Joju has played umpteen police characters in his career; even in Ranjith Shankar’s Njan Marykuttywhich hit theatres in June this year. The retired cop act in Joseph though, is unlike anything he has done before. In it, Joju isn’t arrogant or fixated with power, but human
Joju George sounds like a man who misses sleep dearly. He pauses in between the conversation to let out a yawn, and follows it up with an apology. “I have been relentlessly promoting the film… it has been many days since I had proper rest,” he says. Joseph, the first film where he has played a lead role as a retired police man, released in theaters last Friday, and his phone hasn’t stopped ringing ever since. It feels like a dream, says the actor who has been working in the industry for around 24 years now in various roles. He started off as an assistant director, hoping that someday a filmmaker would spot him and offer him an acting job. In 1995, he appeared in an uncredited role in Mazhavilkoodaram, and in 2015, he turned producer through Martin Prakkat’s Charlie which became one of the biggest hits in recent time. “It’s not easy to exist in the film industry. Work schedules can be backbreaking, and there is always a sense of insecurity. But I can’t imagine doing anything else. I didn’t quit even in the most trying times because I love cinema.”
Directed by Padmakumar, a veteran in Malayalam cinema, Joseph is written by Shahi Kabir, a police man himself. “Kabir narrated the story to me two years ago. I was a supporting actor doing minor roles then. Naturally, the project didn’t take off,” says Joju. The actor admits that initially, he had reservations about playing the lead role. “I wasn’t very confident until I saw the faith Padmakumar had in me. It was a risky move. Unless the film has a superstar with a steady market, it could fail.”
In the film, Joju plays three stages of Joseph’s life – in his twenties, in the middle-age, and later, in his sixties. Shooting began in the order of scenes in the film; Joseph as a brooding old man. “I sought the advice of my friends and teachers. I closely observed my father who is of the same age as Joseph, and used some of his mannerisms in portraying the character. People I admire, like writer Gopan Chidambaram and filmmaker Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, gave me suggestions on how I could approach it. I did my homework and did the job sincerely. I didn’t want to imitate anyone, but do it my way,” says Joju.
The actor adds that Shahi Kabir’s experiences as a police officer immensely helped his performance. “He fleshed out the script with details that we don’t usually see in crime dramas. Kabir knows incredible stories of how the crime investigation wing of the police functions. There are brilliant sleuths whom the department continues to rely on to solve crimes even after their retirement. They have certain ways of looking at the crime scene, body language of the suspects and situational evidences to crack the case. When I was playing those scenes where Joseph goes to crime scenes, I could really feel what the policemen go through. ”
It was a comic supporting role in Mammootty’s Rajadhiraja (2014) that shot Joju to fame. He played a string of lighter character roles after that, in Lal Jose’s Pullippulikalum Aattinkuttiyum, Bash Mohammed’s Lukka Chuppi and Abrid Shine’s Action Hero Biju. In 2017, he broke his on-screen image through a negative-shaded role in Ranjith Shankar’s Ramante Eden Thottam, a domestic drama. The same year, he co-produced Manju Warrier’s Udaharanam Sujatha in which he played the jovial headmaster of a government school. In June, an upcoming film where Rejisha Vijayan plays the lead, Joju plays her father.
Rather than playing safe, Joju says he has only been trying to raise his own bar. “I consider myself a student of cinema. I still call my favourite filmmakers and ask for roles,” he admits. He says he recently told Dileesh Pothan that he would readily act in his film even if it’s a minor role.
“You might laugh if I told you the names of the filmmakers I want to work with. From Spielberg to Dileesh and Lijo Jose Pallissery, I want to work with them all. I want to essay a character written by Syam Pushkaran. I am waiting for a chance to work with Thiyagaraja Kumararaja who made Aaranya Kaandam. When I heard Fahadh was working with him in his upcoming film, my respect for Fahadh grew manifold,” he gushes. “I don’t have dream roles. My high is working with the directors I admire.”
Joju is playing one of the lead roles, along with Nimisha Sajayan, in filmmaker Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Chola, a thriller. “I don’t label Sanal as an ‘art house filmmaker’. For me, Chola is a film for the masses; something that the theatre-going audience will love,” he says. The unending controversies surrounding Sanal’s award-winning S Durga doesn’t faze Joju. “Sanal is someone I respect a lot, not just as a filmmaker, but as a good human being. I wish I had the kind of passion he has for cinema. He possesses a great technical understanding of the medium, and I would say he is just starting out. We are yet to see what he is really capable of as a filmmaker,” says Joju.
There are few things in Joju’s life apart from cinema. When he isn’t on a film set, he spends time watching films. His close friends are from the industry, with whom he discusses ideas, and the films he watched lately. “What else do we have to talk about!” he laughs. His favourite films include Pursuit of Happyness and Bridges Of Madison County.
Although Joju reiterates that producing Charlie was more of an accident than a carefully charted plan, the actor adds that he wants to produce more films. “Many discussions are on.”
The tricky part is choosing the right script, he says. “Unlike the time I started out in, youngsters now have access to study material on cinema, and have platforms to hone their skills. I didn’t know anything about delivering a dialogue or behaving in front of the camera. The flip side of the present age is that being average will not take you anywhere anymore. They have to be outstanding talents,” he pauses, adding, “Most of the scripts I hear from young aspirants are mediocre. But the writers don’t get it. So I have to sit down and tell them politely.”
Nevertheless, he talks about a project he has pinned high hopes on. Joju plays a pivotal role in Valiya Perunnal, directed by debutant Dimel. The film, he says, has every potential to be a ‘blockbuster’.
The Joju George interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.