Friday, August 31, 2012

Joker: Finally, A Film On Par With Hollywood! (See Comments)

Shirish Kunder has become the Joker of Bollywood. He’s a talented filmmaker but has somehow managed to turn the media, the public, the industrywallahs, and the critics against him. Is it his surly media persona? His penchant for bickering with Bollywood’s beloved King Khan? His dedication to a singular, singularly loopy vision? Some sort of odd bias against a guy who would marry an older, more successful woman? Who can say. But it’s too bad his negative image has become so large because it means that Joker will never get a fair viewing.

People love to pile on flop films and they can pile on all they want on other sites but Filmi Girl is going to proudly wave her flag in support of Joker, as she has for numerous other flop films. Joker is delightful. Yes, it suffers a bit from some some severe cuts to the story and, yes, you can see the remnants of the 3D shooting - which would have been amazing if he’d been able to complete it - but even with those hurdles, it manages to be a charming little film about a strange little village.

Once upon a time...

Akshay Kumar plays Agastya, a science nerd who is building a machine to communicate with aliens. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to phone up a single extra-terrestrial and now his funding is about to be cut off! He talks his way into another month - fending off smarmy rival Simon (Alexx O’Nell) - but before he can get back to work live-in girlfriend Diva (Sonakshi Sinha) tells him his family has called from India. He has to go home... to Paglapur, the village time (and the government) forgot.

Agastya had been trying to run away his village roots and really doesn’t want to return home. But when he discovers the dire situation the village is in - a situation directly to government ignoring their existence - he works up a plan to try and draw the attention of the world using the only weapon he has. Aliens.

Will he succeed? Will he fail? Why are the Nazis attacking? I won’t spoil that for you.

Before I rhapsodize over Shirish’s beautiful visuals, let me start with what doesn’t work. We could have used at least another 15 minutes of build up to Agastya deciding to stay in Paglapur in the pre-interval half and more of all the minor characters in general, especially Agastya’s brother (Shreyas Talpade), Simon, and the village hunchback Kachua (Pitobash). I would have loved a little romantic subplot between Shreyas and Minissha and more of the Simon-Agastya rivalry in particular.

Secondly, Akshay’s performance was all over the place. At some points he’s really into things and feeding off the energy of the scene and other times he may as well be reading cue cards. I’m not sure if there was a personality clash with Shirish or what but this is not Akshay’s finest hour. And I say this as a massive Akshay fan.

And my last negative contains a minor spoiler for the ending so if you haven’t seen the film you might want to skip past this paragraph. (Okay? Still here?) I was really conflicted about the ending of the film. Paglapur eventually gains independence from all three states but at what cost? At least in the circles that I travel in, it’s a common consensus that oil is a curse for the poor people under whose land it is found. Considering that the source of the village’s trouble was environmental problems caused by a dam - which I assumed was a reference to disastrous projects like the Three Gorges Dam - it was an unsatisfying conclusion to have the village be happy about discovering oil. Shouldn’t the ending have been to have the dam be destroyed and the ecosystem restored? (Hopefully washing away some greedy politicos, too.) I can’t quite decide if this was naivety on the part of Shirish, meddling from pro-business producers for whom taking oil from poor people is progress, or meddling from government types who don’t want any films critiquing public works projects like dams. Or is it a passive-aggressive fuck you to the meddling producers and government types? I can’t say.

Anyways, those are merely a few sour notes in an otherwise charming film. There was much more that outweighed the negative points.

Shirish has a phenomenal eye for visuals. The lighting, the sets, the costumes, the framing of scenes... everything looked gorgeous. When Chitrangda Singh does her item (now titled “I want JUST you” for those playing along at home) and shakes her ass at the camera, the sequins in her village girl pants just shimmer like I’ve never seen before. We get to see the warm glow of lanterns reflected in Sonakshi Sinha’s eyes and the rugged planes of Akshay’s face set beautifully in shadow. Aliens glow, fireflies twinkle, and Mahatma Gandhi peers out from over Akshay’s shoulder as yet another politician tells him that Paglapur’s problems are just not worth his time (but if he had 600 crores to invest in a mineral water plant...)

Shirish also has a phenomenal eye for human detail. Agastya’s gang of villagers is just so much fun. From the chubby kid who enjoys hanging upside down and wearing sunglasses that spell out “COOL” to Vindu Dara Singh in a Roman-style tunic to Pitobash and his cute little hunchback and vegetable collection, they are all just wonderfully amusing. And a special shout out to the white guy playing the grandson of a British soldier who just happened to stick around and become one of the gang. Sir, you played a delightful fool. Unfortunately, my Google-fu has been unable to track down your name but if I find it I will edit it in.

For the “main” cast, I already mentioned Akki but we also had the wonderful Sonakshi Sinha, who managed to dazzle in both Western clothes (that yellow mini skirt?! Hai Allah!) and her usual village belle fare. Sonakshi also continues to dazzle my filmi dil. She has an expressive face, a wicked sense of comic timing, and oomph. Even though she didn’t have many lines, Sona had plenty of screen presence. My hat comes off to you, Junior Shotgun! Shreyas Talpade was also a delight. I’ve grown fonder and fonder of him over the years. His character this time doesn’t really talk as such but Shreyas emotes enough that we still understand him. (Perhaps he picked up a few tips from Tusshy Kapoor on how to play gobbledy-gook.) Shreyas has a fine time strutting around looking the very picture of masculine health and well-being.

I’ll have to mull over the True Meaning of Joker - a fine candidate for my Box Office Poison Series - but it did lead down some intriguing pathways - the cynicism over the role media and government, the giddy excitement at putting on a show, and the hints of a broader discussion on the nature of reality.

So, should you see it? If you hated both Shirish and Farahs’ Tees Maar Khan and Sujoy Ghosh’s Aladin, stay far away. If you enjoyed either or both of those films, yes, give it a chance!

Shirish may have ended up the Joker of Joker but I’m glad I got a chance to see the film. And I hope the DVD release will bring with it some of the extra footage. I have two words: Director’s Cut.


Moimeme said...

Hey, FG, thanks for volunteering to be the guinea pig (or is it the canary) on our behalf. :)

I skipped the spoiler paragraph in your review, so I don't know if you already answered this, but I'd like a few answers from you to help me decide whether to see this or not.

1. I loved JEM & hated TMK. Will I like Joker?

2. I think Shirish has a very creative mind & a great visual sense, but he doesn't even know the basics of writing an actual story. Will the sloppiness of the script be too much for me to handle?

3. I'm a massive science fiction fan in print, and thus hate most SF movies as they almost never get anything right. Though I'm willing to cut it some slack, will the scientific mumbo jumbo be too much for me to handle (i.e., how idiotic is it?)

4. The "aliens" look so cheap & unimaginative in the production stills and publicity runs. Are they the real (unintended) "jokes" in this film, or are they being sufficiently metaphorical that I can ignore their cheesy physical get-up?

I'm counting on you to give some objective information to make my decision. If it wasn't so darn short, I'd probably have taken the risk and gone to the theater, but now I'm wondering if I should just wait for the dvd and rewatch ETT instead. I was planning to go to ETT and stay on for two shows (since the theater is pretty far from me). Is it worth it for me to skip the second viewing of ETT to see Joker, or should I just stick with ETT? (I've already seen it once)

Thanks for your help, and I'm glad you enjoyed Joker. Hope you enjoy Moogamudi, too.

Filmi Girl said...

Hi! If you hated TMK, you aren't going to like Joker. It shares some of the same loopy "let's put on a show" village storytelling. The film also suffers from what is clearly producers coming in and trying to make the film into a kids a film. Darker elements are hinted at and it feels like there was MORE originally but what's left is pretty light and fluffy.

The sci-fi elements are non-existent but I will tell you that the "cheap" looking aliens are supposed to look like cheap costumes and are intentional jokes.

For me, the lush visuals, entertaining characters, and overall whimsy of the film outweighed script issues and Akshay's sloppy performance BUT if story is important to you, I wouldn't bother with this.

Go see ETT again. :)

I've really avoided all reviews of Joker and I don't feel like reading any now. The one ironic thing is that with the shortened run time, the film ends up having a three part story arc - JUST LIKE A HOLLYWOOD FILM! LOL! I should have titled this Joker: On Par With Hollywood just to further annoy the film fanboys.

I really hope Shirish gets to release a "director's cut" on the DVD or at least the script. I remember talking with Alexx, who is careful about what films he signs and I know he wouldn't have signed on to a film with a script that was this aimless.

And I've already had to delete comments harrassing me about this review. Sigh. Here comes a weekend of getting accused of being paid by Shirish Kunder.

Moimeme said...

Thanks, FG. You have confirmed several things I suspected from the promos and the plot synopsis that was floating around the net. It sounds like something for me to check out on dvd some time out of curiosity, rather than a compelling watch.

I haven't read any of the Joker reviews myself, because just the headlines were enough to put me off. It may be a bad, or even terrible film, but I don't care for vicious reviews, and this seems to be getting plenty of them. So I suggest that you don't bother reading them, either, and enjoy your pleasant memories of the film.

Moimeme said...

Oh, and sorry to hear about the abusive comments. By now, though, I think you can take them in stride. Still, it's unpleasant to deal with them, even to the extent of deleting them.

LOL about the "on par with Hollywood" bit. But is it really true? I mean, it still has an interval, which will disrupt the three act structure. Unless your theater here doesn't break for intermission? But I totally think you should retitle your review. :)

Filmi Girl said...

The theater could have gotten away without breaking for an interval... but, yeah, it totally had a three-act structure. It ended up being Act One, Act Two, Interval, Act Three. :D

Jess said...

I enjoyed it, but it did feel the story was cut down.
My two issues (spoilers) I think they should have dropped the oil and had the aliens gift them with some kind of renewable energy tech instead. And I think the movie's biggest issue was it didn't have a clear cut theme. There were a bunch of partial ideas: Indian villages with no electricity, fickleness of media, it's OK to be different. But none of these were driving the story.

dunkdaft said...

I was excited for this. But my Gujju mind refused to pay for a movie that's only 1.40 hrs long ! Oh, and the media-mindwash was another reason, and then I read your this line -

If you hated both Shirish and Farahs’ Tees Maar Khan and Sujoy Ghosh’s Aladin, stay far away

Man ! I loved both of them. Fun movies ! Sigh, need to wait for dvd now.

Thelondongirl said...

I saw this today @Filmigirl, i remembered your review as being probably the only positive one online so i revisited it today, and you are correct, totally and utterly. I feel like i should duck when i say this, but i kinda loved this film. the direction wasnt shabby, it was pretty and detailed in a strangely eye catching way, vivid and it flowed. i had issues with things that just didnt make sense like, why would you have a ton of cameras there that A) couldnt zoom in to see that those were some bootlegged aliens B) along with tanks soldiers, FBI to boot all stand by at the edge of a forest instead of going in, getting closer, recon ( or whatever army type term to use) C) whats with all the shooting and no one getting shot, is this the A-team? anyway i came back to read your review because i feel that slapgate had a lot to do with why this film was sent down poo lane. and I loved Aladin. all i hope is that Mr Kunder doesn't give up on film making and makes more differently skewed loopy films.

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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