Jan.E.Man was a refreshing surprise. When I heard about this little movie, populated by an ensemble cast sans any major stars, which became an unexpected hit, I was expecting some kind of a laugh out loud riotous comedy of errors. But this is not that kind of movie. This is a much more carefully plotted and considerately etched black comedy that delves into some serious issues without ever drowning in the maudlin or trivializing those issues.
There is a brief prologue in snowy Alberta, Canada, which sets the chain of events in the rest of the movie in motion. Joymon (Basil Joseph), is a male nurse, struggling with loneliness and depression in the cold climes and longing for the green landscapes of home. He decides, come what may, he will celebrate his birthday with flair with his old friends in Kerala. These ‘friends’, who may not be as fond of him as he thinks they are, include Dr. Faizal (Ganapathi, also the co-writer of the film along with Chidambaram, his brother and the director of this film,) and Sambath (Arjun Asokan). The party, for which Joymon has hired an events management group, is moved to the reluctant Sambath’s house. But just as the festivities are beginning finally for Joymon, there is an unexpected death, of the patriarch, at the neighboring house. With an on edge pregnant woman also in tow, the house and area become a hive of despondency and visitors as preparations have to be made for the funeral. But Joymon is adamant that nothing will come between him and a great time for his thirtieth birthday. This also extends to some of the old school friends he invites, including a famous villain, Ratheesh (Siddharth Menon), on a prime-time serial that is watched goggle-eyed by the household’s members, as well as a small-time gangster and his hilarious amateur sidekick. Apart from the birthday worries, there is some bad blood between Sambath and the misbegotten black sheep son of the dead patriarch, Monichan (Balu Varghese plays against his usual type as an extremely effective angry young man). This complicated history plays into the equation as the death and revelries throw up some interesting revelations for both families.
Black comedies set around a funeral always tread a fine line, one which needs to balance the sensitivity of the situation with tasteful enough jokes. And to this film’s tremendous credit it does so masterfully. It’s not just death but also the very serious topic of depression that the film handles well, very poignantly so in a scene where Joymon opens up to Monichan of all people on his troubles. This comes soon after a sequence by when the audience may have cooled a bit to Joymon’s antics, especially in the wake of his refusal to allow the solemnity of the situation to deter his actions. But here he evokes the deep lying sadness in the character and brings us back on his side. Basil Joseph continues the fine tradition of the recent bunch of excellent directors (he is, of course, the director of one of the best homegrown superhero movies we have, Minnal Murali, as well as of the deliciously entertaining wrestling dramedy Godha) who also make for good viewing in front of the camera. Truly a golden age for the Malayalam industry, if it hasn’t already been said enough times yet.
It’s not just Joymon though. The whole supporting cast are remarkable in their parts, irrespective of the length of time they have. Veteran actor-director Lal too has an impressive part as the dead man’s brother and his arc also throws up some surprises in the way we expect him to behave on occasion and what actually plays out. Apart from the more familiar faces, I also loved the part of the Events management guy trying to straddle the sudden good fortune of having two events to manage in the same place. A particular scene of him saving a part of the day, which calls to mind any Marvel or DC superhero with their cape flowing and pictured from behind, had me in splits despite the somber nature of what was going on prior to it. It’s a snapshot of how good the whole movie is. A tragicomedy of the highest caliber which should be a must watch on any cinephile’s list.