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Joker

Joker is a very clever idea, mixing the core concepts of two very inspirational movies. But it’s neither clever nor does it inspire. Because somewhere along the journey it stretches the joke too far and becomes a joke itself.

As the picture above makes it amply evident, one of those two movies is Lagaan. And the other? Another Ashutosh Gowariker film, Swades. Just like Mohan Bhargava there, Agastya (Akshay Kumar) here is a big-shot scientist in the US (he sits in front of a dozen monitors and waits for aliens to ‘kamnicate’ with him) who comes back to salvage his village in India.

Now this village does’t exactly fight the British in a cricket match a la Lagaan but they all get together — each in his own quirky way — to correct an error made by a Britisher back in 1946. He simply forgot to put Paglapur on the Indian map leading to the village becoming a ‘Joker’ — part of the pack, but not belonging to any suit.

When Agastya knocks on the doors of the heads of the three states surrounding Paglapur, none of them takes responsibility for the 600 villagers and so the 66 years of no-electricity and no-water continue.

All ‘signs’ for you-know-what. Yes, Agastya and company carve out crop circles on their farm fields and grab attention from here, there, everywhere. As the media descends upon hereto-unknown Paglapur — a little like Peepli Live — the problems of the village crop up too and soon become ‘news’.

Once the scientists declare the crop circles a hoax, the villagers pose as aliens and keep the show going. And when even that scam falls through, the only hope for Agastya are close encounters of the third kind.

The most beautiful thing about Joker is the thought at its heart — a young boy who looked for a life beyond his anonymous village and once he established himself as a top-notch scientist, he looked for life beyond the world.

It’s also laudable that a mainstream Bollywood biggie talks about Indian villages where they are still struggling to source the basic amenities required for daily livelihood.

But noble thoughts and clever concepts don’t always a great movie make. Shirish Kunder, who had overcooked his directorial debut Jaan-e-Mann (there too Akshay was a scientist named Agastya!), again goes disastrously overboard. With every passing scene what started out as a fun premise becomes more and more preposterous till there’s an actual alien doing a Bollywood thumka! (That’s really no spoiler... ‘kamnicate’ toh hona hi tha.)

Little surprise then that after laughing with the characters initially, you find yourself laughing at them. What was meant to be a fight for roots and rights turns out to be a ridiculous and redundant exercise. And you sit and wonder whether it’s better off having an Akshay and Sonakshi bite and pinch each other in a Rowdy Rathore than have them go through the motions in a film like this.

Akshay only explains things in the film. First to Sonakshi, then to the villagers, then to the media and finally the alien. Only when he couldn’t explain his presence in the film, he must have disowned it.

Sonakshi, ill at ease in Western clothes, gets her mojo back when she gets into those Dabangg-ish cholis and saris. Among the rest of the cast, Sanjay Mishra as Rajaji who believes he is still the king of his riyasat is the standout.

Since the film was supposed to be in 3D, two top cinematographers — Sudeep Chatterjee and Anay Goswami — have shot the film and have done so with a lot of heart. A word must go out for the late art director Samir Chanda, whose last work was Joker and he really did a fabulous job in creating the rustic and real world of the film.

The songs (Gaurav Dagaonkar and G.V. Prakash Kumar) are ho-hum except Kafirana, which like Sheila ki jawaani was in Tees Maar Khan, is the piece de resistance of Joker. The way Chitrangda lights up the frame, only a pagla will miss electricity in that village. Come on Shirish, why so serious?