Audience tastes are fickle. None can deny this fact. Maverick film makers often underestimate the role played by the audience in the success of a movie and Raj Kapoor was no exception. Even Dev Anand continued to unleash his movies on the audience even though the latter had stopped watching his movies long ago.
Mera Nam Joker – it was a dream project for the legendary film maker cum showman Raj Kapoor. I am told that I was taken to watch this movie (Rupam Cinema, Sion) when I was 6 months old, so I apologize for not being able to remember anything about my first experience. However, when I watched the movie later on television, I could relate to it. It was also evident why the movie bombed.
For one, the movie was too lengthy (it had two intervals). The so-called tear jerker tried to paint a dark, somber picture of the poor souls working in circuses. The joker was portrayed as someone who had to cultivate the emotional labour and perform in front of an audience no matter what his personal predicament was. But seldom does the audience wishes to part with their hard earned money to watch a movie that is way too serious. In true sense, Mera Nam Joker was an art house movie despite having commercial elements like songs and dances.
The movie was far ahead of its times. The puppy love between Raju and his class teacher (Simi Garewal) was something, I am not sure, the audience of the 70’s could relate to. The relation between Raju and the Russian woman is also not very clear. The worst performance however was by South Indian actress Padmini. Her transition from a street side acrobat to a classical dancer was unbelievable and unrealistic. As expected, in this movie too, Raj Kapoor made sure that Padmini was draped in a wet saree (without a blouse ) when she sang the erotic number “ Mohe Ang Lag Ja” (by Asha Bhosle, who else?).
The presence of Manoj Kumar, Dharmendra, Dara Singh and Rajendra Kumar did nothing to salvage this unmitigated disaster which almost made Raj Kapoor bankrupt until Bobby (1973) restored his lost glory and filled the coffers with cash. I am not sure if Raj Kapoor was penitent about having made the movie. Understandably, it was his pet project – something (a master piece) that he wanted to be known for. With some taut editing, the film could have been more watchable. But again one is not sure. The premise itself was ambivalent and ambiguous. What did this man Raju, who is a joker, actually want from life ? Why did the ladies shun him? The concept was esoteric.
Padmini was not an ingénue contrary to what Raj Kapoor wanted to portray her as. That added to the confusion. It still remains a mystery that Padmini who won accolades as a classical dancer par excellence in the South, stooped to such low levels displaying ample flesh in this movie, most of which was blatantly crude, vulgar and unnecessary. One has to surmise that Raj Kapoor would have paid her handsomely but in the end, money is not everything an accomplished danseuse actress like Padmini should have aspired for – that too at the fag end of her career as a leading lady, when she had already married and was all set to settle in the Big Apple.
The message in the movie – The show must go on – is relevant even today but where Mera Nam Joker falters is in the treatment. The script appears to be eclectic. It is like – the film maker wanted to say too much in a short span of time. The morbidity in the movie proved to be its nemesis. The climax scene in the movie salvages it to some extent but by then it is too late.
Towards the end, the movie drags to such an extent that it proves to be a real test of your patience. When such a thing happens, the failure of a movie is predicated. The movie did not have any repeat value at all. Who would want to pay money again and again for watching a tear jerker?
The only remarkable thing about Mera Nam Joker is Raj Kapoor himself. Only he could have played a waif like joker with such innocence. No one else could have ever done justice to the role. So, you can’t think of Mera Nam Joker with any other hero other than the legendary showman Raj Kapoor. But clearly the audience was disappointed with this fare which was much ahead of is times.