The 3 wizards of contemporary Malayalam cinema – actor Fahadh Faasil, writer Syam Pushkaran and director Dileesh Pothan – are back with their third collaboration and they do not disappoint with this Macbeth adaptation. Although I am not very sure if adaptation is the right word here, since it is more of an inspiration. For Joji (the movie) is not just Macbeth and Joji (the protagonist) is not exactly the titular Shakespearean character. Joji is weak and ‘unmanly’ in a family where flexing muscles is considered as the sign of manliness. Unlike Macbeth, who won battles for Duncan and was bestowed with titles, Joji has been a loser in life and the title given to him derogatorily by his father is that of “second issue”.
Where Macbeth’s fall can be attributed primarily to greed, for Joji greed is only one of the factors. It is more an outburst of living under the towering personality of his father that brought with it constant humiliation. The movie’s version of Lady Macbeth is Bincy (played by a brilliant Unnimaya Prasad) who is Joji’s sister-in-law. She is not the persuasive co-accomplice in Joji’s acts, rather a mute witness who is in silent agreement of his actions. She does this because the results could mean what she has craved for a while – freedom from this patriarchal hold. Their equation is best highlighted in a sequence where she asks Joji to come out of his room and attend his father’s funeral. “Wear a mask and come” is what she says. It gets a different connotation because she is aware of his state of mind. It is not just the now familiar surgical mask she is referring to. The shot of Joji putting on the ‘mask’ in front of the mirror further elevates this entire sequence.
The acting by the entire cast is praiseworthy, but Fahadh Faasil is the rock on which the church of Joji is built. He is present in almost all the frames and holds you through, captive to his skill. Notice him in a minor scene where the father is being carried out of the ambulance and to his room. The literal heavy lifting is done by everyone around him, but look for Joji and you find him trying to play a part by keeping his hand near whatever body part he can get close to as his father is being moved. It is sure to remind you of relatives or friends who want to show that they are helping when, say, furniture is being moved, but they either have no clue about the whole act or want to avoid physical exertion.
In the tradition of Malayalam cinema, the theatrical is replaced by the subtle. Soliloquies give way to expressions and silent acts of exasperation. True to the characterisation of Joji, Fahadh frets through his hour-and-a-half on screen, and surely this performance is going to be heard of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Syam Pushkaran has filled the screenplay with bits of inspirations (we also get versions of Banquo, Macduff and a drunk witch doctor) but has brought in enough elements into the midst that almost make it into an independent story. Including a craftily written religious angle. Joji might just fall short of being in the same league as Maheshinte Prathikaram and Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, but the trio needs to be credited for what they have successfully created – a prototype that has borrowed elements of design sketches from the bard but whose user interface is inherently Malayali.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.