“Jeena yahan marna yahan, iske siva jana kahan”. Well, this was the anthem of the golden era of Raj Kapoor. Hindi film industry wouldn’t have been the same had it not been for him. With numerous classics and plenty of soulful music, he gave Indian cinema a new dimension, with a signature of his own. The earlier decades of Raj Kapoor (the actor) paved way for Raj Kapoor (the director) in the 1970 film. With this blog, we are going to talk about Mera Naam Joker, which was not only loved by the audiences in India, but abroad as well, especially USSR.
Released in December, 1970, the Raj Kapoor starrer also had big names including Simi Garewal, Rajendra Kapoor, Dharmendra, Manoj Kumar and Padmini ji. This also marked the Bollywood debut of the very talented Rishi Kapoor. The film is divided in three different phases and two intervals, depicting the entire life of Raju, the circus Joker who believes in spreading happiness at the cost of his own sorrows. Mera Naam Joker is considered to be a rather lengthier film with a run-time of around 240 minutes, and this was one of the reasons that Indian audiences in those days did not appreciate it much, despite the ambitious plot and gripping storyline. No one would want to sit and stare at the screen for 4 hours straight, but then why is it a cult classic and what makes it so unique?
This film is believed to be one of the most ambitious projects of Raj Kapoor and the way he portrays the character of Raju, says it all. The first part of the story narrates the teenage boy, whose innocence is visible in his eyes and the way he talks. He falls in love with his teacher Mary (Simi Garewal) and in this phase, he realises the fact that he is born to make everyone laugh and that he’s just like his father who had a tragic death during a trapeze accident in the circus. As he gets older, he moves to Gemini circus where his life changes after being offered the job of a joker. His mother isn’t aware of the fact that he works as a clown just like his father. Raju meets a Russian trapeze artist Marina (Kseniya Ryabinkina) and falls for her despite the limitations of understanding between the two. One of the best scenes in the film arrives in this phase as his mother dies while watching the show and he still continues to make everyone laugh. It brings tears down the eyes seeing that though he is hurt and wants to cry out loud, his conscience does not allow him to breakdown during the show and the expressions make it even more evident. The supporting cast looked natural and gave the best to support the lead, especially the performances by the mother, Marina, and Meena stood out in the film.
The smiling joker doll used as a metaphor to portray the true nature of an artist is shown in a subtle manner. The soulful music by Shankar Jaikishan make the plot even more emotional, with songs replicating the mood of the scenes, like the one song where he performs on “Ae bhai zara dekh ke chalo”, it sounds so refreshing and thought provoking at the same time. The last phase where Raju meets Meena (Padmini) is a delicate portion of the movie where the struggles of Raju as a menial labourer and his affection to Meena make you empathize for him. As always, Raj Kapoor delivers a gem as an actor and as a director. The showman, as he is normally referred to, gave us a reason to connect with him at a personal level, which made his performance stand out in the film.
Although the film did not do well at the Box office in India, it was well received in USSR and later on, became a cult classic in Indian cinema as well. Any tribute to Raj Kapoor will always be short of words for what he has given to the industry and people at large. I consider this as one of the most important films that was made with true dedication and heart and believe that Raj Kapoor’s legacy shall remain as Raju and the joker who’d bring a smile on faces no matter what the situation.