Epic movie that resurrected Charlie Chaplin and immortalised the Joker who made the world laugh while weeping within
Today we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the release of the epic classic of Raj Kapoor,’, ‘Mera Naam Joker. ‘Arguably it was the most defining or touching film ever directed or enacted by the legendary Raj Kapoor.Raj Kapoor enacts the character of Joker ‘Raju.’ merging all the aspects of the same figure he played in his past hits like ‘Awaara’, ‘Shree 420’, or ‘Barsaat.’
The theme of the film starts with Raju’s venture right from childhood(Rishi Kapoor played the 1st part as a schoolboy aspiring to be a Joker) to emulate his father as a Joker who died when performing a circus stunt. His quest is most artistically portrayed as a schoolboy, coinciding with his love for his teacher,Mary.(enacted by actress Simi)He gets a job of a Joker in the circus(Now played by Raj Kapoor) with his mother’s health in a precarious state .Raju pretends he has got a form a job as his mother totally disapproved of his becoming a Joker .Tragically she succumbs with a heart attack when seeing her son perform. Her desire for a ‘bahu’ is unfulfilled which she sees in the Russian trapeze artist Marina(played by Russian artist Rabinkina) ,who Raju falls in love with. In the final part he has a relationship with a street artist who aspires to become a great movie star. This part contrasts the simplicity of a Joker with the careerist ambitions of ‘Minu.’ and how comparing a Joker with a filmstar is like comparing chalk with cheese.
Arguably it ressurected Movie ‘The Circus’ of Charlie Chaplin. No movie ever so profoundly illustrated the sheer dichtonomy between what a person projects from outside from what he is from within. This was the story of the Joker who made the world laugh while secretly brushed that tear from his eyes. The film classically portrays the continuity of the soul of a Joker, in any circumstances. In Important ways it was an autobiographical version of Raj Kapoor’s life.
In terms of expounding philosophy it was at the very top of the tree portraying the life of Charlie Chaplin in it’s own right. In his childhood Charlie Chaplin faced abject poverty and his comic projection was a virtual camouflage for the tragedy he faced within. In important ways it emulated the Chaplin classic. ‘The Circus.’ The movie championed the role of a Joker or circus Clown as a crusader for humanity and the sheer superficiality of the material world.Inspite of facing poverty throughout his life,Raju never relinquishes the spirit of the Joker.
Significantly the main character of the film revealed the poverty of a common man throughout and his struggle to survive and shimmer the spark of a Joker. In many ways it idolised the morality of the poor in all 3 chapters through the Joker symbol.Raju as a school boy, as a circus clown and a street tramp glorified the labouring man on the streets.
The Movie illustrated that whatever circumstances a man faced in essence spiritually his soul was one with life basically having continuity. Facing dire straits or ups and downs Raju remains a Joker till the very end like an inextinguishable flame. The most hazardous paths never turn the essence of a Joker.
The background music gives one a sensation of travelling towards a heavenly path or putting you in a state of meditation. The theme music rings bells of ‘Lara’s theme’ in Dr.Zhivago.’Songs like ‘Jane Kha Gaye Vo Din,’ “Jeena Yaha Marna Yaha’ and ‘Kehta Hai Joker’ takes one to depths of the sublime,philosophically.Song ‘Ai Bhai Zara Dekh Ke Chalo’ is in perfect consonance or harmony with the scene in a Circus.
It took sensitivity or depth romance to a crescendo, or region s untraversed in Bolywood history.I cant forget Raju as a child stating “I will make Christ laugh” or Manoj Kumar handing Raju a gift of a Joker in his marriage explaining Raju that it was his very soul.
In a subtle way it also revealed the frustrations experienced by a common man ,as well as his great creative abilities .In Christian sense it reflected how to keep the world happy some have to undergo great pain within ,like crusaders for liberation.
EFFECT OF ‘MERA NAM JOKER’ON ME
I don’t have words to describe the influence of this movie in shaping my life or thought process. I can’t recall a movie that made me search the core of my soul as much as ‘Mera Naam Joker’ In my very childhood it’s songs touched my heart and background music.
Ironically from age of seventeen like resurrection of a spirit I got deeply drawn towards this epic.Probably it was as result of the film giving subtle touches of the past, ringing bells of it’s most touching moments. Perhaps also because of adolescent love for sadness .
No movie so intrinsically penetrated my childhood memories or took me back so much in the past. It simply took me to the deepest core of my soul making me weep like the ‘Joker.’, even when re-seeing the scenes today. No movie so deeply untraps layers of your unconscious mind making your past meet the present.
I saw it for the 1st time technically as a child in 1971 but morally saw it first in 1986.The movie influenced me most from the age of seventeen to twenty.On Four occasions I saw the movie in the theatre and each time it penetrated the deepest layers of my soul and delve regions of my past.
I can’t forget how in 1987 my heart wept when seeing ‘Raju’ Joker remember his father before singing ‘Eh bhai Zara Dekh Ke Chalo ‘song or the Church scene when David marries Mary. It was virtually the same story when I saw the movie again yesterday.
OUTSTANDING MEMORIES OF THE MOVIE
In a Hindi film I have not seen as touching a romance as when Raju presents the rose in the Circus to Marina before Kissing her or similarly handing over the Joker to teacher Mary before her train journey on a school holiday. I doubt even Hollywood films revealed such depths of love or portrayed them as artistically. Ironically the censors cut the most touching kissing portions.Raju’s and Ballerina Marina’s eyes simply told the story in the scene which took subtlety of love to regions of bliss. I re-watched the film again yesterday and these scenes evoked my heart to weep with tears as ever as ever before.
Like narrating a sermon from a hymn book David (acted by Manoj Kumar) explains young Raju,the essence of Joker before his marriage to Raju’s teacher. In the marriage scene he again sums up how a Joker is not an ordinary man and how it was Raju’s very soul.
In the Circus episode his romance with Russian Balerina is unforgettable with the depth of a Beeethoven Symphony, brilliantly portraying the co-relation between a Joker and trapeze artist. It is heart touching to witness the scene after Raju’s mother’s death when Marina tells him that every Joker is a philosopher and how the Joker smiles with tears in his eyes.
When watching the Circus episode one gets the sensation of witnessing another world and being a part of with witnessing the synchronization of the performances of the artists .
I also complement the portrayal of a common man when seeking a job in the Circus and explaining the Circus committee what forced him to pretend to be a ringmaster. It gave overtones of the social reality of poverty prevailing.
Arguably I have not seen pathos enacted with such subtlety as in the second chapter when the clown Raju is playing the violin in a circus performance after his mother’s death and singing. He smiles with tears in his eyes in the manner of Charlie Chaplin being ressurected.
Another unforgettable scene is when the Circus head Mahendara(played by Dharmendra )pays a huge complement at the concluding part of the second chapter, when Raju grieves the loss of his mother and Trapeze artist Marina leaving him.Mahendra tells Raju to wear glasses to hide the tears in his eyes and salutes him for heroically enthralling or entertaining crowds for three months braving the gravest of circumstances, He tells Raju how morally a Joker is far greater than a normal human being .In the concluding sentence he states how Raju would continue to shimmer the spirit of the Joker .
In the final part his dialogue with Film producer Kumar Sahib (Played by Rajendra Kumar) when he about to give friend Meenu to join his film studio is one of the most touching ever in Indian film industry.Raju tells Kumar Sahib that he maybe a great producer but cannot understand the smile of a Joker.
Finally the song ‘Jane Kaha Gaye Vo Din ‘brilliantly portrays the subtle relationship of present with past and how life literally leaves a trail behind. When singing that song Raju looks like in a state of meditation recalling all past memories of the women he loved as though he was experiencing them at that given time.
WHY FILM FAILED IN THE BOX OFFICE AND ITS FLAWS
However sadly it grossly failed in the market. Whatever it’s merits the film was considerably flawed by monotony..It had a strong tendency to repeatedly portray the symbol of Joker and above all in self-pity. There was exaggerated pathos or melodrama like when the Joker drops his heart which breaks into pieces in the introduction or even the operation scene before .I also did not like the sattire of the operation on the Joker’s heart in the introductory scene which attached too much gloss to emotion.
It is my strong conviction that the film should not have been only ‘Mera Naam Joker’ ,with the ‘Joker’ episode a part of three chapters. Even if portraying a Chaplinesque figure Raju need not have been a Joker but a tramp in another form. This movie lacked a proper plot to give life to such a story .I staunchly disagree with the view of Writer Bunny Rueben who professes that the Movie should only have comprised the Circus episode. The Circus chapter itself did not weld a coherent plot.
I feel even in the Second part to much of the film revolved within the Circus itself instead of orchestrating characters into a livelier story There was hardly any element of comedy infused in the movie. For many hours it left the audience bogged down with the self-pity of a Joker with hardly any ebb and flow.
The third part literally dragged the film as though merely carrying out the rituals. I cannot understand how this third part was ever in a chapter of the film which hardly projected the character of the Joker. There was literally no connection with the theme of the movie.
Overall the movie reminded you of a painting with some very artistic shades or parts but not properly knitted together or blended with elements to make it illustrative or coherent.
The element of romance was also overdone only focussing on a Joker’s life in that regard and not touching other aspects. I am reminded of a very fine fabric not stitched proportionately .
It is my strong conviction that Raj Kapoor over projected his own autobiographical saga of romances with actresses and his feelings of losing them.
Fascinatingly although rejected in India the movie won many fans abroad. They seemed to respect the artistic and philosophical aspect of this Movie. Still it was not such a super hit in Soviet Union as ‘Awaara’ or ‘Shri 420.’
I was surprised how K.A.Abbas who was such an outstanding script writer, hardly contrived a ,coherent, lively or creative plot making the move most one dimensional. As a Marxist I felt he could have washed out so much of the sentimentality and introduced elements that made a Charles Dickens novel or Charlie Chaplin movie a hit.
Overall how would I rate this epic? Without doubt certain parts or scenes rank amongst the most heart touching or artistic ever in film history ,like the touches of painter Rembrandt or sculptor Michenangelo.However I would not rank it with the best films ever with the scenes being monotonous and lacking the vital ingredients to construct a lively plot with sufficient diversity. Nevertheless to me amongst the 5 most heart touching films of all time .To me if remade to crystallize the essence of the film in a more appropriate form it could have been a movie which could compare with the bets of Charlie Chaplin or Bolywood.
On its 50th anniversary I would love such a film to be resurrected, overcoming it’s flaws and not only portraying the ‘Joker’ symbol. It would have relevance in exposing the superficiality of the neo-liberal culture created by globalization through ressurecting the Chaplinesque form
Harsh Thakor is a political commentator