In Dileesh Pothan’s directorial debut, Maheshinte Prathikaaram (2016), the viewers were introduced to a pair of slippers in the opening shots of the film. Those slippers played a significant dramatic role in the film’s narrative. With Joji too, currently streaming on Amazon Prime, the director and screenwriter duo (Pothan-Syam Pushkaran), apply a similar technique in their narrative structure, this time using an air gun. But unlike their previously successful collaboration, the pellets of emotions fired from this weapon miss the bullseye of delivering the complete viewing experience that the director’s earlier two films – the other being Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (2017) – succeeded in. Loosely adapted from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Joji delves into the logic of a perfect crime, which is not quite perfect after all. Wisely concentrating on plot, character and familial discord, the director is well aware of the importance of immersing us in the rhythms of normal life before shaking us out of our complacency as they get ruptured. And while the film has its share of memorable moments, the cumulative impact, unfortunately, falls short of ‘being there’.
Joji (Fahadh Faasil) is the youngest son of a wealthy plantation family, whose patriarchal father, Kuttappan PK (PN Sunny), thinks that Joji is a second-rate loser. The other members of the family comprise of the elder son, Jamon (Baburaj), a divorcee who has taken refuge in alcohol, the middle son, Jaison (Joji Mundakayam), and his wife, Bincy (Unnimaya Prasad), and their young lad, Popy (Alex Alister). Kuttapan, the head of the family, is a towering and domineering figure, who is introduced to us as a seemingly healthy individual. In fact, a few scenes later, he displays his strength by pulling a long valve out of the pond, stuck in the mud. However, this results in a stroke and has him fight for his life in the hospital bed. As misfortune befalls the family, the individual members start becoming worried about the inheritance of the property because Kuttappan has not legally made a property will yet. Kuttappan survives and recovers but is paralyzed. What follows next is a tale of greed, dubious intentions and sinking amoral depths that humans are capable of sinking into when pushed to a corner.
With a skillfully measured and languid-paced drama, Joji’s narrative , while following the norms of a crime drama, unfolds with a finesse of unconventionality. The tone of the film swings between amusement, grimness, and at times, even dark comedy. The house, where the drama unfolds, is situated in an isolated location that is surrounded by lush green vegetation thereby making it resemble a fortified building. From the beginning itself, the game of deceit and mistrust sets forth as Popy waits for a consignment that he had ordered by fraudulent means. The use of the face mask worn by the characters, as a post-pandemic cautiousness, also reflects their hidden and covert intentions of getting hold of their ailing father’s wealth at the earliest and easiest convenience. Pothan has instilled a certain stylization of stillness that one rarely observes amongst his peer filmmakers -an aesthetic that favors the amplification of small ambient sounds at the expense of the more chaotic ones. Realistic, everyday noise imbues everyday moments with implications of looming disruption, buried resentment, and longing. But instead of creating an immersive experience, the film headways instead to a narrative drag.
Photographed expertly by Shyju Khalid, the balanced frames explore the compartmentalized interiors of both, the house and the minds of its inhabitants. The room where Joji resides is a small, claustrophobic one and represents his trapped existence. He is essentially a soul, who cannot wait any longer to break the boundaries set by his family members and also to be free of the humiliations he has to suffer from his father. The openness and flora of the plantation offer a wide landscape for the scheming protagonist to feel free. The camera also captures the profiles of the characters brilliantly in their moment of vulnerability. The editing of Kiran Das aptly proceeds to build up a tense, slow-burning character study with inescapable tension and a level of precision. It is worth mentioning one particular scene in the film where the dissolve has been used both, aesthetical and symbolically, to highlight the transition where Kuttappan is no longer a part of the mortal world. The music score by Justin Varghese and sound design by Ganesh Marar has expert modulations and stylish touches that are firmly at the service of a story. They create a mood that is heightening as well soothing depending upon the texture of the scene. The production design by Gokul Das is minimalistic and effective to the milieu of the film. But even such technical sheen cannot help us to hold our empathy for the plight of the characters for too long.
The performances exhibited by both the principal as well as secondary characters, as expected, are top-notch. Fahadh Faasil, who does not hesitate from essaying one atypical role after the other, shines yet again. His innocent and manipulative looks are unnerving as well as mysterious and add substantially to his character. Buburaj, who plays the role of Jamon, is a guy who does not play by the rules imposed by society. He would not hesitate to stop a prayer by the priest midway because his father displays signs of breathlessness and requires immediate medical attention. Neither can anyone stop him from busting firecrackers when the body of his deceased father is taken for burial. He performs his adamancy with a flair. Joji Mundakayam also performs well as a brother and son caught in the flux of responsibility and need while Alex Alister effectively plays the youngster observant of the complexities as well as the deviousness of the adult world. A special mention should go to Unnimaya Prasad, playing Bincy, who is not a partner in the crime, but an observant, who prefers to remain tight-lipped because it is for the betterment of the family. She is not the standard version of Lady Macbeth, but rather a devoted homemaker, who silently observes her dream of owning a flat in the town getting shattered in the presence of Kuttappan. She is the representative of a moral compass of all the family though in the climax, she tells her husband “You too had wished to see your father dead.”
Overall, the filmmaker, no doubt, allows the interweaving threads of his plot to get tangled into an intriguing story. But as the revelations pile up, we come to care less and less about who did what to who. And this is especially disappointing coming, as it is, from a filmmaker whose earlier two films, according to me, are among the finest films of contemporary Indian cinema.
Malayalam, Thriller, Drama, Color