Joshiy’s films have always celebrated its heroes. They might be flawed, fallen, macho, roguish or alpha males but the narratives were always from their point of view—and the heroines were often relegated to traditional roles. Even in one of the director’s most popular films, New Delhi (1987), Sumalatha’s Maria is just a catalyst for Mammootty’s GK to wreak his vengeance.
By that standard, Mariam (Nyla Usha) from Porinju Mariam Jose is not like the women characters one is so used to seeing in his cinema. She’s feisty, lives alone in a sprawling bungalow, uses profanities and yet is not presented as a masculine caricature. Her introduction scene effectively underlines it all—where she roughs up a man who gropes her. But like the other two lead characters, Mariyam too is let down by a clichéd narrative and a director stuck on his old-school filmmaking skills and earlier successful potboilers. Everything about Porinju Mariam Jose, set in the mid-80s, is too familiar, be it the milieu, some of the characters, choreography and even the narrative pattern.
The film begins with a not-so-brief sketch of the leading characters’ childhood, and how it all brings the title characters, Porinju (Joju George) Mariam (Nyla Usha) and Jose (Chemban Vinod) together. The present story is placed in the backdrop of an annual church festival in the heart of Thrissur, leaving room to introduce their adult versions and other sub characters.
‘Kattalan’ Porinju is a diluted version of Naran’s Mullankolli Velayudhan. He is a school dropout who is also the right-hand man/ thug of Iype (Vijayaraghavan), the village’s most influential planter. Porinju is also the village superman/saviour, who is often the go-to person to solve personal feuds. Much like Mohanlal’s Velayudhan, he has a soft side and carries a torch for Mariam, who is forced to cancel their elopement plans after her father accidentally hangs himself (it’s an interesting scene). The romance is quite warm, though like every Joshiy film, you only get snippets. Considering Porinju is the kind of a lover who waits eagerly outside her house every night to catch a glimpse of her, that part isn’t explored as it deserved to be.
Instead, a lot of screen time is allotted to showcase the strapping Porinju getting into street fights. Even his friendship with the other main lead, Jose, is underwritten. You hear a lot of dialogue about how Porinju will do anything for Jose, but surprisingly, the two characters have very few scenes or conversations together.
But Jose has a more intricate sketch than his friend. He has a few quirks, like his love for disco dancing, which prompts him to a rather clumsy display at the church festival. Besides being a heavy drinker, Jose is also a loafer and more invested in his friendships than his family. There is a smart conflict thrown in between Jose and his younger brother, who considers himself a professional dancer and smirks at his brother’s lack of dancing skills.
Porinju is mostly projected as a demigod and like every Joshiy film, the camera is eager to showcase his heroism, with the villagers gloating over him at every opportunity. Though the antagonist is vicious, you know right from the start that he is no match for the formidable Porinju.
I am inclined to think that one of the areas where new-gen directors in Malayalam cinema score over their veteran counterparts is in how they use their supporting actors. So here, the supporting cast is mostly one-dimensional. None of the characters in Iype’s extended family leave a mark—the women are either cooking, serving, looking good or taking care of children while the men take the big decisions. Same with Jose’s family with his grumbling wife and child, elderly parents and brother.
Also, there are far too many fight scenes—all blood and gore and extremely uncomfortable to watch—where the villains and hero compete aggressively to draw more blood.
Joju George has an unmistakable screen presence and though he is good in action scenes, he needs to work harder on his body to at least give the impression of suppleness. Chemban Vinod easily slips into Jose (his awful dance moves are a riot) while Nyla embodies Mariam with assuredness, including getting her slang spot on.
Considering Porinju Mariam Jose is set in the ’80s, it would have perhaps worked better if it was made then as well.