Joji review: Slow-burn family drama

Dileesh Pothan’s Joji opens with the vast green expanse of Kottayam and narrow, sinewy roads leading to the grand Panachel family residence. While the film is set in the pandemic era, it’s clear very early on that the real malaise lies within the walls of the dark, brooding house. Joji is loosely inspired from Shakespearean tragedy Macbeth and has an operatic mood to it.

PK Kuttapan Panachel is the patriarch of the family. He exudes brute strength, literally and metaphorically. He has an ironclad grip over his vast property and his three sons – the brawny Jomon (Babu Raj), the dutiful Jaison (Joji Mundakayam) and the waiflike Joji (Fahadh Faasil). Jomon, who's divorced, has a son Popy who lives with him.

The only feminine presence in the family is that of Bincy's (Unnimaya Prasad), Jaison's quiet wife, whose life is relegated to the kitchen and household duties.

Joji whiles away his days smoking near the fishing pond and dozing off to the sounds of online classes. He has a shrinking presence in his own house away from his father’s controlling ways. His only two companions seem to be Popy and Bincy. Things come to a head when Kuttapan suffers a stroke.

It’s almost comical the way his family reacts when they realise that he might not make a full recovery. Joji talks about the frailities of human life while asking for more fish curry. Vulnerabilities and deception come to light when the family gets embroiled in village gossip.

Taking advantage of his father’s momentary weakness, Joji decides to no longer be the “second piece” of the family. Joji, however, is no Macbeth. His life and actions are not driven by ambition. The fact that Fahadh Faasil is one of the greatest actors of his generation is evident in this film with the ease with which he slips between Joji’s childlike vulnerabilities and his deviousness. Manipulation and deception are Joji’s weapons to a better life, but he’s also silly and directionless. In Joji, you see a hint of that manic craziness that Fahadh so succinctly portrayed in Kumbalangi Nights.

This is Fahadh’s third collaboration with Dileesh after the deeply endearing Maheshinte Prathikaaram and Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum. Syam Pushkaran, who's written Maheshinte Prathikaaram, Mayaanadhi and Kumbalangi Nights, has also written the script of Joji. They represent the new age Malayalam cinema with their deeply rooted stories and a talented set of artistes.

If Joji was Macbeth, then Jomon is Banquo and Bincy is Lady Macbeth. But Bincy’s Lady Macbeth is not driven by devious madness. She’s frustrated with her husband’s lack of spine and merely wants financial independence from her father-in-law. Bincy doesn’t plot or instigate, she merely hints at Joji to demand what’s rightfully his.

The characters and the familial setup are portrayed with perfection. Shyju Khalid's indulgent shots and Justin Varghese’s music add to the haunting quality. The film, however, falters towards the end. As Joji becomes more and more unhinged, the plot also loses its grip.

Title: Joji

Platform: Amazaon Prime Video

Cast: Fahadh Faasil, Baburaj, Shammi Thilakan, Unnimaya Prasad, Basil Joseph

Director: Dileesh Pothan

Rating: 3 stars

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