WHAT TICKS OFF THE PSYCHE OF A TO-BE-KILLER?

Hi, readers! Welcome back.

So I had been away for more than a month simply because I had been feeling too lazy to think of a relevant topic. I had got a few ideas but I had discarded them believing them to be a pretentious subject until I watched Dileesh Pothan’s JOJI, a Malayalam crime drama film released on 7th April, 2021. I would like to call it psychological drama instead and it’s one of those films that you come across every once in a while that makes you study it deeply.

 Once again, this is not going to be review as I don’t like to judge people’s work on a public platform that much. I’ll be writing about few things that I was led to think of, after watching Joji. If you’re a fan of Psychology or Criminology, this might interest you. But it contains spoilers, so proceed with caution!

According to Wikipedia, JOJI is said to be an adaptation of Macbeth and also inspired by a real-life incident, the Koodathayi Cyanide Murders which took place in Kerala. It is also said to be inspired by K.G George’s 1985 film, Irakal. It is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and the cast includes Fahadh Faasil, Unnimaya Prasad, Baburaj, and Joji Mundakayam among others.

Brief Summary: Joji, a young unemployed man living with his father, two elder brothers, a sister-in-law, and a nephew not much younger than himself. The patriarch of the family, Kuttappan P.K Panachel is feared by his sons and grandson alike, and he still bosses over his middle-aged children and keeps them under his grip. The eldest son doesn’t feel bothered about the lack of independence in his household and the middle one wants to excuse himself from his father’s grip but doesn’t have the guts required for that while the younger one,Joji is desperate to break free. Joji tried to reason with his father but in vain. He eventually started to tamper with his father’s pills that killed him. But as they say, one murder most often doesn’t end at one but leads to a few more.

Personally, I felt it’s more of an adaptation of Irakal with only a little bit of a Macbeth touch and just the act of poisoning from the real-life Cyanide case.

Irakal and Joji had a similar family structure – a Christian family comprising of a grandfather, father, mother, sister, three brothers, and their wives, one of whom wasn’t yet married. That’s in Irakal. In Joji, there were no women in the family except the sister in law, Bincy who was the second eldest brother, Jaison‘s wife. In Joji’s family, his eldest brother, Jomon’s son, Poppy lives with them after Jomon’s divorce.

Irakal opens with the youngest brother, Baby Mathews playing around with red electrical wires and piercing his fingers with a compass, indicating his suppressed violent desires. He soon ragged a junior and was expelled from his college. Back at home, his father and brother got the wind of it, started preparing to bury the issue using bribes instead of bothering to talk with Baby. It gives you an idea of the environment he grew up in. The family is seen bribing numerous people throughout the entire run of film. For them, money is the solution to every problem and moral values hold no place in their lives.

Koshy, the eldest brother is involved in all kinds of illegal trade and threatens people with a gun when the need arises, supported by his equally corrupt father. The second eldest brother, Sunny is an alcoholic and dreams of living independently with his wife, away from this family. He vocalizes this very desire now and then only to be shut off by his father. The only sister, Annie simply doesn’t care about anybody except engaging in casual relationships with men other than her husband, Andrews. The youngest brother, Baby keeps visualizing himself strangulating people with the red electrical cables that he keeps with himself.  He is seen to be obsessed with blood, so much so that rubber milk oozing from a tree looked red to him, under the influence of marijuana.

After fantasizing about killing somebody for a long time, he finally found a victim in Unnunni, the caretaker of his bedridden grandfather. He chose to kill him only after he noticed Annie spending time with him at night. He made Unnunni’s death looked like suicide and got away with it. Meanwhile, Unnunni’s death though affected Annie but it didn’t stop her from immediately jumping into a casual fling with other men. It makes you wonder what their nerves are made of.

His next victim was a shopkeeper named Balan and made it look like a robbery gone wrong. He also unsuccessfully tried to kill a village belle named Nirmala with whom he had a fling but Nirmala, being the practical girl didn’t resist her mother when she fixed her marriage with Balan, knowing that a rich man like Baby would never marry her. He feels no remorse post any of the murders he committed except maybe felt slightly guilty at the thought of strangulating his bedridden grandfather. He shows some compassion only towards his grandfather who is also the most neglected person besides himself in the whole family. Perhaps, that’s why he was able to empathize with the old man.

His last victim was his friend, Raghavan. This time he had worn a mask to hide his face because he didn’t want Raghavan to know his killer as he was his only friend and source of support. Not only did he fail at this last attempt but also his identity was revealed when his mask was pulled off. He hid inside a storehouse, contemplating killing himself as he realized his time was up. An arrest warrant on his name was already out but he was nowhere to be found. At night, he came home with a gun in his hand firing at anybody who stood in his way, at home. His father escaped a bullet but Koshy got injured. The film ended with his father shooting him with the rifle before he could hurt anyone else. But what struck me was the fact the father showing no signs of weakness before and after killing a son. I bet Baby knew his family was no different from him.

At first, you would think his choice of victims is random but gradually you will realize that is not the case. He punished Unnunni because he couldn’t punish his sister Annie whom he fantasized about killing numerous times for being unfaithful to her husband. He punished his junior roommate as he refused to go out for a walk with him. He punished Balan simply because he couldn’t punish Nirmala for whom he has a romantic interest. He tried to punish Nirmala and his friend Raghavan for agreeing to marry Nirmala. Strangulations are just his idea of punishing people instead of confronting them. His penchant for violence and mental imbalance turned him into a monster.

Pothan’s Joji has shown many aspects that were in Irakal but in its unique way.

Joji opened with a courier agent delivering a package to Poppy who was desperately waiting for it. It turned out to be an air gun. Yes, air gun but let us not discard it as a joke yet. You see him playing around and shooting things with it which looks pretty harmless until he shot at a tree and rubber milk starts oozing out of it. It makes you wonder…right? The bullet shot from an air gun is a metal pellet and it could pierce through a tree? That can’t be a harmless toy….you smell an impending doom yet? I did, more so because it is said to be a Macbeth adaption.

 Okay, he also pointed the gun at the family-owned Horse’s neck to make it stand still for a selfie with him. There you go, he too got a penchant for violence, so much like Baby Mathews. Joji noticed him playing around with the gun and confiscated it from him.

Back at home, Joji is seen to be the most neglected brother who works at his father’s command. His work is nothing but running errands for his dad. His father tends to grab anyone by their neck, to suffocate them, much like strangulation whenever he doesn’t agree with somebody’s opinion or when his opinions are not respected. A real violent man, quite old but extremely fit, and has a stout figure. You see, violence runs in their gene much like it did in Baby’s family.

The family was in dire need of independence from their father.

 Joji tried to reason with his father upon Bincy’s insistence but instead was attacked by his now wheelchair-bound father who tried to strangulate him once again. He has had it enough so he began tampering with his pills regularly, slowly poisoning him, which was noticed by Bincy one day but she chose to turn a blind eye to it. It didn’t take him too long to die. While people were mourning him, Joji stayed in his room lying on a bed and had no remorse. Bincy came up to call him for his father’s final journey, telling him to wear a mask while coming down as it is set during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Bincy’s instruction was not for his safety against covid but to hide his remorseless face which showed no signs of mourning for his dead father.

Meanwhile, Jomon’s alcoholism was getting out of control much like Irakal’s Sunny’s  and he created a ruckus between himself and the priest. His loud behavior irritated the villagers and they soon started to bring up the topic of an autopsy, which got on Joji’s nerves for the very obvious reason.

Joji later dreamt of his father, and it wasn’t because of remorse but because of how strong was their father’s dominance over him. He then shared that with Bincy, who in response told him – “The dead will never return, but beware of the people who are still living.”

Since you know that she is supposed to be the Lady Macbeth of this film, you wonder whether she is hinting at Jomon. Her lady macbethness was really subtle and eerily calm. You wouldn’t guess she was Lady Macbeth unless she hadn’t uttered lines like

“ Your whole youth will be spent in this kitchen slab” indicating that if he doesn’t stand up for himself, he will just rot there.

Or her act of supporting Joji without voicing it as he tampered with his father’s pills.

The irony was that she was carrying a bible that had Christ coming back from the dead. I don’t know if it was a deliberate choice of the makers to keep the bible in the same scene. Anyway, you know dead may never come back literally as Christ did, but what’s gonna stop karma from coming back to bite in the ass?

Jomon started to suspect Joji and he had him eliminated too, this time with the air gun and explosives. This wasn’t a planned murder. He would have gotten away with it had he not forgotten to say about a gunshot in his make-believe narratives to the police. He remembered about the airgun shot only when the autopsy report was out but it was too late by then. The report had Jomon’s son Poppy suspect Joji and he was caught. But he blackmailed the family saying if he goes down, he will name Bincy and Jaison as co-conspirators. Jaison didn’t bow down to his threats which made him attempt to commit suicide in the end. His last SMS to his family says :

“ This is not my suicide note.

This is my MARANA MOZHI ( Dying Declaration ).

The society has fucked me.

The society has killed me.

Arrest them. “

But something about that ending had me wonder if Joji really meant to die or just made it look like a suicide by shooting himself with an air gun on a seemingly safe spot.

What I liked was that the signs of Paranoia wasn’t dramatized in Joji as much as it had been done in other Macbeth adaptations but it was hinted at. There was a brief scene in which Jaison came to inform Joji that a rumor of him murdering Jomon is doing the rounds. He was also going to say something else but was leaving without saying, which upon noticing, Joji asked him if he too suspected him. Jaison was rather taken aback as he only meant to ask him to lend some money. Joji realizing that he was losing his mind, closed the door and muttered to himself, “THINK STRAIGHT, YOU ASSHOLE. THINK STRAIGHT.

Both the films had tons of things in common but what connects them both, to the core is the dysfunctional family with a penchant for violence, and what sets them apart is the killer’s motives. At one point, you were able to empathize with Joji’s motives because he was not just a neglected brother at home but he was also a victim at the hand of the first man he killed. That couldn’t be said about Baby who was a neglected brother but not a victim per se; he committed crimes only as a means to punish people instead of confronting them. Unlike Baby, Joji wasn’t suffering from any undiagnosed mental illness but had been affected psychologically, enough to commit a heinous crime as killing another human. The half of the plot in Joji is about how he deals with the outcomes of the first murder whereas in Irakal, it’s about how Baby deals with his growing urge to commit more murders.

The psychological changes and build-up of a character being shown is not a new concept in Malayalam cinema. It had also been explored before by none other than the lead actor, Fahadh Faasil’s father, Fazil in the early 1990s in his film, Manichithrazu. Also, Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Anantaram (1987 ) had shown the development of schizophrenia in the film’s central character, Ajayan through a monologue where he was narrating the story of his entire life in the way he perceived it. Even though we saw it from his perspective, we could still make out what went wrong in his life that he himself was not aware of. Anantaram and Irakal had a similar pace- constant. In both the film, Anantaram, and Irakal, it wasn’t mentioned that the character was suffering from psychological issues but it was depicted. Hence they sort of had the same vibes.

These maker’s main objective was to show how dysfunctional families are often responsible for creating mentally imbalanced people, who may or may not end up with impaired cognitive functions. That being said, if they have violence in their gene along with impaired cognitive function, they will end up becoming a danger to either themselves or other people around them, once something or someone triggers them.

Be it Joji from Joji who was neglected to a point where he eats alone on a kitchen slab away from his family like a servant. And often faced physical attacks from his father.

Or,

 Baby from Irakal was neglected to a point where no one bothers to check where he had been the whole day or bothers to correct him if he is wrong.

Or,

 Ajayan from Anantaram who was abandoned by his mother at birth, neglected by his adoptive father, and caregivers who emotionally tortured him at night telling horror stories and making scary voices to keep him confined in a room and cover up their illegal activities that he as a kid had witnessed.

All three of them ended up in the same place. Killing others or getting aggressive towards others.

We have seen similar concepts in Todd Phillips’s Joker (2019 ) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Pyscho (1960).

We know that it is ultimately the circumstances that drive them to commit a fallacy but how and why is what these films are about.

It was a good watch and had roused my mind from the deep slumber it was in for a while. Even though it was predictable because well everybody knows where Macbeth ends but some classics are worth a watch no matter how many times it gets remade. Because almost always it’s the slow revelation of the plot that we like. Moreover, a film with Fahadh Faasil rarely ever goes wrong. 😉

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