Written by Siddhartha Krishnan . 5 Min Read
In a scene from the film, Joji asks his sister-in-law, Bincy, whether his elder brother has spoken to their father? To which Bincy replies, that their plan will never ever work and that his good days will be wasted on the kitchen slab. Joji, smirks and exits the kitchen. The camera pans backwards and a wide angle shot, complemented by a haunting background score, captures the exasperation of Bincy and Joji, in one frame. Both sulk in silence. The scene conveys the confusion lingering in the minds of the two characters, without many dialogues and screen time. Yet, it is a pivotal moment in the film!
After having watched Dileesh Pothan’s earlier two films, “Maheshinte Prathikaram” (2016) and “Thondimuthalam Driksashiyam” (2017) (both National award-winning films), one thing was clear, that he wasn’t going to repeat himself. The worlds, characters, and the cinematic language were all very distinct in his earlier films. However, what was constant is the minimalism, and that continues in “Joji”.
Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth” written over 400 years ago, was about a Scottish general, who, consumed by his ambition and spurred to action by his wife, murders the King to take the Scottish throne. Widely regarded as one of the best characters ever written, Macbeth, shows the workings of the complex human mind, when blinded by desire, and the subsequent descent into madness, guilt and paranoia. The universality of the play’s messaging, allowed flexibility to filmmakers to contemporize and adapt the story, according to their sensibilities. Macbeth could have been anyone, anywhere in the world. So in the case of “Joji”, we are amidst the vast green expanses of Erumely, and inside the house of the affluent Panachel family, where we meet Joji, the youngest of the three sons of the imposing family patriarch Kuttappan PK. Physically the weakest, but deceptive and the most ambitious.
The film starts off with the disclaimer that it is inspired by Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, which means that this isn’t exactly an adaptation, as many are making it to be. Yet, there is a lot of “Macbeth” in this film, in ways that you may think wasn’t possible, and writer Syam Pushkaran deserves credit for that. The attention to detail is immaculate, and nothing seems out of place. The intelligence of the writer shows in the scenes and intricately layered characters he has written. The narrative is sprinkled with allegories and the use of dark humour to mock traditions and show the behavioural transformation of the brothers to serve their self-interest makes for some gripping cinema.
Cinematographer Shyju Khalid’s lens, once again, manages to make the cinematic experience immersive. Close-up shots followed by wide-angle ones, is what he uses to take you into the mind of a character, and then give you the bigger picture. Also, the use of mirrors in the storytelling was very clever. The background score by Justin Varghese has a brooding, haunting quality to it. Western orchestra, mainly cello and violin, has been used to complement the moods and thoughts. Given the milieu, the background score might take you by surprise but the choice of music is definitely a masterstroke. It adds to the drama unfolding on the screen.
But in a performance driven film like this; a lot of the heavy-lifting has to be done by the actors. The ensemble cast consists of PN Sunny (as Kuttappan PK, the dominant family patriarch), Baburaj (as Jomon, the turbulent and alcoholic eldest sibling), Joji Mundakayam (as Jaison, the unassuming middle brother), Unnimaya Prasad (as Bincy, the quietly scheming wife of Jaison), Alister Alex (as Popy, the malleable son of Jomon) and Fahadh Faasil (as Joji, the complexed youngest sibling). Although, the story is centered around Fahadh’s character, the other actors also had a lot on their plate, since the scenes are written in such a way, that they have to feed off each other, giving room for a lot of improvisations. And they have all delivered superlative performances. Some of the best scenes in the film are when the family members are together in one frame.
However, a lot rested on the shoulders of the central character, and Fahadh, through his expressive eyes, physicality and body language becomes “Joji”. Due to the physical transformation, beyond a point, you fail to see Fahadh, and you see only “Joji”. It is difficult to say whether, this is his best performance because he has many to his credit. But this could be the most complexed character he has played till now, and he pulls it off with aplomb.
Malayalam cinema is truly having a golden run at the moment, challenging even the late 80’s and 90s golden era. No wonder, they have got the attention of filmmakers and movie lovers across the world. Through sheer technical brilliance, they seem to have the ability to make a 5-crore film, look like a 50-crore one! They also have the best content, and some of the most naturally gifted actors. “Joji” is another feather in the cap of Malayalam cinema, and with it, director Dileesh Pothan has hit the ball, out of the park, for a third consecutive time! For its powerhouse acting performances, technical brilliance, engaging screenplay and minimalism, “Joji” deserves 4 / 5 stars. You can watch it on Amazon Prime video.
Siddhartha Krishnan is the author of Two and a Half Rainbows – A Collection of Short Stories. He is also an enthusiastic blogger and, on his website, www.whatsonsidsmind.com, he regularly puts out his essays, articles, travelogues and movie reviews.
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Very interesting, great to read your in depth review. Will try to watch it. Just wondering: is there a character inspired by Lady Macbeth?
Thank you! And yes, the sister-in-law, Bincy, is Lady Macbeth in the film. Found it very inventive.