If you have ever delved into the Shakespearean world, you already know what the core theme of Macbeth is- the destructive power of unchecked ambition and greed. However, to watch Joji, you do not need to be wary of 'the book was better than the movie' banter. Joji (2021), the third attempt of the director-writer-actor trio, has only taken its inspirations from the tragedy sparing you the extra effort.
While the legendary play has already been adapted twice into Indian films, director Dileesh Pothan and writer Syam Pushkaran attempted to reimagine this tragedy in a more contemporary setting of the post-COVID world. When you see everyone wearing masks on the screen, it makes the film instantly more relatable than any other Macbeth's adaptations.
The Malayalam-language crime drama film Joji has simply explored the major human elements of Macbeth, not in a gangster world like Maqbool (2004), not in a prehistoric period like Veeram (2016), but a questionably functional family of six in Kerala.
The family lives under the tyranny of the 74-year-old patriarch Panachel Kuttappan who has three sons- Jomon, Jaison and Joji. Jomon, the eldest son of Kuttappan, is an alcoholic widower living with his teenage son, Poppy. Jaison manages the businesses in town while his wife, Bincy, is the only woman in the house who mostly remains confined in the kitchen.
Then there is Joji, the obvious catalyst of the film, labelled as 'a second-rate loser' by his father. He is an engineering dropout on a quest to get rich using shortcuts. All of these characters are the subjects of Kuttappan's kingdom where he rules ruthlessly and fearlessly.
Kuttappan's extremely abusive behaviour and toxic masculinity are revealed in the very first minutes of the film. He is in full control of everything and everyone in the house, making it impossible for others to have a voice of their own. Kuttappan's character makes it easy for the audience to assume where the film is heading. Regardless of its predictability, it will keep you wanting to experience Joji's not-so-subtle journey towards madness.
Speaking of which, if you have not discovered the underrated gem of the Malayalam film industry who is Fahadh Fassil, you do not know what you are missing out on. The actor whose biggest acting inspiration is Irrfan Khan, is an impeccable artist himself. While Fahadh is more versatile in his character selections, in Joji, his expressive eyes will often remind you of Irrfan in Maqbool.
The film does an incredible job in its casting choices. There is no denying that Fahadh as Joji is immaculate. Alongside him, the supporting characters including Baburaj as Jomon, Joji Mundakayam as Jaison, and Sunny PN as Kuttappan have all done a terrific job. But in my eyes, the film truly outshines its extremely subtle portrayal of Lady Macbeth.
Unnimaya Prasad as Bincy is in no way the typical Lady Macbeth that Shakespeare has introduced us to. Bincy and Joji are in perfect sync as both of them share the same ambitions. Yet, Bincy is way more practical in her actions. Unlike Joji, Bincy is free of 'guilt', which is the crucial element Lady Macbeth has always been associated with.
In one scene, Kuttappan's close relative, Dr Felix is seen to tempt Joji's ambition. It can be depicted that Dr Felix is Joji's version of the original Macbeth's 'three witches'. Joji does not soak you into melancholy only, it also has some hilarious dark-comedy tropes, sometimes in the most unexpected moments.
The picturesque and expansive shots of Kottayam beautifully done by Shyju Khalid will make anybody wish to get out of their urban cages. Joji is not a script-heavy film, contrary to popular Shakespearean adaptations. The minimalist nature of the dialogues does fit into the uncomfortable environment the family has nurtured under the domination of the ruler of the house.
Joji is essentially a slow-burner. You may argue about the lack of character depths, but the ethereal greenery of the rubber plantations will soothe your eyes and stay with you.
Watch Joji if you want to experience a masterful almost-psychological thriller. Watch it for Justin Varghes's hauntingly beautiful background score. Watch it to know why you should not rely on Google searches for hiding your crimes. Watch it to see how chaos finds its ways in calmness, slowly and inevitably.