“In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it is the smart screenplay rather than Joju’s convincing display, that holds the film together every time it threatens to flush its originality down the commercial drain”
What’s confounding about Joseph is its fluid but unhurried storytelling that made it difficult for me to give it any definitive labels. On the one hand it plods along the valley of pathos like an understated analysis of human condition; on the other hand, it strains your discernment with unformed subplots and mawkish music. The titular protagonist was invested with so much internal conflict that when the story took its leap from the ordinary to the unbelievable, it landed on its feet alright. Upon leaving the cinema I made up my mind: it’s laudable how director Padmakumar, despite all the sprawling plot lines, interweaves everything into a ravishing tapestry.
The film starts with Dileesh Pothan attending an award ceremony, and subsequently recounting the tale of Joseph in a long flashback (Joju George) to fellow travellers in a car. We see Joseph whose time-worn grimy face registers an unsettling blend of resignation and despair, and whose languid dissipation points towards a guy on self-destructive path.
Next we see Joseph getting to the bottom of a murder case by pricking hole after hole in what looks like a botched up job. He does all this without ever trying to overcome his casual sloth. We hear police guys taking spiteful dig at him behind his back; we learn he possesses a natural flair for crime investigation. As a retired police officer, he continues to pride himself on being able to effectively perform the only craft he’s ever learned. As the film picks up pace, one feels like there’s more to Joseph’s deep furrows, sunken eyes and droopy jowls than the initial impression might suggest. After all, the film’s tagline refers to him as the man with a scar. So, the first half of the movie is devoted to identifying the scar, and tracing its deep lying implications on Joseph’s drab existence.
The story takes viewers through reminisces of two characters to help us fully grasp the despair of Joseph. In the course of the film, we go into Joseph’s flashbacks too, meaning that we enter flashback within flashback. Although the story of Joseph in its entirety is shown through Dhileesh Pothan’s flashback, it goes on for so long that you forget the fact that you’re still in someone’s flashback. But Joseph’s flashback, on whose surface lay the explanation for his current situation, received a shallow treatment, nearly making it impossible for me to make sense of his motivation at times. The ubiquity of Dileesh Pothan in Malayalam movies has spawned a host of stock characters, many of whom are as predictable to our mind as contemporary pop music is to our ears. In Joseph, Dileesh has landed a more respectable role where he plays the recent widower of Protagonist’s ex-wife.
I’m not familiar with most of Padmakumar’s work, but I feel like I can understand why most would view ‘Joseph’ as a welcome departure from the series formulaic films made by the director of late. This is perhaps a reminder of about what a director of Padmakumar’s caliber can do when he is presented with a layered script. In fact I’d go so far as to say that it is the screenplay rather than Joju’s convincing display, that holds the film together every time it threatens to flush its originality down the commercial drain. So here’s to hoping that this police man, who wrote the story, gets all the time and resources in the world to write more original and stimulating crime stories in this vein.
As is the case with most commercial movies, the overproduced music surfaced intermittently to play spoilsport. However, I felt the background music was passable, and when not sentimentalizing certain beats in the screenplay, it did well to thicken the shroud of mystery. Setting aside some contrived sequences, shallow subplot exposition, and sentimental tropes, Joseph is an intelligently woven together film that drives home its message with enough conviction. A note to my film lovers who wish to watch it in theaters, the film is slow paced, meaning that unless the average Malayalam movie goer has a transvaluation of taste, it will probably be out of theaters in a matter of weeks. Above all, it is a well written crime film that had me conduct some research on the subject matter. Now, I can’t recall the last time a Malayalam movie made me do that.
Directed by M. Padmakumar
Written by Shahi Kabir