Readers Write In #340: On ‘Drishyam’ and ‘The Devotion of Suspect X’

Posted on February 25, 2021


(by V Vijaysree)

Every serious movie buff, who enjoyed watching the Malayalam movie Drishyam, knows that the writer-director of the film may have been inspired by the plot of The Devotion of Suspect X.

The book, on which the movie was based, was written by Japanese author, Keigo Higashino. It features Detective Galileo, a fictional character who is to the Tokyo police force, what Sherlock Holmes was to Scotland Yard. Galileo is the nickname of Prof. Manabu Yukawa, a well-read physicist at Imperial University in Tokyo. He is an astute reader of people as well. Science history buffs will recognize that the sleuth’s name is a nod to theoretical physicist Hideki Yukawa, Japan’s first Nobel laureate in 1949.The creation of The Institute of Mathematical Science in Chennai, a center for excellence, was, in fact, inspired by the Yukawa Institute of Theoretical Physics in Japan.

Anyway, who is Detective Galileo up against in this particular case? Tetsuya Ishigami, a high school teacher of mathematics, is the worthiest of adversaries. A veritable monk, he is moved to help his neighbor who has accidentally killed her abusive ex-husband, a newly released convict, who was harassing her and her teen daughter. Ishigami gives them ironclad alibis, so they can escape any further investigation by the police. Ishigami, it turns out, is Galileo’s classmate from college. Back then, he was known as Ishigami, the Buddha, destined for glory in mathematical research. His professors had said that Ishigami has the kind of first-rate mind that comes along maybe once in a century, a Srinivasa Ramanujan-like figure. The man is also physically strong and practices martial arts at the dojo.

In Drishyam, the protagonist, George Kutty, is a self-made man, an orphan who has not even had a chance to complete primary school. As the owner of a small cable television business, he watches movies at work, nearly all day. The movie buff has also picked up plenty of practical information from the films. Thanks to all this, and his street smarts, he manages to devise the perfect cover up for the inadvertent murder of a perverted teen at the hands of his older daughter. If this self-taught man’s education is not a tribute to Indian films, what is?

Unlike Detective Galileo, Ishigami never had time for art – maybe he has never even been to the cinema is the impression we get. Ishigami, the Buddha, had planned to devote his life to mathematics but due to family circumstances, he could not complete his Ph.D. Now, he is stuck teaching mathematics at a school where his students couldn’t care less about the subject. The school board wants every student to pass and so he has to dumb everything down. There was no point in even teaching math at this low level, he thinks. Wasn’t it enough to let the students know “there was this incomprehensible thing out there called mathematics and leave it at that?”

Ishigami has no one in his life. The neighbor, a woman he had come to care about, turns out to be in love with someone else. Ishigami turns himself in, so the woman can be free even of the suspicion of guilt. She and her daughter can have a shot at happiness. You even feel that Ishigami will be better off in jail, freed from that terrible job, alone with his pencil and paper, with leisure to work on his high-level math problems. But the neighbor’s teenaged daughter cannot get over the trauma of the murder. The mother too breaks down when she realizes what her benefactor has done and confesses to the police.

In the end, the devotion of the mathematician comes to nothing. Both the prodigy and his neighbor go to jail. The book ends with a primal sob of the brilliant man who realizes he had turned into a murderer for nothing. It is all over, finished. There is no scope for anything more. No one is saved. It is a great novel, but if the writer-director of Drishyam had stuck to that plot, all we would be left with is an “award-padam” as we folks in Madras used to call it back in the day when Doordarshan screened such movies on Sunday afternoons –slow-moving movies which the critics love, but the rest of us would happily avoid.

Instead, Jeetu Joseph, the writer-director, has given us this wonderful Malayalam thriller where the hero and his family kill someone, do the coverup, escape legal punishment, and we still root for these characters. The film was remade in four other Indian languages and was a hit in every one of them. Now, Drishyam has spawned this amazing organic sequel. And this may just be the beginning of something, a character says in the movie. The writer says in this interview, he has even thought of the climax of Drishyam 3.But I am not that greedy. Like many others in Madras, I will be happy if Papanasam 2 gets made.

Enough ink has been spilled over Drishyam vs Devotion of Suspect X. Can we just accept that the true genius was in Jeetu Joseph’s adaptation of the plot and be grateful for whatever movie goodness has come in its wake? And if someone reading has the contact information of Keigo Higashino, they should ask the Japanese author to watch Drishyam 2 on Amazon and marvel at the genius of Jeetu Joseph. It may inspire him to write other scintillating thrillers.