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Movie Review: Joker

September 06, 2012

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Joker stars Akshay Kumar, Shreyas Talpade, and Sonakshi Sinha. – Courtesy photo.

In a village of enthusiastic crack-pots, a lonesome sane man is king. But when that man cooks-up a plan that rests on alien-sighting, one cannot help but question his wit (and that of its filmmakers).

In one of those scenes where seriousness is not-so-seriously implied, we see Shreyas Talpade, kneeling down, having a serious heart-to-heart with Bhagwan in a nearly-ruined temple. His expressions, physically and at times phonetically exaggerated, tell us of his quarrel with the creator just fine; Mr. Talpade, an actor of immense talent, has little choice but not to exaggerate, because writer Shirish Kunder’s screenplay has him speaking tongues.

Mr. Talpade plays Akshay Kumar’s younger brother called Babban, and his language, made-up of rotating garbles, make little sense to us or the natives of Paglapur – a desolate village, sans electricity, irrigation –as far as I could see – women, and sanity. At least that’s the wishy-washy notion Joker – now running in cinemas across Pakistan – tries to sell.

Paglapur exists without borders or ownership. Left out of judiciary and maps, the village’s original natives fled when their neighborhood nut-house was freed of its inmates back in pre-partition days. Although near-invisible today, Paglapur still lives in infamy. No one – government or corporates alike – drops by to say hello or to grub the land off its simple-minded (read: harmless) nut-jobs.

In another part of the world (the US) we meet Agastya (Akshay Kumar) who works for a private cutting-edge astro-research firm. The company is so advanced that its executives attend meetings via holographic-projection.

Believing in science-fiction than science-fact, this company has funded Agastya’s quixotic extra-terrestrial communications device, that actually wraps-up into a portable briefcase (will wonders never cease?!).

So far the device, a blinking console of slack design, is a dud, and Agastya has a month to produce results. But, as it happens in movies, Agastya gets a call from home, and he flies back to India with his live-in girl-friend (called “friend”, as if live-in girl-friends are an alien concept in new-gen India).

His “friend” is Diva (Sonakshi Sinha), a beauty with big kajal’d lashes, who tags along almost all scenes with few reactionary dialogues. Like most routine Bollywood heroine’s Ms. Sinha is little more than beautified window-dressing. But then again, Joker is a pop-corn movie – and that automatically warrants a female lead for dance numbers (the film’s score is by G. V. Prakash Kumar, A.R. Rahman’s nephew, and Gaurav Dagaonkar, and the beats are passable enough).

And so Diva and Agastya arrive at Paglapur, Agastya’s native village, and end up fabricating an extra-terrestrial hoax – crop-circles, bad-alien costumes and the whole shebang – in a bid to grapple media attention.

While Agastya’s intentions are noble – government notice, irrigation and electricity – his crack at the problem lacks focus and basic logic (for example, how can a village without electricity power a Mac Book? Or embroider a blinking-string of bulbs in an alien-costume made out of fruits in Guinness-record time?).

Mr. Kunder works-up a nasty mess by employing a story that any teenage writer can jerrybuild in the middle of the night, only to crumple and toss its paper the next morning (it is said the project was in development for several years).

But judging by the slap-stick nature of the movie, Mr. Kunder is darn-tootin’ proud of his creation – may it be pedestrian, lackluster or predictable. Even the dried-up puns or buffoonery don’t help as much as Farah Khan’s Tees Maar Khan (one song in the movie was once called I Want Fakht You, which sounds like sexual inducement – thankfully, it has been censored to I Want Just You).

Mr. Kunder is a jack of many chores (he works the writing, lyrics, direction, editing and visual effects) – and here, he is perhaps the chief benefactor for Joker’s lack of intellect or comedy.

So what if a few jokes, mostly credible to Mr. Talpade’s garbling, work. Sometimes, a few just ain’t enough.