In a spectacular scene, the daughter in law of the house tells her brother in law to wear a mask and come to the hall where the body of his father is kept while friends and relatives keep thronging to pay their last respects. Yes, even in the film, it is Covid time – you can see people moving around with masks and there is a reference to quarantine etc.… But the dialogue I referred to here, is not about Covid but, is a nudge to the character to show some gloomy emotion instead of glee on his dad’s death. Joji, now streaming on Amazon Prime opens with a title card that its story is based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This one scene clinches that premise.
The setting for the film is a palatial house in Central Kerala. It’s a joint Christian family and there is an elderly father and nothing in that household moves without his permission. He is mentally tough and physically as well. The house is in the midst of a huge rubber plantation and other trees. If you are from Kerala, you will be very familiar with this setting and you can’t but appreciate how the characters react the way they do, in many scenes.
In this household, there are three sons, a daughter in law and a grandson. In another line, the youngest son Joji, played by Fahadh Faasil refers to all the family members as mere subjects in his dad’s empire. Except the eldest son who is also becoming like his father in terms of behavior, everyone else in the house is shown to be stifled by the Dad’s presence and his way of not letting go his iron grip on the affairs of the house. There is an “All is well” but a nervous undercurrent in the house. How this premise is brought into the theme of Macbeth is the story. Again, those familiar with Kerala and the patriarchal set up there, this is easily relatable.
The film is directed by Dileesh Pothan, who is now emerging as an extremely talented film maker and a one to look for in Indian cinema. Every frame in the film has an inner meaning that furthers the story without saying in so many words. For example, when the patriarch is brought home after a stroke in a near coma state, the camera pans from the catheter and finally to his face to show that “eppadi iruntha naan ippadi aayitten” transformation.
The strength of the film is in the writing. Shyam Pushkaran brings in the intensity of the scenes with his writing which is also most of the times minimalistic. Characters don’t speak much but convey a lot with few words. Malayalam writers have this knack of showing day today stuff naturally as they happen, very naturally on the screen. You will find that technique throughout the film. A relative calls Fahadh to check how his father’s condition was. And his next question is – “Should I book my flight tickets to reach there?” He follows up with a quip, “As you know, these days flights are expensive”!
The film keeps you engaged for most of the while. I felt badly let down in the last 15-20 minutes. And that’s what pulls down the film from being a great film to a good film. The director doesn’t spend time in making us invested in the characters. But for a couple of scenes we don’t understand why the tough father is hated so much that the family members would like to get rid of him. That build-up to that hate is not organic at all.
Among the cast, Fahadh is as usual outstanding. As the third son, labelled as a loser by one and all, he brings out the frustration and at the same his own cavalier nature very well. The lone lady character – Unnimaya Prasad plays the subdued daughter in law of the house. She hardly speaks but when she does, she packs a punch. The other supporting cast all seem like plucked out of real life.
The camera work by Shyju Khalid is outstanding. Each and every frame is done well and the helicam shots of the household, the rubber plantations and the pineapple orchards are simply breath taking. The background score is again minimalistic and suits the tempo of the film. Most of the time the solo piano notes add to the texture of the scenes.
After the fantastic outing in their earlier film “Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum”, the Director- Writer duo of Dileesh Pothan and Shyam Pushkaran get back together for this Macbeth interpretation. For most parts they get it absolutely right. Yet, I felt something missing in the end. If you are interested in serious and quality cinema, this is still a must watch.