In Joji, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Fahadh Faasil plays a man who may not be as bereaved by his father's death as he appears to be. The film, a loose adaptation of Macbeth, marks the third collaboration between Faasil, writer Syam Pushkaran and director Dileesh Pothan, after Maheshinte Prathikaaram and Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum. They talk about getting darker with each collaboration and why shooting the film chronologically helped:
Anupama Chopra: Joji is the third collaboration between the three of you. What really intrigued me, Syam and Dileesh, was that with every film, the characters that Fahadh plays become more morally complex and darker. Is this by design because you have discovered Fahadh's range as an actor and what he can do? Or is this a coincidence?
Syam Pushkaran: Actually, we have no options left. We need to surprise each other with each movie we come up with. That's very tough, I don't know how people have done it all these years and still find joy in working together. We are actually bored and have to push each other. It's very hard, not only for the three of us but also for the editor, who has already seen so many close-ups of Fahadh and for whom it's very hard to pick one unique thing. It's hard to differentiate. Making it complicated is the only way of escaping that.
AC: Fahadh, Macbeth has been played by the greats of cinema like Toshiro Mifune in Throne of Blood to Irfan in Maqbool. Your take in this film is very different. Joji is not a successful man, his own father calls him a loser. He is also extremely deceitful, he's wearing a mask inside the house as much as he is outside the house. You're giving a performance inside a performance, how did you do that?
Fahadh Faasil: These two men (Syam and Dileesh) make my job so much easier.
SP: Yeah, we were very aware that it would be difficult to play a character within a character wearing a mask. We were just detailing it and describing it to each other that we would not lose that link.
FF: I have not read Macbeth recently. I read it a long time ago. Even when we decided to do this movie, I didn't go back and read it. I just wanted to take it from here. In my vague memory, I had this image of Macbeth being very unstable. He looks powerful but there is something very unstable about him. And I tried to bring that instability to Joji. Since it's not a direct adaptation of Macbeth, we had this freedom to do it the way we wanted to do. So that made it more difficult and fun.
AC: Fahadh and Dileesh do you have some sort of shorthand after collaborating together so many times together? Dileesh how do you push his buttons?
Dileesh Pothan: Actually, even though the makers were struggling, he found it very easy to do these scenes.
FF: From what I've seen of Syam, he does not repeat himself. So when Syam doesn't repeat himself, Dileesh doesn't repeat himself, and when that happens, I don't repeat myself. So everyone explores the film individually and the possibilities are wider. It's super fun working with them, they give you great detailing.
DP: Syam and I had an idea of how we wanted Joji to be, but we knew that would change very soon. When Fahadh joined and started to do some scenes, it changed. Because we can create a character, but when someone else joins, the narrative changes. The narrative followed Joji.
FF: With Dileesh, you have freedom. Every time you do a scene with him, the intention is to always run it the way I want, and then the suggestions and corrections come in.
AC: Dileesh, I read that you shoot your scenes chronologically. How do you think that benefits the storytelling?
DP: When we shoot that way, the benefit is that we can have an idea and then go out on a limb. When we write a line or write a scene and then shoot it chronologically, the intensity of the acting is different. There is even more scope to explore. It gives the narrative a certain freedom. It's a huge risk but above all, we enjoy shooting it that way. We enjoy it and that's why we repeat it again and again.
FF: It becomes really easy for the actors as well. All the films that I've shot with him have been filmed chronologically. It helps the team.
AC: Syam, in this film, like in Kumbalangi Nights, you have a house filled with men who are flawed, damaged and even downright awful. Why do you keep circling back to these themes of masculinity?
SP: I don't know, I just didn't want it to have that angle of feminism this time. The people around me have been saying that feminism is getting a bit much. So now I had to get rid of the same theme. I don't want to discuss masculinity or feminism more than that the complex situations of the characters. We purposely avoided those themes and layers. It's all in that physicality and that atmosphere.
AC: Yeah it struck me that this was a house full of men, with just one woman. Of course the men in Kumbalangi Nights are much nicer, but these are men are very toxic. So even when you're not addressing masculinity, it shows.
SP: It shows because the patriarchy is everywhere. We don't have to focus on it because it's there in that atmosphere. I just try to be less forceful (about portraying it). Dileesh was calling me a feminist but I don't see any feminist approach to this. I just want to work normally and do simple things.
AC: Fahadh, I heard that you meet Syam thrice, once at the beginning of his writing, once in the middle and then at the end. What are these meetings like and how do they shape the story?
FF: The meeting was for the meeting's sake. We talked about other films and the best thing he watched last. There was hardly any discussion about the movie. But before I left, he would say things like: Just grow your beard or shave your beard. The meeting was held only to address that small thing and to find out when we would begin shooting. Those were the only two things discussed in all those meetings. Everything else happened on the set. During that first meeting, Syam gave me an idea of the story and asked if I could do it. Once I said yes, we explored it together.
SP: It sounds easy when we say it like this, but we deeply trust each other. It's a burden actually. So much friendship and trust can actually harm the movie. We know when a scene is working or not on set, the whole set knows the vibe. The energy level goes down.
AC: But do the three of you fight?
FF: They fight. I don't.
DP: Yeah there are arguments about the scene, the dialogue, the expressions, costumes, everything. These are obvious fights.
SP: I write on the set and Dileesh is also a writer so he gives me inputs. He's contributed so many things to my scripts and I've contributed to his direction so it's equal.
FF: Something interesting that people don't know is that Syam never narrates scenes, only Dileesh does. Syam just tells you the narrative of the film, the feel of it. Most of the time, the scenes he talks about won't even be there in the film. He narrates them to you just to give you a feel for the film. Eventually, Dileesh narrates all the scenes every day in the morning before the shoot begins.
DP: Syam and I discuss those scenes before I narrate them to the actor.
FF: Syam sits with a paper and a pen and he draws and gives you a feel of the film.
DP: He had a book for Joji that just had drawings on all the pages.
SP: I carry that because otherwise I will check my phone and then I will be disconnected. Instead, I sit and draw scenes.
AC: Dileesh, since you are also an actor, do you act out scenes when you are directing an actor?
DP: Sometimes. I mostly just try to just explain the scene and the situation in which the character has found himself. I will explain the ambiance. I don't clue the actors in on how they should act. I always tell them: This is the situation, this the character, this is the relationship between these characters. Now do whatever you want.