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Family plot

Mohammed Rayaan | Updated on April 10, 2021

Rules of inheritance: A still from the Malayalam film Joji, directed by Dileesh Pothan

A domineering father, three resentful sons and a vile plan — director Dileesh Pothan, screenwriter Syam Pushkaran and actor Fahadh Faasil’s ‘Joji’ is a well-crafted thriller

`* PK Kuttapan Panachel (Sunny PN) is a wealthy man, the owner of a massive house and sprawling plantation land often cloaked in mist

* The sons long for their father to die

* Another central theme of the film is alcohol, stitched through the character of Jomon

* While the supporting characters deliver gripping performances, it is Fahadh Faasil who stands apart

***

Some books don’t age. William Shakespeare wrote his tragedy Macbeth 400 years ago. The tale of greed, power and violence has been turned into modern plays and films multiple times. Now, director Dileesh Pothan and screenwriter Syam Pushkaran weave the crucial element of the classic work — greed — into Joji, giving it a contemporary twist. But as the film’s hero, Fahadh Faasil, who had collaborated with Dileesh and Syam for Maheshinte Prathikaaram (2016) and Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (2017), said in a recent interview, Joji was “not a direct version of Macbeth” but “inspired by its theme”.

The story is set in Kottayam. PK Kuttapan Panachel (Sunny PN) is a wealthy man, the owner of a massive house and sprawling plantation land often cloaked in mist — perhaps a metaphor to mark the coldness in the Kuttapan family.

Kuttapan — the king of the house — is a domineering father who lords over his palace with an iron fist. Wheelchair-bound after having suffered a stroke, he is shown as muscular and unsmiling. His three sons — the bulky and alcoholic Jomon (Baburaj), the timid and obedient Jaison (Joji Mundakayam) and the youngest, the college dropout and aimless Joji (Faasil) — resent his autocratic ways, but are fearful of speaking up.

The sons long for their father to die so that they inherit their share of the property. And while they do not say this out aloud, their longing for freedom from the patriarch is evident from the character's introductory shot; the sons, fearing physical abuse, cower as Kuttapan moves around the property to get work done.

Then there is Bincy (Unnimaya Prasad), Jaison's quiet and subdued wife. By the end of the second act, screenwriter Syam shows us that she, too, has dreams and is subtly ambitious. When an opportunity arises to seize Kuttapan's power, she becomes a silent co-conspirator. Joji and Bincy have an understanding. They do not directly talk of their deeds but speak with their eyes and with the tiniest of hidden smiles.

Syam has built the characters in Joji — streaming on Amazon Prime — with their own agenda and frustrations. Deftly held by the camera that trains on every actor’s face to capture their mind, the film is helped by Justin Varghese's music, neatly wrapping the suspense — in perfect sync with the haunting orchestral score.

While the supporting characters in the 113-minute-long subtitled Malayalam film deliver gripping performances, it is Faasil who stands apart. He portrays with remarkable ease the essence of Joji — cold and calculating, eager to escape from the shadow of his abusive father, his empty eyes desperately seeking freedom.

In a shot when Kuttapan shouts from the balcony, “Who is it?”, Joji responds, “One of the subjects of your kingdom”, after taking in a long drag of his cigarette. Dileesh captures each take with studied balance; you don't just feel the cold air of the town but also Joji's lust for power.

Another central theme of the film is alcohol, stitched through the character of Jomon. His confrontation with Joji on a tea plantation keeps you on the edge of the seat. Dileesh keeps the tension building up — and you feel as if a jackal is about to pounce on its prey.

Towards the final act, Syam meticulously folds the showdown — and zeroes in on how the wealthy Panachel family turns chaotic. Throughout the film, the actors’ emotions are held tightly together. However, in scenes that take place beyond the family's property, there is a sense of urgency which is pitted against the despair in the patriarch’s home.

When Joji goes to a shop wearing a facemask, it is kind of ironic; the mask doesn’t just protect him from the coronavirus but also hides his face and his murderous plan.

In the world of Joji, it is every man for himself — which is what ambition and greed are all about.

Published on April 10, 2021

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