As Fahadh Faasil turns 39 on August 8, Subhash K Jha looks back at his favourite films featuring the brilliant actor.
Maheshinte Prathikaaram, 2016
Five years before Fahadh Faasil and Director Dileesh Pothan got together for Joji, they collaborated on this intriguing... Love story? Revenge drama? Comedy on caste clashes?
Maheshinte Prathikaaram is all of this.
Dileesh Pothan takes a one-liner from a newspaper -- a man vows never to wear chappals until he avenges a public insult -- and turns it into an amalgamation of multiple genres.
That he often brings humour into the theme is another achievement, possible only because of its lead actor.
Fahadh Faasil plays Mahesh, a small-town photographer with minimum ambitions.
It is an ambitious performance.
Fahadh finds a core of heroic dignity in a man, who is uncommonly common.
Pothan is not of much help. His plot is scattered in every direction.
For a while, it seems Mahesh's vendetta against Jimson (Shujith Shankar) is forgotten as he spends time wooing Jimson's sister Jimsy (Aparna Balamurli). It all comes together in a combative climax which is a feast of fury.
But the way Mahesh and Jimson call it a truce makes the plot appear like a joke on itself.
This film is nowhere near what Dileesh and Fahadh achieved in Joji, but it is remarkable for showcasing Fahadh's proclivity to plunge deep into his character, no matter how shallow, inconsistent and insincere it may be.
Is Fahadh Faasil India's greatest living actor?
In film after film, he proves himself a fearless, seamless actor, who merges into his characters like water in a stream. Better still, flows down that stream where the human condition merges with the very bedrock of existence.
And look at where Fahadh has arrived in Joji!
Shakespeare's Macbeth gets the treatment which I am sure would make Shakespeare himself envious.
Joji is a dark, brooding translocation of the Shakspearean tragedy with unexpected bursts of warmth and humour which the Bard could have never imagined.
Magically, the characters in Syam Pushkaran's screenplay are relocated from their Shakespearean bleakness to a Malayali verdancy.
The overpowering greenery of rural Kerala has always served as a compelling counterpoint to the dramatic tensions so organically generated in Malayalam films.
The tension has never been more palpable as it is in Joji. You can cut it with a knife and all you will see are bloodless wounds in the family of Kuttappan P K Panachel (Sunny PN), a tyrannical patriarch who runs the family business with a tight fist and an immovable grip over his three sons.
While one of them, a drunken, divorced bully named Jomon (Baburaj) loves his mean-spirited father unconditionally, the quieter Jaison (played brilliantly by Joji Mundakayam) has Daddy issues that he has long suppressed within himself.
It is the youngest son, a wastrel named Joji, who is the focus of the plot.
Joji is, of course, played by Fahadh Faasil, who brings to the character a kind of patriarchal bitterness that manifests itself in a burst of devastating violence.
This is Pothan's third directorial with Fahadh (after Maheshinte Prathikaaram and Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum) and by far, the most reflective, moody, sinister, subtle and sublime.
Though Macbeth is an inherently violent tale of patricide and Oedipal guilt, Pothan's film does away with the vileness of the protagonist's deeds by introducing a kind a dithering juvenilia into Jijo's character. His chosen weapon of violence is an air gun and his selected hideaway is a half-dug well.
Fahadh's Joji is an unlikely villain and hence, all the more devastating.
He is also an unlikely Shakespearean hero, who has, in all probability, never heard of Shakespeare.
How unlike Vishal Bhardwaj's Macbeth (Maqbool) where the main characters behaved as if they had graduated in Shakespearean literature.
Joji is a remarkably artless tragedy filled with respect for the spaces that divide individuals within the same family.
Cinematographer Shyju Khalid creates a sense of isolation by capturing characters, who often sit physically distanced from one another in the family mansion.
In one striking shot, we see Joji and his bhabhi in two different adjacent rooms in the same frame.
Clearly, the frames are designed for the big screen.
The relationship between Joji and his sister-in-law (Unnimaya Prasad) seems ambiguous because it doesn't try to be complicated.
Familial complications, says Dileesh Pothan, are alibis we generate to justify our greed and covetousness.
Replete with a wondrous images of everyday poetry (see Joji examining his father's medical pills of different colours), Joji is a film that we all will go back to in the coming years wondering, how did we miss this and that?
For now, don't miss this great film with one of India's greatest actors giving one of his greatest performances in a film that doesn't aspire to greatness. It just gets there without straining to do so.
Njan Prakashan, 2018
This is actually two films fused into one.
In the first half, Fahadh Faasil plays an under-gifted, closet fraudster going all out to woo a nurse, so she can be his passport into the West. The first half brims over with a rare breed of humour.
Director Sathyan Anthikad doesn't allow himself to judge this slightly slimy man who doesn't think twice before using anyone who can help him realise his dreams. Fahadh plays the cheesy hero with a relish, almost savouring every bit of his character's lack of conscience.
In the second half, he moves into a completely different gear when he serves a nurse to a headstrong rich girl Tina (Devika), who brings out the humane side of Fahadh's character. The transformation neither sudden nor unconvincing.
Fahadh plays the character of the con man-turned-caregiver with exceptional empathy.
Fahadh and Anthikad had gotten together earlier for Oru Indian Pranayakatha, but their collaboration comes into fruition in this beautiful drama of humanism versus self-centredness.
The latest Malayalam film to prove Kerala's supremacy in powerful content and performances is a pioneering achievement, tearing into the innards of fake religiosity where billions of bucks are generated by exploiting the weak and the vulnerable and where faith is flogged to death.
With a towering performance by Fahadh Faasil, Trance sweeps us into a world of depraved exploitation. Parts of the plot are purely pulp but then what is wrong with it ulp when it suits the narrative's purposes so well?
The lengthy film of almost three hours begins like a desi Rain Man with Fahadh's petty motivational-speaker character Viju Prasad looking after his psychologically disturbed suicidal brother (Sreenath Bhasi). It then veers viciously into a brown-man's version of Jane Campion's Holy Smoke where Viju is trapped into doing staged holy miracles.
The exploitation of religious sentiments, earlier done half-heartedly in Hindi films like OMG and PK, is stripped of politeness.
What we see is a group of power brokers setting up props for a world hungering for change.
The villainous caucus -- played by Tamil film-maker Gautham Menon, Dileesh Pothan and Chemban Vinod Jose -- lack finesse in chracterisation and portrayal.
They could be a trio of villains in any film about crime and punishment.
It doesn't take long for us to realise that the campy villains are seen to be part of the larger drama of grotesquerie that the sprawling plot systematically dismantles. Standing at the centre of the diabolic debris is Fahadh Faasil.
Magnificently askew and offbeam, he sweeps all the jerkiness in the narration under the carpet, making us look not at the faults (albeit glaring) but the larger picture of merchandised religiosity.
Nazriya Nazeem provides some romantic succour to the battered hero very late in the film. She comes in at a time when Viju, now transformed to Pastor Joshua Carlton, is plunging into the abyss. The last half an hour where the pastor must perform a holy miracle to wake up a dead child, reminded me of Dev Anand at the end of Guide.
C U Soon, 2020
Thank God for happy endings.
This thriller about an online dating plan gone horribly wrong, has balls and a steadily beating heart.
And it ends on a bright note. We need that.
The important detail that we must remember is that the entire 98-minute film has been shot on iPhones.
This is as smart a thriller as they come with some of Malayalam cinema's finest, young talent pitching in with a conviction born out of isolation. Not surprisingly, the well thought-out thriller simulates a taut tempo at a slow burn temperature. Since the world is under a lockdown, none of the characters is in a hurry to go anywhere.
The plot, done up entirely in a virtual format, takes its time to whip up a frenetic anxiety.
By the time we reach the devastating climax, there is no escaping from the film's vice-like grip on our senses.
A piano-based, deceptively calm and soothing background score by Gopi Sunder goes a long way in getting our undivided attention as love-stuck Jimmy (Roshan Mathew) befriends the troubled Anu (Darshana Rajendran) in Dubai on the digital platform.
Remarkably, the entire romance and the horrific aftermath unfolds through images on computers and phones.
This is an ingenious invention born out of necessity as the film is shot in quarantine.
At the same time, that sense of virtual disengagement gives an urgency to the narrative.
The actors get into the mysterious, melancholic mood effortlessly.
I could almost feel Roshan Mathew and Darshana Rajendran's growing fondness. Mathew, so brilliant recently in Moothon, Kapela and Choked, is growing into one of the most interesting actors in the country.
But here, it is Fahadh Faasil who holds the thriller together.
The way his muted misogyny -- his horribly rude attitude towards his girlfriend -- melts and merges into a mass of repentance and guilt, is a journey undertaken by an actor who doesn't stop at anything in bringing his character's most secret demons on the table.
C U Soon is a very clever yarn told through a hi-tech vision, which has no room for extra baggage. This is a flab-free thriller that shows us how constructively new-age technology can be used to tell a story that won't let go of our attention for even a second.
The last film I saw which was shot completely on the phone was Aneesh Chaganty's brilliant Searching about a father's frantic search for his missing daughter.
In C U Soon too, a girl disappears. But not for long.
This is a thriller that doesn't play out a tantalising drama.
It moves at its own volition sweeping its characters into a situation that has no room for theatrics.
Just plain blunt facts plucked from newspapers.
The rest is his story more than hers.
Be warned. I think Fahadh Faasil is among India's most talented actors. But I am not a fan of gangsters being glorified as Robin Hoods.
It is an old trick in cinema: To show criminals with their hands soaked in blood, building a school here, and a hospital there for the poor, feeding the poor at religious places and meting out justice to tortured peasants... Marlon Brando did it 40 years ago. Now its is Fahadh Faasil's turn.
Malik is a big film and I understand Fahadh's disappointment at the non-theatre release.
The film is stylishly mounted.
The opening festivities at Sulaiman (Faasil)'s residence are captured in a lengthy 12-minute shot, which reminded me of the wedding in The Godfather, as I guess it is meant to.
From this impressive beginning, Malik never stops being that film which wants us to look at it without blinking.
The frames are littered with legacies of unspoken violence and recrimination.
Cinematographer Sanu Varghese (he also shot the same director's first film Take Off) makes a virtue of a depressing dinginess that accompanies the narrative everywhere it goes.
The film is constantly on the move.
When we first meet Sulaiman and his no-nonsense wife Roselyn (played by Nimisha Sajayan of The Great Indian Kitchen fame), he wants to wash away his sins by going on a pilgrimage.
In a black-and-white CCTV-styled sequence, he is stopped by the cops at the airport and arrested under TADA.
Director Narayanan loathes the linear.
He moves through the semi-fictional bio-pic (apparently Sulaiman did exist) like a drunken monk, negotiating the protagonist's criminal beginnings and his growth into a full-blown lawbreaker that comes naturally to artistes who believe only the lawless can bring justice to the oppressed.
There is also a very dangerous communal subtext here whereby the historically sanctioned oppression of a community is seen as a pretext for outlawry. I am not sure Fahadh Faasil agrees with the director's moral landscape.
Faasil moves through the landmine of moral ambivalence with cautious steps.
At the end, I knew nothing about Sulaiman that I wanted to know.
What impels such self-styled Robin Hoods into messianic postures?
Faasil gives an exasperatingly, clammed performance.
We don't know what Sulaiman is thinking. We only hear his close associates talk about him.