In 1947, when the maps of India and Pakistan were being drawn, an oversight ensured that the village of Paglapur didn’t find a place in either country. The village had the distinction of housing the largest mental asylum in the region and in the melee that ensued during partition, the asylum inmates broke loose, drove away the villagers and established their own republic in Paglapur. Now, decades after the world forgot this village, a NASA scientist of Indian origin and his wife find themselves on the road to Paglapur.
With a bit of luck, Shirish Kunder’s spectacularly awful Joker might be both the beginning and the end of the Hindi industry’s foray into sci-fi/fantasy comedy. A film of such ineptitude does not come along very often, so lovers of train-wreck cinema may want to check it out. Everybody else – stay clear.
filled with ridiculous inconsistencies
The meagre talents of star Akshay Kumar (working with Kunder again despite the box office failure of their 2006 collaboration, Jaan-E-Mann) are exposed in a role that calls upon the 'actor’ to keep up with the shrill mugging of his support cast and make sense of an illogical script. Rarely has a film managed to fill its running time (a merciless 109 minutes) with so little of anything remotely worthwhile.
A frantic prelude explains why the small village of Paglapur stands alone on unclaimed land. Due to be mapped by the ruling colonials nearly 60 years ago, a mass escape from the local mental health sanatorium caused the tiny enclave to be all but shut off from civilisation. It is ridiculous that a major hospital of any kind would exists in such a remote rural location and that half a century would pass without any attempt to right the situation; no explanation is offered as to how nearly two generations of inbred patients managed to survive (or prosper, given the complete absence of women – except when there is a dance number). Joker is filled with such ridiculous inconsistencies that "¦well, it just doesn’t matter.
We meet Kumar’s Agastya as he sits in his apartment, monitoring a state-of-the-art SETI-like operation. His corporate funder is unhappy with his lack of results (the fact he is working from his apartment doesn’t seem to worry them) and gives him a month to improve. At the same time, he receives word his father in Paglapur is gravely ill, So Agastya heads home with tolerant girlfriend Diva in tow (Sonakshi Sinha, reteaming with her Rowdy Rathore co-star).
It’s all a ruse, of course. The villagers have been robbed of their water supply by the thoughtless damming of a local river and they want Agastya to fight their fight against the fat cat government officials. All of this is established in the first 25 minutes; the rest of the film has Agastya and his idiot posse staging elaborate alien-themed hoaxes to keep media attention and cash-flow at a premium.
It should be enough to disregard Joker as just an ill-judged misfire, a low-brow shot at bureaucratic greed that misses the mark with bloodless satire and children’s theatre shenanigans. But that would not bring the film to task for its shameful portrayal of the mentally ill. In 2012, spinning the plot on a character whose entire performance consists of frantic gibberish (that’s the subtitle – 'gibberish’) or aiming for laughs because an elderly character is cross-eyed just doesn’t cut it.
G.V Prakash Kumar’s thumping music score is migraine-inducing; final reel effects, courtesy of domestic outfit Prime Focus, are amateurish. Joker was originally shot with 3D technology for a blockbuster release which was wisely reconsidered when the finished product was viewed. Some extraordinary production design elements remain and the film takes on a detailed, sepia-tinged quality that is quite beautiful at times (and worthy of the film’s lone star). None of the artistry, accidental or otherwise, serves to enhance the fantasy or comedy. But it stopped me from walking out, so that’s something.