ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Thinking with/against Joji

Malayalam film Joji can be read as working through a central dialectic between society and family.

Joji (2021), the second movie by the Malayalam director–writer duo Dileesh Pothan and Syam Pushkaran, has evoked a variety of responses. Set entirely in a bungalow in central Kerala, Joji tells the story of the Panachel family headed by the hypermasculine Kuttappan. This includes his three sons—the eldest Jomon (a divorced alcoholic with a teenage son, Popy), Jaison (the pious and timid husband of Bincy, who spends much of her waking hours serving the men), and Joji (the youngest, ambitious and dreamy, but lacking initiative)—and others in the household who are all equally oppressed by his domineering presence. Kuttappan’s unexpected but partial recovery from a debilitating stroke upsets his kin’s (with the sole exception of Jomon, who remains loyal to his father) plans to claim their share of the inheritance. Joji kills Kuttappan and later Jomon.

Society (or, more often, nattukar) becomes the catch-all term for the non-kin—those outside the family network. It is the erratic, nosy, indistinct external, which needs to be placated and sometimes emulated. On the other hand, family is the insulated, near, familiar, internal, which can, however, turn against itself and disintegrate. It is the sphere of “naturally” given relations of loyalty and unity defined by blood, birth, or faith. Joji delineates the tenuousness of the boundaries that allegedly separate society from family, within from without, proximate from distant, order from disorder, and known from unknown. The movie’s depiction of society keeps altering. First, it is physically distanced from the family and the house, which is literally set apart—in the middle of a plantation, away from the busy town. And this separation is exacerbated by the COVID-19 isolation and social distancing rules, especially when the delivery boy hastily leaves on hearing of Kuttappan’s quarantine. In the case of the expensive surgery to save Kuttappan, for instance, his sons and a relative Dr Felix concur that the society has to be convinced that they did their best to save the patriarch. This attitude is replaced by disregard and irritation soon after the murder of Kuttappan, revealing differences within the family. Jomon, the most loyal son, decides to set off fireworks during Kuttappan’s funeral despite Dr Felix telling him that the society (nattukar) will label him crazy. Later, the family discusses the rumours circulating around Kuttappan’s death and decides to ignore them and does not exacerbate matters by going in for an immediate partition of his property. In much of this, society remains a nebulous entity—as hearsay, gossip, and remote—lurking in the distance. Yet, its impact is felt in very real terms; society demands a response, positive or negative—an acknowledgement of the power it wields silently.

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Updated On : 9th Oct, 2021
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