Joseph (2018)

M. Padmakumar’s 2018 film is a character-driven crime drama, centred around a retired police officer who fills his lonely nights with memories of his estranged wife and daughter. During the day, despite his constant drinking, Joseph (Joju George) is a brilliant investigator who can read a crime scene like a book. This ensures he is still called out to new crime scenes, even though he is retired. When his ex-wife is killed in an accident, Joseph’s skills tell him something is not quite right, leading him to investigate the most personally difficult case of his career. 

The film starts slowly with the first half mostly a character study of Joseph before moving to the crime investigation. Joseph is shown as a quiet and reserved man, keeping his thoughts and feelings to himself, even when out with his friends. He lives alone, mostly drinks by himself and routinely wakes up on a chair in his living room after drinking himself into insensibility. Gradually, through flashbacks and conversations with his friends, the film reveals the reason why Joseph is alone and why he drinks each night to forget.

After briefly starting with a police medal ceremony, the film moves to a crime scene where an elderly couple have been murdered. The investigating officer calls Joseph to investigate the murders and in a very short period of time, Joseph finds the culprit and is able to explain what has happened. In the course of his investigation, nothing escapes Joseph’s notice and his attention to even the smallest detail ensures he gets to the answer much faster than anyone else.

Having introduced Joseph as a solitary man who enjoys smoking, whiskey and marijuana, we then see a different side to Joseph on a day out with his friends (James Elia, Kijan), Sudhy (Sudhi Koppa) and Sidique (Irshad). I love the song they sing on their road trip, although the subtitles on the version I saw oddly substituted ‘rowers’ for ‘flowers’ which makes no sense to me at all. This is a more social side to Joseph and it’s clear to see why his friends respect him and enjoy his company, even if they don’t understand his wish to be alone in his house.

After their day out, Joseph is woken by one of his friends to explain that his ex-wife Stella (Athmiya Rajan) has been seriously injured in a car crash. Her current husband Peter (Dileesh Pothan) needs Joseph’s support during this difficult time. One of the best parts of the film is the depiction of the relationship between Joseph and Peter. Although the reason for Joseph’s estrangement from his wife is eventually revealed, his conversations with Peter, and Peter’s obvious respect and friendship with Joseph are also key in helping to define Joseph’s character. When Stella dies, it’s Joseph that Peter turns to for support and he trusts Joseph to find out the truth about the accident. 

The film follows Joseph’s investigations into the accident, which also draw in his friends and Peter as they try to track down the car which hit Stella and the people who assisted by taking her to the hospital. During the investigation, Joseph’s past is revealed including his previous relationship with Lisamma (Madhuri Braganza) and the tragic death of his daughter Dayana (Malavika Menon). The details all come together to reveal a conspiracy at the hospital, which is rather far-fetched but does allow the story to neatly tie all the ends together.

What works well in Shahi Kabir’s story is the gradual build-up to the investigation and the way Joseph pieces together the clues he finds along the way. The finale is less successful, but really it’s the journey to get there that matters. The flashbacks to Joseph’s past and how each of his 2 relationships have shaped the man he has become are the key points of the film and Joju George brings a different feel to each version of Joseph. His young Joseph is carefree and willing to risk censure for his apparently inappropriate relationship with Lisamma. Her father is against the match and the two lovers have to sneak away to spend any time together. Once married to Stella, Joseph becomes a textbook husband who adores his wife and daughter. But when tragedy strikes, and their marriage breaks down, all Joseph has left are his memories. Joju George is excellent throughout and as he shows Joseph ageing, we clearly see the experience and pain written on his face. 

The support cast are also excellent, particularly Dilesh Pothan and Sudhi Koppa who have well defined relationships with Joseph. Sadly, the women get little screen time and there is little depth to their characters, but both Madhuri Braganza and Athmiya Rajan are good in the flash-back sequences. The film really belongs to Joju George though and it’s his performance that anchors the story and keeps it interesting. 

Although a crime drama, essentially this is the story of Joseph’s life and the key moments that have shaped its course. The film successfully uses the crime story as the basis for revealing Joseph’s life while keeping the investigation suspenseful as the clues start to pile up. Worth watching for Joju George and the way his previous and current relationships are shown to shape his character. 4 stars.

Minnal Murali (2021)

Basil Joseph’s 2021 superhero film puts an Indian spin on the genre with Tovino Thomas donning a costume and vaunting his superpowers in a small village in Kerala. The film is a slow burn, with the first half setting the scene and carefully developing the characters of Jaison (Tovino Thomas), his nemesis Shibu (Guru Somasundaram) and their various friends and neighbours in Kurukkanmoola. The film is as much a character study as an action adventure, and the beauty of Minnal Murali is that works as both. There is no Hollywood-style pure good and evil here either, just shades of grey that move and shift as circumstances change and events unfold, which makes for a more interesting film.

The story starts with a fire at a festival where a theatre group is performing in front of the village. A young boy sees his actor father consumed by the fire in front of his eyes which foreshadows the spectre of fire that returns a number of times in the film. In the present day, Jaison is a tailor living with his adopted family father Varky (P. Balachandran), foster sister Jesmi (Arya Salim), her abusive husband PC Siby Pothan (Aju Varghese) and their son Josemon (Vasisht Umesh). Also working in the tailor shop is Daasan (Harisree Ashokan), who is struggling to look after his sister Usha (Shelly Kishore) and her daughter who needs expensive medical treatment. Usha has recently returned to Kurukkanmoola after separating from her husband and there are mixed reactions in the village to her presence. Most of the men look at her as a prospective partner and approach Daasan with various proposals. In his turn, Daashan tries to barter Usha to the highest bidder, however this is to pay off her medical bills so Daashan isn’t quite as heartless as he might appear. 

Initially Jaison is planning to head to the USA, and is getting some photos for his passport application when he is lauded on his fashion sense – which includes chinos and a crucifix earing. I’m guessing that either the village is stuck in a timewarp or the film is set in the eighties, as Jaison doesn’t fit the bill as a ‘fashion icon’ by today’s standards, and probably not in the eighties either! Jaison is in love with Bincy Antony (Sneha Babu) but her father vehemently disproves of the match and in the process of telling Jaison how unsuitable he is, reveals that Jaison is an orphan and that it was his father who was killed in the opening sequences. Since Bincy’s father is in charge of the local police station, this leads to further harassment and ridicule of Jaison from the police force as SI Antony (Baiju) continues to warn him away from his daughter. What is strange is that Bincy doesn’t seem in the slightest bit bothered by this dismissal of her beau, and immediately arranges to marry Aneesh (Jude Anthany Joseph), who himself is the ex-boyfriend of Jaison’s friend ‘Bruce Lee’ Biji (Femina George). Bincy’s motives and true feelings are kept opaque, and in fact she practically disappears from the film in the second half. The interconnectedness of the village relationships works well to showcase the problems of living in a small town where everyone knows (or thinks they know) everything about everyone else. Despite the superhero aspect, this keeps the characters all grounded in reality, while the village mentality ensures that even superpowers can’t get Jaison what he really wants.

Shortly after the revelation about Jaison and his dismissal as Bincy’s suitor, Jaison and Shibu are both struck by lightning. This is the event that gives them their superpowers but there are distinct differences in what happens after they are struck. Shibu is alone, while Jaison is rushed to the hospital by his family. This proves key in how they each develop and use their powers in the events that follow. While both men are orphans with grievances centred in the village, the path they each follow diverges rapidly when they are suddenly given the power to make things happen. They both initially use their powers for selfish reasons, but it doesn’t take long for Jaison to realise he can actually become a hero, while Shibu seems unable to see anything but Usha and will do anything to ensure she becomes his.

Naturally superheros and villains need to have costumes, and this again defines the personalities of the two men. Initially Shibu conceals his identity using a mask taken from a scarecrow, which later becomes his supervillain costume. Jaison has the advantage of being a tailor, but it still takes him a while to develop his costume and therefore his identity, which echoes his uncertainty about which path to follow. Eventually though he gets it right with a nifty red and blue skin suit that echoes the heroes he has seen in American comics. 

While Tovino Thomas is excellent as Jaison, Guru Somasundaram is simply brilliant as Shibu. He brings a subtle blend of vulnerability and instability to the character and makes it clear that the abuse and treatment he is subjected to by the villagers shapes his actions. He’s dismissed by the other villagers as essentially ‘other’ – Tamil, insane, orphan and generally troublesome, which explains why he fights back when he realises that suddenly, he is the one with power. The flashbacks to his past are used to garner sympathy for his character, despite his actions in the present, and these work well to give an understanding of why Shibu acts the way he does. It’s a great performance and Guru Somasundaram succeeds in making his mostly unappealing character more sympathetic than first appearances would suggest. Tovino’s Jaison on the other hand hasn’t had the same level of prejudice but instead has to deal with a significant amount of immaturity and selfishness to become the hero of the hour when needed. The transformation is well done and Tovino Thomas does a good job in showing his emotions during all of the upheavals his character faces, all with plenty of charm.

I also really loved the character of Biji, and Femina George is excellent as the kick-ass heroine who can fight her own battles. It’s more unusual to have a female lead who takes no BS, especially one who literally kicks her cheating fiancée out of her dojo and fights her own battles, but Biji fits into the storyline well. I love how it’s Biji who fights back whern she find out about Aneesh and Bincy, while Jaison is the one who collapses in a sobbing and incoherent mess. Biji is key to defeating Shibu’s plans, and I really like that it takes the superhero and the ‘normal’ woman working together to defeat evil. Thank you too to writers Arun Anirudhan and Justin Mathew who didn’t add a romance between Biji and Jaison, which wouldn’t have worked at all. Their camaraderie is more natural and fits much better into the storyline as they work together to combat Shibu’s destruction. 

There isn’t a lot of action in the film and it does take a while for Shibu and Jaison to meet and face off, but that leaves more time for the character development which adds more layers to the story. I really enjoyed Minnal Murali and recommend it as a film that reconsiders who are the real villains and heroes in the story. 4 stars.

Drishyam 2

Often sequels disappoint when compared to the original, but Drishyam 2 is one of the rare exceptions to the rule. In another departure (as sequels can have only a tenuous connection to the original), the film continues the events depicted in Drishyam, where Georgekutty was under suspicion for the disappearance of the local IGA’s son. Each piece of the puzzle is meticulously crafted to seamlessly follow on a few years from where we left the family and the police investigation. The twists and turns are excellent, and the story is put together with a good blend of emotion and character development underlying the plot. There is a core of logic that ensures everything that happens is indeed possible, even if not probable, and it does all make sense. This is smart filmmaking and with such an excellent cast reprising their roles, Drishyam 2 is a sequel not to miss.

The past 6 years have not been kind to Georgekutty (Mohanlal) and his wife Rani (Meena) despite growing his business and opening a movie theatre. While initially the townspeople were supportive, there is developing resentment of Georgekutty’s financial success. Rani has been affected by the police investigation and is constantly fearful, asking a neighbour to stay with her when Georgekutty is away from home overnight and always seeming to watch over her shoulder. Their eldest daughter Anju (Ansiba Hassan) suffers from PTSD and epilepsy after the events of Drishyam, although younger daughter Anu (Esther Anil) is happily getting on with her life. Georgekutty has worked to develop his business while also working on writing and producing a film with screenwriter Vinayachandran (Saikumar). But despite his outward success, the police haven’t given up on the case of the missing, presumed murdered Varun, and IGP Thomas Bastin (Murali Gopy) is continuing investigations quietly in the background. This leaves Georgekutty anxious and vigilant even though he tries to carry on life as usual.

The film plays heavily on emotions when Varun’s father Prabhakar (Siddique) approaches Georgekutty and pleads for the body of his son, so that they can bury him and have closure. Naturally Georgekutty denies that he knows where Varun’s body can be found, but the scene is so well written that it seems possible that Georgekutty will crack and reveal what happened on the night Varun disappeared. Also notable is the subterfuge around the family where neighbours aren’t quite what they appear and even Anu’s college friends are secretly reporting back to police. Suddenly Georgekutty’s paranoia about discussing anything to do with the case is shown to be a wise move as a possible witness comes forward and the police pull the family back in for questioning.

What works well with this sequel is that it fits seamlessly into the narrative from the first film. Neighbours and friends who were initially backing Georgekutty and his family after the brutal interrogation of Anju and Anu are now sure that the family is guilty, and that Varun was innocent. In the local café, although owner Sulaiman (Kozhikode Narayanan Nair) is convinced of his innocence, the local auto drivers discuss rumours of murder openly and are convinced that Georgekutty is guilty. While Georgekutty’s success as a businessman seems to be behind some of their enmity, for many it simply appears that there is no other explanation for Varun’s disappearance, so the family must be guilty.

The story develops slowly, with most of the focus on the fear and guilt suffered by Rani and Anju. Despite no guilty verdict ever having been reached, the family is punished every day for Varun’s disappearance. Anju’s inability to cope with the outside world, Rani’s continuing fear and even Georgekutty’s paranoia have trapped the family in a cycle of anxiety and uncertainty which seems more profound than the distress suffered by Geetha (Asha Sarath) and Prabhakar. In contrast, the police investigation this time seems more targeted and less emotional, and although IGP Bastin is a friend of Geetha he brings a methodical and reasoned approach to the inquiry. As the tension mounts, Georgekutty has to defend his family once more as the evidence piles up against them.

Mohanlal is the standout performer here with the entire film hinging on his ability to deceive everyone and come up with a plan time and time again. He’s calm with the family, but Mohanlal ensures that his eyes show just how much stress Georgekutty is suffering and at times how trapped he feels. It’s a well nuanced performance that brings together bravado, intelligence and fear as the key elements defining Gerogekutty’s continued attempts to deceive everyone, including his own family. While the narrative may be of a man driven to extremes to defend his family, there also appears to be an underlying satisfaction with being able to outwit the rest of the community. The complex characterisation of Georgekutty is perfect, and Mohanlal pulls it off effortlessly in every scene. Meena too is excellent and shows her fear, anxiety and confusion with her hunched shoulders and dropped eyes as well as with her dialogue and expressions. I loved how well her relationship is developed with her next-door neighbour Saritha (Anjali Nair), particularly in how she stands up to Saritha’s abusive husband Sabu (Sumesh Chandran). I enjoyed the contrast between how she can stand up for Saritha but seems unable to show the same courage in her own life, presumably because the years of uncertainty are weighing her down. 

The slow build-up has a terrific pay off and the climax is as convoluted as any aficionado of detective fiction could want. Even if the events seem almost too impossible, there is still the slight chance that they could indeed have occurred. This is a film that cleverly tells a story but which also manages to explore emotions and delve into the consequences of getting away with murder. Well worth the 8 year wait, don’t miss this chance to catch up with Georgekutty and his family. 4 ½ stars.