‘Joji’ review: a sly look at a Shakespearean blunder

Day-dreamers are natural self-isolationists. Give them a room, a bed, and food to survive while their imagination and fantasies provide aviation fuel for unfettered flights of pinnacle-touching feats. In the echo chambers of their minds do the perfectly laid plans for life play out like a finely tuned symphony. Trouble arrives swiftly when they cross the threshold into reality and expect the symphonic arrangement to follow automatically. Much like most of us who, in our minds sound exactly like our favorite singers, the problem arising when we open our mouths to actually sing—and create a petrified melodic disaster—these dreamers are quite simply, miserable in real-life execution. 

You may call Joji (Fahadh Faasil) one such daydreamer minus John Lennon’s lofty goals. For, he imagines a life of sweetness and harmony, but only within a demarcated boundary of his own existence. The youngest son of a plantation owner, burly Panachel Kuttappan (Sunny PN), he’s not the only one who has some wayward designs in mind. For, the wealthy, brusque Kuttappan rules his business and family with an iron fist and hand. The family includes Kuttappan’s son, the divorced, tending-toward-dipso-behavior Jomon (a superb Baburaj), whose teenage son Popy (Alistair Alex) has figured out how to use his grandfathers’ credit card to shop online, but not what to do when the bill hits home. Kuttappan’s other son, handling business in town, Jaison (Joji Mundakayam) whose wife, Bincy (Unnimaya Prasad) is forever in the kitchen cooking for the family, and as it turns out, also food for her husband’s thought. 

Baburaj, Joji Mundakayam, Fahadh Faasil, Alistair Alex: prepping for the worst.

Writer Syam Pushkaran and director Dileesh Pothan take this oppressive patriarchal setup and layers of discontent and mini-revolutions within it, all dark and mildly comic in the first act. Of the lot, Joji, with his sleeveless business ventures, is target practice for his father’s hyperactive hackles, having to be content confined to his room that he’s named “Joji’s Palace”. And the final bullet in the target board is lodged when Popy’s online shopping adventures come to roost in the form of a bill for the airgun—that haunts the entire family later—he’d ordered, and Kuttappan naturally suspects Joji. By now Joji’s had it, the servile and hopeless existence almost unbearable. Fate swiftly arrives in what seems like a stroke of luck when Kuttapan, lending a helping in the pond-digging operation on the estate, does a Gadar and pulls out a heavyweight valve stuck in the mud and is felled by it. The stroke, that is. Pothan tacitly shows the undercurrent of hope that begins to swim for Joji and Bincy, she casting the first stone in the repressed pond by telling him that it’s his house too. 

Sunny PN, Fahadh Faasil: not so sunny or bright.

Dr. Felix (Shammi Thilakan), the family doctor and friend, has no hope of Kuttappan recovering, and his family begins to exhale, waiting for their home dictator to inhale his last. But there’s no such luck, for Kuttapan’s doughtier than medical science and the local priest— Father Kevin (Basil Joseph)—and his wise pronouncements. Joji’s had it now and decides to manipulate the fate of his father’s health with his own dire plans. The director’s subtle look at the shift of power or the lack of it and its consequences yields fine scenes that view Kuttapan’s room and bed as a throne, the estate and home as a fiefdom, and the people within its subjects. With traces of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, there’s murder as a coup to dethrone that place, there’s dark emotions that come to the fore, but there’s also the stupidity of the daydreamer that takes front seat as the story progresses. 

Unnimaya Prasad: still waters.

Based in the current pandemic times, director Pothan gets the mood just right, the masks an optional prop for people around, almost unfailingly to be pulled down while transmitting sound and aerosols. But in a telling scene, when the mood’s funereal and Joji’s in his room, Bincy, internally thrilled at new-found liberation and looking-the-other-way to allow for this path to be paved, stands at his door and tells him to come out. And then, noticing the play of triumph on his lips tells him to wear a mask. When it’s time to show their emotions, folks lower their masks. In Joji’s case, his emotions call for masking up. Unnimaya Prasad as Bincy is as still as a dark, deep water body in a fine act. Her manipulations run wide and are far-reaching, way beyond the comprehension of the family and possibly even the bound script. Joji is also made the moody winner it is by Justin Varghese’s background score, borrowing from Bach’s sorrowful movements here, plucking ominous strings there; plus, Shyju Khalid‘s cinematography is a treat, be it the house moods, a fiery pond scene at night, or the shot where a mirror with three strips captures Joji and Bincy in two different frames: are those strips the three brothers each? Or a doff to the Three Witches of darkness, chaos, and confusion in Macbeth?

Shyju Khalid’s cinematography stuns.

But it is Fahadh Faasil in the title role who hypnotizes. Donning on a puny frame, his act is part-Chaplinesque as he frustratedly pummels the air after every move gone wrong, part-dark force. His triumphs are as transparent as his failures, and his swagger as put-on as his uncertainties honest and hard-hitting. It is in Faasil’s fine performance do you get an insight into a daydreamer’s Shakespearean plotting that, via director Pothan’s sly machinations, becomes a blundering epic. It may be okay to daydream about murdering folks but when you actually live out those dreams, you just may find yourself trapped in a palace that’s not to your liking, but indubitably of your own making. 

Joji (2021) on IMDb Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers

Joji is streaming on Prime and rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) for moderate profanity and some intense scenes.

Director Dileesh Pothan Time 1h 53min
Writer Syam Pushkaran
Stars Fahadh Faasil, Baburaj, Joji Mundakayam, Unnimaya Prasad, Alistair Alex, Sunny PN
Genres Crime, Drama