Directed and produced by Raj Kapoor, released in the year 1970, Mera Naam Joker was one of his most ambitious projects of Raj Kapoor and is believed to be a film much ahead of its time, which in fact is considered to be the cause of its box office failure. The Indian audience failed to understand the underlying philosophy of the film leading to its failure when the film first came out.
Raj Kapoor’s son Randhir Kapoor in an interview said that “Mera Naam Joker was a widely misunderstood film in India which is why it proved to be a box-office disaster. The people at that time perceived a joker as a mere object of laughter and were disappointed that the film did not make them laugh.”
The film is quite a modern narrative, whose subject, a Joker, was not seen fit for being a subject of any narrative in those times. Ironically the Indian audiences rejected the film to some extent on this very basis. The film on the surface level is about how poor young boy is driven due to poverty to be a Joker by profession, he falls in love with three women at different stages of his life, but all the relations end abruptly without providing him with any closure.
If we look deeper we see that Raju was also drawn towards the profession because his father too was a joker but he keeps himself away from the profession on account of his mother’s apprehension.
The philosophy that draws young Raju played by Rishi Kapoor towards the idea of being a Joker is David’s (Manoj Kumar) association of a Joker with God, ‘a Joker just like God does everything selflessly, he falls in order to make others laugh.’ is what fascinates young Raju. This is one important aspect of the construction of the idea of a Joker.
The film deals with deep philosophical questions such as, what is the purpose of life? What does it mean to be a performer? Where and to whom does a performer belong?
The idea of a “Joker” is not limited to the conventional sense of what one knows it to be. The Joker stands for any performer or entertainer.
The film philosophizes the concept of what it means to be a performer and interestingly the division of the films into three chapters encompassing different stages of Raju’s life shows that his entire life is nothing but a performance.
Raju’s philosophy as established in the first chapter of the film is of a selfless performer, his life is nothing but performance, everything he does is for others, he puts on a happy face even when he’s going through the toughest times. Even right after his mother’s demise Raju goes on to the stage and performs, with a broken heart but a happy face. So, laughing in order to make others laugh when he actually wanted to cry made Raju’s reality merged with his performance.
This aspect of reality contained in performance actually transcends from Raju’s personal life to his stage life, every time one of the women Raju loves leaves him he still puts on a smile. This smile Raju puts on is in order to make the parting easier on these women. He would present these women with the doll of a Joker, as a token of love, which becomes an icon of himself or a symbol of his heart or love. Eventually, each one of them returns the doll to him, this symbolizes that a performer cannot belong to an individual but belongs only to his audience.
Like any Hindi film, Mera Naam Joker has a number of songs but most of the songs aren’t employed as fillers but in fact, are very suggestive of the philosophical overtones of the film. For example, the very first song of the film Jeena Yahan Marna Yahan articulates the idea of life being a performance, and how there’s nothing for a “Joker” outside of it. He lives and dies in or for performance.
Or later in the film with Kehta Hai Joker Saara Zamana, the film articulates the idea that a performer belongs to no one person but to his audience and that the distinction between reality and performance is increasingly fluid and is reinforced.
The film shows that the audience does not concern itself with the person who is performing but accepts only the performer divorced from his personal situation, his emotions and even from his real persona, the audience embraces only the character that entertains them and does not associate with the real person playing that character.
Therefore, to the “Joker” there is no reality outside performance, he only belongs to the stage, to his character, to the performance, and the audience. This point is further emphasised upon with ternary division of the narrative, which treats different stages of life as different segments of a performance, implying that a Joker’s life and reality is nothing beyond a performance.
If you haven’t watched the film, then go watch it on Amazon Prime Video.
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