Joji Movie Review: Dileesh Pothan Strikes Yet Again With This Gritty Retelling of Macbeth

With just two films, Dileesh Pothan had made a niche for himself in the business. So it’s not surprising that the announcement of his third outing (Joji) was met with huge expectations. However, the development was quite low-profile – there was no post-production buzz of the film (viral leaked shooting stills, first look posters and so on) until a series of cryptic promos dropped this week that further piqued the interest of cine-goers. Anyhow, the film has finally been released on Amazon Prime Video today.

If you opened this article out of curiosity to know whether this team has delivered yet again or fallen to the “third-time unlucky” curse, I guess our title would have cleared your doubt. But anyway since you’re here, do read ahead to know our (spoiler-free) thoughts on the film!

PLOT

Kuttappan Panachel’s youngest son Joji is a clueless chap who is constantly scheming ways to make a quick buck. One day, the Panachel household is thrown into a dire situation: Kuttappan suffers from a critical stroke. This leads to a series of mishaps in the family, all of whom have different intentions vis-a-vis their father. 

There are a host of factors that make Joji the intense viewing experience it is, and here are a few that stood out for us. 

The Dileesh Pothan-Syam Pushkaran Combo

Maheshinte Prathikaram had brought in a fresh mix of realism and entertainment – case in point, even simple lines uttered by characters (“Karayipikkelleda nayinte mone!”) found their place in pop culture. Joji gives us this same mix, but in a different meter. After all, it is a different genre altogether – A crime drama. 

Joji Movie Review

The film devoutly follows the “show, don’t tell” lesson taught to early-stage screenwriters. There is no spoon-feeding or lazy exposition here. Characters are established through their actions and not external dialogues or narration. For instance, in the first 10 minutes, just by observing Joji, we understand a lot about him: his joblessness, his craving for easy money, the relationship he shares with his dad and so on. The storyline is wafer-thin, and yet the film manages to engage the viewer, primarily because of the way it builds a world around its characters. 

Hard-Hitting Performances

Fahadh Faasil owns this film from start to end. He does not seem to have got hampered by the complexity of the eponymous protagonist (Joji) even one bit. He seamlessly takes us through the flurry of emotional states that Joji encounters – from embarrassment to (controlled) jubilation to apprehension to spitefulness.

Another interesting aspect is: the real character of Joji does not change much through the film. It is rather a series of events that end up exposing his true nature. So for the most part of the film, Joji is pretending to be someone he’s not. This masking of feelings becomes an element that we see multiple times. For instance, when Joji is disappointed, he grins uncontrollably. When he’s celebrating inside, he tries to put up a mournful face. Having to show one emotion while internalising another is quite a googly, but Fahadh knocks it out of the park. 

However, this film wouldn’t have been what it is, without a killer supporting cast. Baburaj as Jomon, the loving elder son of Kuttappan, turns in with a nuanced performance that might kick off his third innings in cinema – that of a dramatic performer. Unnimaya Prasad, who plays Bincy (a standout character in the movie) has a unique, natural style of dialogue delivery that fits well within the film’s setting. Joji Mundakkayam who plays the middle son Jaison, really helps hold the tension in the climax. Basil Joseph as Fr. Kevin is quite an unconventional casting, but he delivers the goods. The rest of the cast – Shammi Thilakan, Sunny PN and Alister Alex – also provide ample support. 

Fantastic Frames

What makes Joji an aesthetically pleasing film, despite the sombre genre, is the cinematography by Shyju Khalid. He makes every frame look like a painting. Even seemingly mundane shots, like that of a tree in the middle of a thottam, are drool-worthy. A special mention to the colouring department helmed by Remesh CP and Ashwin Shaji.

Joji Movie Review

And well, Shyju is someone who has time and again showed us how things like camera positioning and shot selection can add value to the narrative. Joji is no exception. Here, he often uses wide shots to capture characters in multiple rooms of the house, helping us better understand the interplay between them. Props also to the intelligent use of a mirror in a scene (ft. Fahadh and Unnimaya) that is bound to startle the viewer. 

A Non-Traditional BGM 

Justin Varghese sets a new benchmark for scoring films of the drama genre. His sound has a non-traditional (I’d daresay international) quality to it; there is no overly loud music that plays out in the dramatic scenes like we’re conditioned to expect – and yet there is a provoking effect that his sound creates on us. Especially chilling are some confrontation scenes in the second half where characters’ true motives are exposed. 

Tailored for Home Viewing

Dileesh mentioned in the promotional interviews that Joji was written as an ‘OTT film’. Now, this is quite a significant decision, because you realise that a lot of creative decisions were taken considering this point. For example, the film was shot keeping the aspect ratio of mini-screens in mind. 

Joji movie review I PinkLungi

Another creative liberty that Dileesh and team take, is to rid the script of extra embellishments like stretched out comedy and songs that are needed to bring people to the theatres. There is an unadulterated rawness to Joji that makes it the most indulgent, personal offering from this team. 

Also, if you’re watching this film with family, do note that the film is peppered with a liberal dose of expletives, particularly starting with “m”. Just putting it out there so you don’t have to be shocked AND embarrassed during the watch; you can be just embarrassed 😛

Now here are a few more things, without context, that you shouldn’t miss:

  1. Use of metaphors and symbolism – from fishing to masks to fireworks
  2. Brilliant use of a storytelling device (that we’ve spoken about in an earlier post)
  3. A bone-chilling post-credits scene that leaves us hanging on the proverbial cliff
  4. A fun cameo by Pothen himself 
  5. Go back to the title design poster and see if you’re able to make out the plot

There are hardly any negatives that stand out so much as to jar the narrative. A few of you may have issues with the pacing of the film. If you’re someone who gives a lot of emphasis to the plot, you may not find much of a plot here. People who have read Macbeth will be able to predict some plot beats in advance. But all this feels like nitpicking a near-perfect film. And how often do we get that?

It’s definitely worth a watch, so go ahead and let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Also read: MALAYALAM MOVIES INSPIRED BY SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS

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