Adaptations can be a tricky feat to achieve for filmmakers since they are working with someone else’s vision and characters. They not only have to retain the soul of the text that they are adapting, but also put in their interpretations and make it an original piece of art that can stand on its own. This is why so many of the adaptations go wrong. It’s very hard to remain faithful to the spirit of the text and be original at the same time. It gets a lot trickier if the text you are adapting is probably one of the most discussed and interpreted texts of all times: Macbeth by William Shakespeare. For this alone, Joji deserves a pat on the back. The film not only retains the soul of the play but also works as a standalone film. It has none of the flair and grandiosity of the play. Rather, it carefully strips the play down to its bare bones and then works upward to build its own world and its own characters.
Set in the COVID-ridden state of Kerala, the film is about the rich upper-caste family of Kuttappans. They own a huge plantation and live in a bungalow, slightly away from the main town. This allows them to be alone with each other for the most part, which proves to be a fatal situation for this family. Panachel Kuttappan is the owner of the plantation and has his name etched on the front gate of the bungalow. Although aged 75, he is extremely fit and doesn’t trust his sons enough to let them handle the business. He hovers around the whole house, registering authority over everyone in it.
Panachel has three sons. Jomon, the eldest son, is a divorcee and resembles his father the most in terms of physicality. He also has a son named Popy who lives with him. Jaison comes second and he is the one who takes care of the family business in town. Joji is the youngest of the three and the meekest-looking fellow in the house. He is considered a loser by everyone and lives with constant humiliation from his father. In this very patriarchal setting, the only woman there is is Bincy, the wife of Jaison. She takes care of the house and feeds all the men. Needless to say, she has no agency in the house. When a sudden stroke leaves Panachel bedridden, greed and hate consume Joji and things take wild, often unpredictable turns.
Joji is probably the most exciting Macbeth adaptation out there simply because it beautifully carries forward the soul of the play while also being wildly different from it. The film is about a man and how his ambition and greed bring out the worst in him, consuming him and everyone else around him. This is what Macbeth deals with at its core. Even Maqbool, Vishal Bharadwaj‘s Macbeth adaptation, was larger-than-life in its own right. It had powerful, lengthy dialogues and a sense of grandeur about it. It also dealt with the very complex world of gangsters. Joji, on the other hand, is a simple tale woven around a family and is set mostly in and around a single house. It doesn’t have any loud dialogues, nor the sense of tragedy that has become synonymous with Shakespeare’s play.
Joji functions as a tightly made thriller. The screenplay is such that you don’t even for once feel any sense of remorse for any character. Rather, an impending sense of doom lurks over the film. This keeps you glued to your seats in anticipation. It also makes the twist at the end of the film highly effective. Unlike other thrillers, Joji doesn’t play around with its audience and tease them with the possibility of a twist. Rather it carefully takes you to that point without much fuss and throws you off the cliff. It’s highly effective.
Syam Pushkaran, who has written the film, keeps all the characters in the film at a certain distance and doesn’t let the audience root for anyone. That’s not to say that the film is apathetic towards its characters. Certainly not. This is most evident in the way the film portrays Bincy, Jaison’s wife. Bincy is probably the most interesting on-screen portrayal of Lady Macbeth ever. She doesn’t get many dialogues or even scenes for that matter. But it is through her that you see how this very patriarchal house has affected its inhabitants. She carefully pushes Joji and Jaison to achieve her goal. You can sense how she has slowly provoked Joji to stand up to his father’s unjust behaviour. This is most evident in a scene where Joji calls his elder brother to ask for some permission. Seeing this Bincy casually remarks that he doesn’t need permission to do something in his own house. The film is filled with small scenes like this that flesh out all the characters in the film and make them appear real, rather than archetypes.
Joji is the third collaboration between writer Syam Pushkaran, filmmaker Dileesh Pothan and actor Fahadh Faasil, and it’s also their darkest one. Their two early collaborations, Maheshinte Prathikaaram and Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, were films that dealt with the dark sides of humans in a very lightweight and wholesome way. Joji, on the other hand, takes us to a very dark place, where you don’t have any moral compass. This is mostly emphasised through the camerawork of Shyju Khalid. His frames are devoid of any happy colours. The film is filled with shades of grey. It makes the spaces in the film appear sinister as if reflecting Joji’s unholy intentions. To amplify the tension in the narrative, Shyju shows the house through cramped spaces and uneven frames. It makes the house looks suffocating. Contrary to that, he shoots the outdoor spaces as widely as possible and makes everything look free and spaced out. This gives the film a very beautiful contrast and brings out the major motivation behind Joji’s actions: to break free of the shadow of his oppressive father.
Apart from the wonderful script and camerawork, Joji rests on the wonderful shoulders of its great cast. Everyone in the film has done a tremendous job in portraying the dark side of human beings, with Fahadh Faasil as the cherry on top. Fahadh appears meek throughout the film and has a child-like agility to his physicality. This makes him appear weak in front of the other men of the house. Apart from the physicality, it’s his eyes and facial expressions that express the most. Since the film doesn’t rely much on dialogues, Fahadh’s eyes work perfectly to let people inside his wicked mind. It’s a wonderful performance in which you can’t separate the character from the actor, which isn’t a new feat for Fahadh.
Dileesh Pothan is one of the most exciting filmmakers out there. With each film, he is working on establishing himself as an auteur and Joji is proof of that. It’s one of the most tightly made thrillers out there that you must check out.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.