“Think straight”, Joji (Fahadh Faasil) repeats to himself in his room which he calls Joji’s Palace. The titular anti-hero of Dileesh Pothan’s Malayalam-language Macbeth adaptation, streaming on Amazon Prime Video, appears placid for the longest time even as he is covering up his father’s murder. But Macbeth has to get messy at some point. When Joji feels the need to tell himself to think straight, we know there’s no turning back from his comeuppance.
But this Macbeth movie, unlike its predecessors, is not a historical epic or a gangster movie. It is set in a leafy rubber estate in Kottayam in Kerala. Joji, the youngest son of the house, is a college dropout. A scrawny and impish chap, Joji spends his time prowling around the house like a cat. When he is not getting pulled up by his brawny father and two elder brothers, he schools his nephew, the only person who fears him.
So once everyone figures what this unlikely Macbeth could have been up to, it is a matter of minutes before the story winds up since no shootouts and sword fights are on the menu in this domestic thriller.
The best of Macbeth adaptations on film have characteristically been gruesome with their depiction of violence, and extravagant in their display of emotions. These include the period pieces by Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, and Roman Polanski as well as the gangland sagas by Vishal Bhardwaj and others before him like Ken Hughes and William Reilly.
What makes Joji different is not just the homely setting, but also Pothan and Faasil’s interpretation of Macbeth as a mousy schemer instead of a tormented warrior-type. While Macbeth is traditionally a tragic character, Faasil’s Macbeth, Joji, is a tragicomic sort.
While Macbeth is traditionally a tragic character, Faasil’s Macbeth, Joji, is a tragicomic sort.
Among the film’s darkly comic moments is what Joji does when he finds himself trapped in the end. This lays bare what he always thought of himself and the world around him, and how petty and pathetic he comes off as in the scheme of things.
Joji’s characterisation, in turn, gives the film the leisurely pace of an observational comedy, as seen in Pothan’s previous two films, Maheshinte Prathikaaram (2016) and Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (2017), also starring Faasil in the lead. Both films, as well as Joji, are written by star Malayali screenwriter Syam Pushkaran.
What motivates Joji to kill his father?
The Panachel household and its finances are held by the iron grip of the patriarch Kuttappan (Sunny PN). The responsibilities of the house are divided between the eldest son, Jomon (Baburaj), and the middle one, Jaison (Joji Mundakayam). Jomon, divorced with a child, and the married Jaison, not just work with their father, but also share his brawny physique.
In this macho milieu, Joji feels like an alien, as does his sister-in-law, Jaison’s wife, Bincy (Unnimaya Prasad). The Lady Macbeth of the piece, Bincy is itching to break free of the claustrophobia induced by Kuttappan’s authority. Prasad’s blank face is the perfect cover for the storms raging inside Bincy.
While she, along with Kuttappan’s entire brood, wants the old man to die, no one has the gumption to pull the plug except Joji. Why? Idle mind is the devil’s workshop, the film suggests.
Joji isn’t Pothan’s strongest film, but it has several intelligent touches to savour.
In contrast to the film’s deathly composure, Justin Varghese’s score sounds like a knife thrust into the orchestra and twisted wildly. The strings mourn and scream. The piano sounds frightened. Faasil’s brown eyes glare as his Joji lies in his bed, his face inscrutable, with a ghost of a smile.
Joji isn’t Pothan’s strongest film, but it has several intelligent touches to savour. Coincidentally like Irul, the other Faasil-starrer released online five days ago, the film’s opening credits feature an aerial shot tracking a moving vehicle. It’s a delivery man bringing a package to the Panachel household. The package contains a pellet gun, which Jomon’s son fires into a tree minutes later.
These seemingly innocuous shots gather grave meaning by the end of Joji. Pothan’s filmmaking style is unhurried. Complemented by Pushkaran’s knack of slipping in details into a scene quietly, Pothan’s third film, Joji, is a well-oiled machine. Above all, Joji continues the tradition of new-age Malayalam filmmakers investigating masculinity as seen in recent releases like Ishq, Kumbalangi Nights, Moothon, and The Great Indian Kitchen.