema’s most beautiful aspects is when the margin between the character on screen and the actor who portrays it becomes so narrow that the audience feels both are one. Mohanlal, thanks to his years of rich experience, gets into the skin of Georgekutty in Drishyam, perhaps like only he can.

When we discuss Mohanlal’s best performances in last one or two decades, most other movies come up. But his work in Drishyam is mostly overlooked. A look through the fine nuances in what is my favorite Mohanlal performance of last 15 years.

Mohanlal in Drishyam
Drishyam’s first half is 1 hour 7 minutes. Its second half is 1 hour 37 minutes. Which means director Jeethu Joseph could really have shown us a lot more of what Georgekutty does to cover up the murder and perhaps placed his interval at a high point. But his genius lies in not only that he doesn’t give up any of the story in the teaser or promos before release. He really wanted his viewers to go out for the break and return to see what both Georgekutty and Mohanlal have in store for them. In the interval, all you see is Mohanlal rubbing his fingers looking at the grave and still thinking through on what he should do next. (I envy the audience who saw the film first day first show without knowing the storm in front of them)
In the next few minutes, you are about to see how Georgekutty closely and silently observes the reactions of his villagers and family. When Monichan(Neeraj Madhav) was able to understand that there is a change in his behaviour, it was time for Georgekutty to change back and act normal like before. The scene where Mohanlal comes out of the office, realizes this and slowly turns back at Neeraj Madhav is done in an extremely subtle manner.

In another scene, he asks his daughter for water and realizes that she is lost and worried. This is particularly important for the next scene when he has to jump in between his daughter and the police officer (Irshad) who arrives at their house.
When Mohanlal jumps in front of Irshad, he is first surprised on what brings a police jeep in his house. In the next second, when he realizes that he just wanted to know some direction, you see his face is relieved at that very moment
When constable Sahadevan (Kalabhavan Shajon) and Madhavan (Kunjan) closely watches Georgekutty from behind, he cannot show his worry in front of them. He cannot turn back because it will make sure their doubts are true. Mohanlal just turns his eyes slowly to his right and clenches his teeth as he still lets the viewers know what Georgekutty is going through. This Ladies and Gentlemen is fantastic acting.
Mohanlal and Meena in Drishyam
When the police arrive at Georgekutty’s home after they have visited the Principal in Anju’s( Ansiba) school, there are 2 places where Georgekutty realizes that few things have not gone as per his calculations – One, when he realizes that Sahadevan has seen him in the yellow car on the day after the murder. Two – When Rani ( Meena) accidentally slips about the date – August 2 even without police asking for it ( It is very interesting that Jeethu Joseph uses two different angles – bottom and top -for these 2 shots). Mohanlal has to show Georgekutty’s worry to the viewers but not to the police. It is a brilliant work by the actor as he just looks at his wife, looks tense for only a moment, leans back at the sofa and starts thinking on how he can escape from the predicament ( which he does !)
When the police finally arrests him and beats him at the station and as the wife and kids look at him, he smiles back and winks at them to assure that he is there for them. But within a second, you see his eyes turn moist and you see he might have perhaps been at the verge of breaking down himself. This is all within a second.
One of Mohanlal’s brilliances is how he stays in the character throughout a movie. When they are interrogating his second daughter, he moves towards his family and closely whispers to them that no matter what happens, its his promise that they would not go to jail. Even when he does that, Georgekutty is still vigilant at his each step. He doesn’t forget to turn to his side and ensure that police do not overhear them.

There are several moments like this in the movie where he could have displayed histrionics or become more emotional. He could have even interfered in the scripting and asked Jeethu to showcase his superstardom and just film some scenes in thrilling slow motion. But Mohanlal’s primary objective here is to just stay true to his character.
Now to my favorite scene of the movie. When Rani asks Georgekutty where did he bury the body, Mohanlal takes a moment. He doesn’t speak. Jeethu cleverly shows a very small glimpse of the stunning twist that he is going to reveal fully only in the climax. Mohanlal then turns slowly to Meena and says – ” Aa rahasyam ee bhoomiyil veroral ariyilla, athennodu koodi alinju illatham”. Its a vital line in so many ways in that it showcases both Georgekutty’s gritty mind and intelligence. It also doesn’t allow the audience to know a very important detail until the climax.
Next to the only scene where Georgekutty opens up even a little in the second half. Prabhakar ( Siddique) asks him if he and his wife needs to wait for their son ( Jeethu Joseph’s choice of location for this conversation is another detail that totally works) . Mohanlal starts with “Ningal oru valya manushyanaanu”. As he goes on explaining how his family had to return an uninvited guest on that day, he first doesn’t look at Siddique or Aasha’s faces. He folds his hands. He makes sure he is in control. He uses words carefully so that it doesn’t end up against him in the case again. His eyes turn moist. He says he will go to any length to protect his family. But he still doesn’t entirely breakup or become emotional.

Like I mentioned before, Mohanlal’s ability to let his character triumph than using a moment to overshowcase his acting skills is remarkable !
Finally as Georgekutty walks out of the police station and as you realize where he did bury the body, there is still no signs of celebrating the victory. There is still no signs of Mohanlal, the superstar. He still doesn’t smile. He still doesn’t feel punched. All he has in his mind is how he can keep continuing to protect his family.

Can Jeethu Joseph and Mohanlal repeat their magic with Georgekutty 6 years after Drishyam. This Feb 19, we will know.

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