Review: Dileesh Pothan’s ‘Joji’, with Fahadh Faasil, Unnimaya Prasad

Posted on April 7, 2021

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Spoilers ahead…

Hello, and welcome to FILM COMPANION SOUTH. In this episode we’re going to talk about “JOJI”, which is just about as huge as a movie can get, it is directed by Dileesh Pothan, it has Fahadh Faasil, the director of photography is Shyju Khalid, the music is by Justin Varghese who contributes a beautifully melancholic score: it’s played once by an orchestra and then again on the piano. It’s absolutely wonderful.

But even huger are the writers involved. The writer of this movie is Syam Pushkaran and the writer of the play the movie is based on (Macbeth), is of course, William Shakespeare. Now Macbeth is one of my favourite Shakespearean plays because it is one of his most human plays. It shows what happens when a good man is tempted by greed and ambition and turns bad — and sometimes it is easy to project yourself into this character, into Macbeth, and say, “If I were in his position, if I was promised all this greatness, would I do these things? Would I still retain my in innate goodness?”

It’s a very beautiful question that Macbeth poses in the guise of an action adventure. When other filmmakers made Macbeth — for example when Vishal Bhardwaj made “Maqbool,” or when Akira Kurosawa made “Throne of Blood”, which had that wonderful shot of that arrow going right through into Toshiro Mifune’s neck — they stuck closely to the plot. They basically said, “Okay! I’m going to make an equivalent for Lady Macbeth, for the witches” and so on and so forth.

One of the most fascinating things about JOJI is that it has these equivalents, it has the Banquo character in the form of an elder brother, it has the Macduff character in the form of a nephew — but it is not really the kind of an adaption where everything has an equivalent, and you know there is this one-to-one thing that you can map and say THIS is THIS and this is the Birnam wood coming. It’s not like that at all.

The story centers on a father who’s kind of on his deathbed. He’s got a lot of money and all his children keep talking about his wealth, and I was reminded of another famous, very classic play, Tennessee Williams’ “CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF”, where pretty much the same thing happens. The father here is physically strong. The first scene we see him doing his exercise, this insanely tough exercise, we see he’s got a very, very fit body, and he is the kind of guy who can crush your chest just because he thinks you’ve stolen his money which he does to Joji, the Fahadh Faasil character.

Now there is a beautiful physical demarcation between these two characters. There is this huge father. And Fahadh is a contrast. I think he lost weight for this movie or maybe he’s just lost weight in general but he’s always in tees and capri pants and he looks like a kid. The contrast between them is amazing because you know that they’re not equals and you get the feeling of one being a tyrant and one being an oppressed person. So instead of being motivated by greed and ambition, which is certainly there in this movie, this Macbeth is also motivated by the fact that he just wants to get even with this kind of a father, who’s been suppressing him all his life.

There are many, many lovely touches in the movie. For example, take the Lady Macbeth character, played by Unnimaya Prasad. She’s not the wife. She’s the sister -in –law, and she’s not an active encourager of Macbeth’s action but more like a passive observer of what he does. Here’s another lovely touch — the film actually plays like the story of a criminal who’s committed one criminal act and then has to keep committing other criminal acts in order to hide that one crime and that is actually what Macbeth is, if you take away all the supernatural elements and other kind of things.

Here’s another lovely touch, the presence of Christianity and the importance of society in this whole scenario, which was not really explored in either the Shakespeare play or any of the other adaptions. But despite all these things, the film doesn’t really come together as well as you’d like. With Dileesh’s earlier two films, Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum and Maheshinte Prathikaaram, you know while seeing them that every single thing is clicking and working. Here, you sense the effort to create a masterpiece as opposed to it being an organic masterpiece. There’s a conscious decision taken at every space to kind of make it breathe a little more than the scene needs to and so many touches make you feel that they wanted this to be a Classic instead of just trying to tell a story and hoping that it turns out to be classic.

There are many characters and their various psychological motivations don’t exactly come together or sometimes don’t even feel very different. So while I admired the fact that this film was trying to do something so different with Macbeth, I was always kept at an arm’s length. I never made it into the movie. The “is it worth it?” question about JOJI is very easy to answer, because it has all these great performances by Fahadh Faasil, by Unnimaya Prasad, by everybody else, and if especially you know Macbeth, the contrasts are wonderful to see. But as a standalone film I missed the Fahadh Faasil-Dileesh Pothan combination that gave us Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum and Maheshinte Prathikaaram.

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