Joji is a loose adaptation of William Shakespeare's Macbeth, set in contemporary times in the COVID-stricken world. The plot revolves around the Panachel family who reside in a sprawling rubber estate on the outskirts of Kottayam city. The name of the city means 'inside a fort', and in the context of this film the rubber estate and their house becomes the fort.
This vast property or kingdom is owned by Kuttapan, fantastically portrayed by Sunny PN. He is the father to Jomon, Jaison and Joji, and is the epitome of toxic masculinity and a condescending attitude. He plays the character with just the right amount of understated aggression to make it feel authentic. The scene where he throttles Joji just by pushing his hand against his chest, for purchasing something without his permission, further amplifies this.
The whole family lives in constant fear of Kuttapan and, other than Jomon, they are all eager to break free of this toxic atmosphere. No person in this film is completely innocent and everyone is just a different shade of grey; some lighter, like Jomon's teenage son Poppy, and some darker, like Joji. Even the colour grading of the film is significantly desaturated to further amplify the tone of the film, though some of the scenes – especially the wide shots – are breathtakingly beautiful. In some way, this suggests the irony between the purity of the surrounding environment and the grim nature of the characters.
The dark plot is lightened and at the same time complemented by the smart use of witty and dark humour, which is performed with immaculate comic timing by Baburaj, Shammi Thilakan and Basil Joseph, who play Jomon, Dr Felix and Fr Kevin respectively. There is actually just one prominent female character in the whole film: Jason's wife Bincy, played by Unnimaya Prasad, who is based on Lady Macbeth. Though she hasn't been given a lot of dialogues, she shines in the silences and plays the part with restraint, and sometimes says a lot without actually speaking. A major part of the credit also goes to the writer-director duo of Syam Pushkaran and Dileesh Pothan, who, with DOP Shyju Khalid, capture her emotions perfectly. Poppy, played by Alister Alex, aptly captures the angst and innocence of a child stuck in the middle of this greedy and power-hungry family. Jaison, played by Joji Mundakayam, does well to play the neglected son who is often subjected to unfair domination.
And finally, there is the titular character of Joji, based on Macbeth, and magnificently played by Fahadh Faasil. You know that an actor has something special when he/she is able to establish the nature of the character without even uttering a word. Joji is the youngest of the three sons and also the most feckless of them all; Kuttapan even calls him a 'second-rate' loser. In one scene, Joji tells Kuttapan that he is just a subject of his kingdom, even though he is his son and possibly his heir.
His quest for power makes him do things so wicked and creepy that it is enough to make a decent person's skin crawl. But it is the unconventional charm of Fahadh's performance that makes it, dare I say, amusing to watch. It's not as if we haven't seen people on screen do such vicious things but it's the performance, supported by the smart editing and well-composed and -placed background score, that keeps the tension brewing and the viewers hooked. At one point Fahadh is playing a character within a character, which left me in awe of his craft. There wasn't much to be done in terms of physicality per se: it was more internal. Sometimes it's just the slightest of change in the look in his eyes that is enough to suggest the bridge between the real and the farce he is trying to portray.
The actual craft of the film lies is in the way it uses metaphors. Like a scene where Bincy tells Joji to put on a mask and come downstairs. It implies the physical or the tangible mask as well as the intangible one, to hide the demon within. The motive of this film is not to show what is right and what is wrong and pick sides; instead, the gaze is completely non-judgemental. It just tries to foray into the realm of greed and how your deeds eventually catch up in forms that you least expect them to.