Curry & Cyanide, the Netflix India Original true crime documentary film is a great addition to the genre. The streaming giant has come up with many such documentary series that widely cover the crimes that have been forgotten over the years. Directed by Christy Tom, Curry & Cyanide is the story of a series of deaths that happened between 2002 and 2014 in the sleepy village of Koodathai in the Kozhikode district of alleged “murders” Jolly Joseph, the matriarch of the family and a mother of two grown-up children who seemingly led a non-suspicious life so far.
The documentary began with Renji and Rojo, the sister-in-law and brother-in-law of Jolly, speaking in detail about the day the arrest took place. Even though Jolly to date has never confessed to the crime to the police, the trial is still ongoing. The entire documentary is from the perspective of the family members and the police officers who investigated the case. There are several inputs from the defense lawyer as well, who is still fighting for Jolly and is hoping the woman will be declared innocent. The documentary does not show us much from Jolly’s point of view, even though she is alive and in prison, awaiting the verdict of her ongoing trial.
There is a lot of focus on Jolly Joseph being from a humble background, as she was born and raised in a family of farmers. The documentary paints an image of a girl growing up in an environment that could drive her to greed. Several experts in the documentary implied Jolly hardly showed interest in working hard because her younger life may have forced her to grow up fast and not have a proper childhood. The makers of the documentary threw light on her background to justify her greediness, which may have motivated her to commit these crimes.
There was not much discussion about when Roy Thomas and Jolly met and how long their courtship was. Renji is the only person in the documentary who briefly mentions Roy receiving a romantic greeting card from Jolly, and this is the beginning of the marriage talks between the two families. The major discussion in the family was about Jolly’s qualifications. She claimed to have a master’s in commerce, which was a big deal in small-town Kerala. Roy’s mother was impressed because she was a teacher and would want a daughter-in-law financially contributing to the family. The police investigating officer pointed out that Jolly claimed to have considered her degree a curse because there had been no end to the discussion around it since the day she married Roy’s family. Jolly probably never wanted to work because of her family background. Her goal was assumed to be taking control of the family she was married into and creating trust and a support system for herself so that nobody would question her decisions in the future. She could barely manage that initially with her mother-in-law, as stated by Renji, and she feels her mother was killed only because she might have come across some details about Jolly, which were well hidden to avoid any shame or embarrassment.
Jolly Joseph seemed to have some burgeoning mental health issues and a complex that may have forced her to commit crimes. With her mother-in-law Annamma’s death from a heart attack, the family concluded this was the time Jolly could finally bring the home under her control. Jolly also took up a job at the National Institute of Technology as a way to find respect in her family and the community around her. It is assumed Jolly was aware of the respect garnered by her mother-in-law as a teacher. Jolly wanted to replicate it to bring the family under her wing. She wanted to run the family as her husband’s mother did all the years to exercise control. Jolly was probably paranoid and a control freak who knew how not to react in public. This could have been the reason behind her meticulous planning, for there were gaps between every death that occurred in the family. Jolly was not timid or naïve; the woman was smart enough to create a perception about herself that allowed people to believe her to be the typical daughter-in-law who has now taken over the responsibility of running a family.
Many in Indian society consider it a boon when a daughter-in-law willingly wants to take care of the family and take on the role of a multitasker. She also managed to mark a territory without anyone from her immediate family walking over her. This could be a sign of a personality disorder that has not yet been diagnosed. Her father-in-law, Tom Thomas, was the second death, who also seemingly died of a heart attack. In the case of both deaths, the elderly already had underlying medical conditions. Jolly was present in the house but with zero indication of her involvement in it. Surprisingly, her husband, Roy, never suspected any foul play in his father’s death. Jolly was probably aiming for a life where none of her decisions would be questioned, especially by the people who’d never understood her. There was a lingering rumor about Jolly having an affair with her husband’s cousin, Mathew, who was a salesman at a gold jewelry store. It is believed her father-in-law got a whiff of her infidelity, which led her to take extreme actions. The assumptions are strong, which was the reason for Jolly’s arrest in 2014.
Roy and Jolly’s marriage was already on the rocks by the time both of his parents passed. There is nothing discussed about the nature of their marriage or what led to a possible falling out. These assumptions are made based on the brief conversation the family members had with each other years ago. Jolly probably wanted more from life, which Roy could not provide. This could have been the reason for the alleged affair with Mathew, the truth behind which could not be established. Roy’s sudden death raised eyebrows for many family members because he was seemingly in good health. Another family member insisted on an autopsy to understand the nature of his death. Even though the report stated the presence of cyanide in the body, Jolly was quick to turn the tables and accuse Roy of having committed suicide due to the failure of the business and increasing debts. The family slowly uncovers Jolly’s motives.
Jolly Joseph wanted to get rid of her husband because of a lack of financial backing from him, and there was a certain lifestyle she was leading, claiming to have a reputable job with NIT Calicut. The family and other experts strongly believe Jolly could be an example of a person who went after what she wanted without worrying about the consequences of her actions. She could be dubbed selfish because she hardly cared about the impact on her children. Three more deaths followed Roy’s passing. Uncle Mathew, an infant, Alphine, and Sili. All three of them were related to a man, Jolly was keen on getting married, as per the accounts shared by Renji. The family and the police were believed to have noticed a connection, as these untimely deaths did cause suspicion, but the police had no proof to move forward with just accusations.
According to Renji, the last straw was the fabricated will of her father. The suspicion gave Renji a reason to reopen Roy’s autopsy report. There were discrepancies in Jolly’s account and the details mentioned in the hospital document. Jolly was probably a pathological liar as well, which helped her stay out of trouble. The case was filed, which brought down the house of cards built by Jolly for herself and her family. As stated by Jolly’s older son Remo, the mother was in panic mode, which proves that there was some guilt on hearing the news of Renji filing a case and the exhuming of the dead bodies of all the family members. Jolly was quickly arrested but, to date, has not confessed to the crime. Even though the family members mentioned that, in passing, Jolly may have made statements that implied her role in the deaths, there was never any proof.
Many clinical psychologists in Curry & Cyanide could not deny the fact that she did not showcase any signs of a serial killer. Serial killers do have a pattern, but they never really have a motive. In the case of Jolly Joseph, an expert criminal psychologist strongly believes that Jolly did have an intent, and she attacked people that could benefit her in the future. A serial killer is always on a rampage without any aim. Jolly never touched anyone outside of the family and manipulated the entire community in her vicinity, which could not believe a woman of her stature would commit such heinous crimes. Jolly’s pathological liar state was exposed when the investigation team found out she never had a job at NIT Calicut. The job was an illusion Jolly created to attract attention and make her seem like the most important person in the vicinity. This is again a sign of a mental disorder that remains undiagnosed.
Jolly Joseph is still in prison as the case is still an ongoing trial, and there is a strong belief that Jolly might be acquitted of the charges. Jolly, on the other hand, has denied her role in the deaths during the interrogation. If she did indeed murder the said family members, she is a good liar and manages to cover up her trials as well. If she is innocent, she would be looking forward to a life of ostracization from her surroundings and the family because nobody would be willing to believe her truth. Jolly has practically lost everything she had built for herself. The house, her children, and the love of the people in the neighborhood surrounding her and the rest of the family. The only person by her side is her husband, Shaju. It is hard to regain trust once it is lost. Jolly could be looking forward to a tough time, guilty or not.