Ever since Drishyam released in Malayalam, there has been a lot of talk and assumption that it’s an unofficial remake of the Japanese film Suspect X (based on the novel The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino). With multiple remakes of Drishyam awaiting release (with Kamal Haasan in the Tamil remake Papanasam and Ajay Devgn in the Hindi remake) and also a licensed adaptation of The Devotion of Suspect X produced by Ekta Kapoor under production, here’s a closer look at the two films.
The general belief is that Jeetu Joseph’s Drishyam is copied (or at least adapted) from Suspect X. To someone who has seen both films, this sounds like a charge as valid as the accusation that Reservoir Dogs is a copy or adaptation of The Killing.
Let’s look at the bones.
The Killing is about a bunch of strangers who come together to pull off a heist and things go terribly wrong and most of them end up dead. And Reservoir Dogs is exactly the same idea. But while Kubrick shows us the heist playing with linearity, Tarantino lets us figure out what went wrong after the heist. Despite the acknowledged source material, Dogs stands on its own as a film simply because, you know, as the saying goes “It’s not about where it’s from. It’s where you take it to.”
Suspect X is about a cover up. It’s not a murder mystery. We know up early on in the film/book whodunit. It’s a HowHideIt. And so is Drishyam.
While Suspect X uses the skills of a genius problem-solving math professor, Drishyam subverts the idea of what constitutes smart by giving us a hero who hasn’t dropped out of Class 4 and his only skill sets and passion involves watching movies on TV.
While mathematics is about creating difficult riddles, cinema is about simply believable myth-making. It’s about manufacturing a story by creation of a set of incidents in a credible world populated by convincing characters who want you to believe they lived that life. How’s that for a meta-narrative… which Suspect X is not.
Without giving away anything about the specifics of the case, yes… both films follow the template of a murder investigation. Questions are asked, alibis are checked, evidence is produced, versions are compared and while both narratives have a few similar elements given that the core plot is almost the same, Malayalam filmmaker Jeethu Joseph’s take on the story is truly unique.
Unlike Suspect X, Drishyam’s leading man fumbles, makes mistakes and is always on the verge of getting caught whereas in the original, the genius has created a watertight set of equations that will comprehensively prove the riddle he has given them.
Given a choice between a problem solving specialist dealing with a problem by changing the question and a ordinary man with no special abilities other than movie watching desperately trying to come up with a narrative against the odds to save his own family, who would you root for? Which film would you rather watch?
There is no right answer. Except that if you thought about this enough, it means you know they are both different films trying to tell slightly different stories of very different people driven by different motivations, resorting to different means to figure out very different solutions to the same problem.
You are bound to smile at Drishyam even if you have seen Suspect X because the characters win you over, thanks to the fantastic performances and the smart storytelling. If the character, central conflict, choice of approach, treatment and even the resolution is different, then what’s left is just the similar premise. Even if Drishyam is a copy or an adaptation as alleged, it is one hell of a cover up because there just isn’t enough proof or sign of guilt here.