Just seconds before the ‘interval’ card flashes on the screen, the camera pans to a signboard that says, ‘Coffins will be sold here’. The guy running the shop has been lamenting earlier about the lack of business. But by the time the film gets over, I’m sure his business will be booming.
And just moments away from the climax, one central character proclaims to a lawyer that an ‘n’ number of bodies will fall. This is said with a level of assuredness that Clint Eastwood had in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western, A Fistful of Dollars. It’s only apt because director Joshiy’s new film is, in spirit, a wild west story set in 80s’ Thrissur.
The three principal characters—Kaatalan Porinju (Joju George), Alapatt Mariam (Nyla Usha), and Puthanpally Jose (Chemban Vinod Jose)—are bold enough to do and say whatever they feel at any given moment. They grew up together and are bound by their ferocity and unapologetic lifestyle.
But then there are also other bonds which complicate the picture, like that of Porinju and Ipe (Vijayaraghavan). The latter is essentially a Godfather-like figure in the area and the former is a thug who would do anything for him. It’s evocative of the Mammootty-Thilakan relationship in Joshiy’s Kauravar. Their loyalty to each other is put to the test when one of Ipe’s blood, Prince (Rahul Madhav) sets off a chain of events that lead to bloodshed.
This is not exactly new territory for Joshiy. We have seen him traverse the same terrain many times before. But what makes the film really compelling are the characters and the actors who breathe life into them. It’s a delight to watch Joju, Nyla, and Chemban become absolute badasses on screen.
With this film, Joju proves that he can carry an action film on his own. Porinju is like a beast who can be dangerous and vulnerable at the same time. While looking at Porinju, I couldn’t help but think of Aadu Thoma (from Spadikam) or Sethumadhavan (from Kireedam). Well, Porinju is a combination of the two. And Joshiy has given Joju enough moments that, in today’s parlance, qualify as ‘mass’. Joju fits the character so well that it’s hard to picture anyone else in the role.
There is also much investment made in the characterisation of Jose and Mariam. Being a comedian and also a fairly good dancer, Jose is the most exuberant of the three. While he is not hanging out with his other pals, he is at Mariam’s home, sharing a bottle or two.
Mariam is another dynamite character. She is a fierce moneylender who can not only stand up for herself but also others. Whenever she walks into a place, it feels like a small tornado has hit.
There is also a heartwarming love story here. Porinju longs for Mariam but her weird mental block—there’s a darkly humorous story behind it—stands in the way. At one point, a character mentions
Moondraam Pirai, and one immediately makes a connection to the forlornness of Porinju and Mariam. In hindsight, the events are triggered by the presence of Mariam. Everything goes south after she turns into one man’s object of lust. That makes her, in effect, a Helen of Troy-style figure. But Mariam doesn’t need Porinju, or any other man for that matter, to do the talking (or hitting) for her.
When the violence finally erupts, it offers an ample amount of catharsis not only for some of the characters but also the viewer. It makes us cheer in all the right places. The fights are coherent and beautifully staged—unlike most of the rapidly edited action films made today it’s easy to follow who is fighting whom and where the punches (or stabs) are being landed. But the cycle of violence has to end somewhere—or with someone.
When certain sacrifices are made in the latter half, the film slowly assumes the vibe of a Shakespearean tragedy. Cinematographer Ajay David Kachappilly bathes the characters in high contrast yellows, teals, and reds, thereby creating the effect of watching a graphic novel come alive.
Though the storytelling is unabashedly old-school, it’s easy to overlook some of the minor flaws considering the filmmaking finesse on display. I wouldn’t call it Joshiy’s best but it’s certainly his most refined film in years. Let’s just say Porinju Mariam Jose is to Joshiy what Chekka Chivantha Vaanam is to Mani Ratnam.
Film: Porinju Mariyam Jose
Cast: Joju George, Chemban Vinod Jose, Nyla Usha, Vijayaraghavan
Rating: 3.5 stars