Actor Thomas Mathew has become the most relatable face of Malayali male adolescence. In his debut film, the highly acclaimed Kumbalangi Nights, he was the sensitive younger sibling trying to fix his dysfunctional family. He played a diagonally opposite character in Girish AD’s Thanneer Mathan Dinangal (2020), a film that had its feet planted firm on everyday life, as a high schooler clumsily navigating the real world. Mathew is not an exceptional actor, but his screen presence moves the viewer. He brings to the screen the angst and frustrations of the average boy to which Malayalam cinema has rarely paid attention. Mathew erases the romantic image of adolescence and reveals the acne and imperfections.
In Thanneer Mathan Dinangal, during the school picnic at a hill station, while his classmates are sitting around a campfire, singing and making memories, Jaison is curled up in the back of the bus, exhausted from motion sickness. In Jo and Jo, he plays Jomon, the 17-year-old younger sibling in a lower-middle-class family in countryside Kerala, who suffers from extreme social anxiety. When he is nervous, he must defecate, a condition that becomes the butt of many jokes in the film.
Directed by Arun D Jose, Jo and Jo is a teen comedy set during the second pandemic-induced lock-down in Kerala. Before getting into the central issue, the film takes one through moments reminiscent of popular memes about the lock-down days. Youngsters attend virtual classes distractedly. You see them trying their hands at cooking meat and smoking cigarettes, going on fishing expeditions and trying out novel tricks to fool the cops on the lookout for lock-down violators.
Sure, it is fun and relatable to a large section of the audience, and Arun, who knows the commercial potential of these little slice-of-life moments, obsessively hangs on to them. From every rare quiet interlude, he hurriedly cuts to these scenes of Jomon and his friends, Manoj (Naslen Gafoor) and Eby (Melvin G Babu), indulging in tomfoolery.
The world comes crashing down for Jomon when he comes across a love letter, which he assumes, is addressed to his sister, the 21-year-old Jomol (Nikhila Vimal), by her boyfriend. The boy who had been whiling away the lock-down days roaming the village with his friends, suddenly feels his masculinity attacked. It is a natural transformation, given the culture he is bred in, where women in a household are the men’s burden. The female species, Jomon has learnt from movies and his surroundings, are prone to straying, ruining the family name, and men must stop them
Arun D Jose, after the film’s release, revealed on social media that Jomol’s construct was inspired by the iconic feminist short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, by American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It is a shame this powerful piece of literature could move the filmmaker only so much to create a narrative where the centrepiece is the sight of boys being boys. But, in all fairness, Jo and Jo display a rare awareness of female existence in countryside Kerala. Amidst the chaos the boys create, the film makes space, albeit marginal, for Jomol to express the acute loneliness and lack of freedom she experiences in daily life.
There is an instance where she asks Manoj to let her accompany them to their fishing spot. “How can we smoke when she is around”, Jomon whispers to his friends, and by the time she changes into her outside clothes, the boys leave. Shot without any embellishment, the scene is poignant, topped with a shot of Jomol gazing wistfully at an empty courtyard. While the boys are always together, Jomol leads a lonely life devoid of misadventures and chaos. Her friendships are confined to chat boxes. She occupies little space in the world and the house, a reality the women among the audience would easily relate to.
And Nikhila Vimal gets to perform memorable, deliciously violent outbursts. An angry Jomol screams. She bites her sibling on his arm and tackles him on the floor. When accused of committing an offence (in orthodox small-town Kerala, falling in love is an unpardonable transgression), she pounces on the boy like a wounded animal. And one must admit, it is utmost gratifying to see the mean teenager getting his ass kicked.
Jo and Jo has a rough visual texture reminiscent of the old home videos. The camera jerks and breaths. Colours aren’t neatly arranged on a palette but are allowed to run wild. The houses are gloriously shabby, with abundant signs of human life. The walls have hand stains and the furnishing and properties (other than Jomon’s expensive laptop) tell of the family’s humble financial status. Govind Vasantha’s background score is youthful, using folksy sounds and using old popular film music in unlikely spots, smoothly traversing the myriad emotions the film goes through. Everything about the film exudes a warm sense of honesty.
But the film aspires to be little more than a weekend stressbuster, a family favourite at the box office. In the end, there is little to take home other than the humour. Naslen Gafoor and Melvin are a riot throughout the film, especially the former who is proving to be a marvellous performer in comic scenes. You see that the feminist lessons the film imparts through Jomol are based on a hypothetical transgression ﹣an imaginary romantic affair. Arun discusses what-ifs and why-nots without letting his female protagonist breach any moral code, careful not to make the audience uncomfortable. Jo and Jo is about male teenagers making merry; Jomol is merely the subsidiary unit, like the CSR wing, that exists to make the establishment look good.
This Jo And Jo review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.