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.