Watching his new film Joji is like reading between the lines of "Macbeth" with audiences seeing the connection with the Shakespearean tragedy in some scenes and not in others, says Malayalam star Fahadh Faasil who is drawn to lived in characters. That's the quality perhaps that attracted him to Joji too, an expansive tale of greed and ambition that plays out through the story of a family in a rich Kerala plantation during COVID times.
"The film's narrative is not a direct adaptation of 'Macbeth'. We were deeply inspired by it and we were trying to set something inspired by 'Macbeth' in today's scenario," Faasil told PTI in a Zoom interview from Kochi.
"Joji is not as large as 'Macbeth' The drama happens within the family. I thought the emotions of 'Macbeth' were more relative to the story," Faasil, who has kept himself busy with back-to-back movies even during the pandemic, added.
The story of his latest film revolves around Faasil's character Joji, an engineering dropout living with his iron-fisted father and two brothers. When his father falls ill, Joji looks forward to finally getting his share in the property but his dreams are dashed when his father starts recuperating, forcing him to take an extreme step.
According to Faasil, best known for Kerala Cafe, Akam, Bangalore Days, Kumbalangi Nights and Tamil film Super Deluxe, ambition and greed, the two emotions explored in "Macbeth", are easily relatable to most people.
Asked about his mastery over morally ambiguous, sly, and not-so-successful characters in cinema, the 38-year-old said he looks for familiarity in all the characters he plays. "Any character I play, I make it a point to make it look familiar. You never want the character to be foreign. I want the character to be within the narrative. The challenge of doing a 'Macbeth' in COVID times was to bring in that familiarity. Joji is very unstable. In my reading, I found Macbeth to be very unstable," he said.
Joji, which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, is the actor-producer's third release in a short span of time and comes after the critically-acclaimed thriller C U Soon and serial killer drama Irul.
Faasil said it may appear he is doing a lot of movies but he never commits to too many projects. Instead, he focuses his energies on finding exciting stories.
"I don't work on a timeline or schedule or anything like this. I just shoot what I'm excited about. I believe that there are timelines for films and timelines for the story to be told.
"If you take Trance, I shot for that film for two years and did not take any film during that span. My shoot processes are very short, like 100 days or three months. We take a lot of time during the post-production. By the time I am ready with the film, I will have finished another film. So, eventually, all my films will be ready at the same time," he said.
These days, Faasil is recuperating from an accident in which he broke his nose. It was during the shoot for Malayankunju, which being produced by his filmmaker father Fazil and it will take him at least a month to recover. "I have easily a month off so I'm going to slow down," he said.
Joji reunites Faasil with director Dileesh Pothan, with whom he previously did Maheshinte Prathikaaram and Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum and co-produced the cult favourite Kumbalangi Nights.
With Joji, Pothan wanted to set up something intimate on a 'Macbeth' like canvas, an idea that instantly appealed to Faasil. "Dileesh is a trained stage actor and very much familiar with the drama format of 'Macbeth'. He called me one evening and said, 'there is something that I want to place in terms of 'Macbeth'. It will be set in the canvas of Macbeth' but it's not a direct adaptation'. People can see the connection in some scenes and there are none in other scenes. It's like reading between the lines," the actor explained.
They took over a property in the woods and transformed it in 50 days for the shoot, which was completed in about 70 days. The film is rich with nuance and details that propel the characters forward.
"We hardly go out of the house or the property. Setting up the same dramatic sequences in the same space over and over is a challenging exercise. The only way to make it interesting is to go into the detailing and in each scene, you make the audiences discover something they have not seen in a previous scene."
The National Award-winning actor's admirers are growing outside of Malayalam cinema thanks to a generation discovering him on OTT platforms and Faasil said his attempt is always to get his films across till they start speaking for themselves.
"The audience is growing for a particular taste and pattern of films, it doesn't mean that the actor is also growing. All that I can take responsibility for... the only thing I can promise is that I will keep exploring my native Kerala. I connect with the narratives here... I wouldn't know how to set up a film in UP and shoot because I have never been there,"
Faasil said there is no formula for an entertaining film so one has to constantly keep exploring and reinventing.
He is currently shooting for Malayankunju, which he said should be ready by August-September. Then there is the theatrical release of Malik, which was supposed to release last year but was delayed by the pandemic. Written by Syam Pushkaran, the film also features Unnimaya Prasad, Baburaj, Joji Mundakayam, Basil Joseph, Shammi Thilakan and Alister Alex in key roles.