Although journalist-turned-filmmaker Raju Murugan’s Joker (2016) is a hard-hitting social issue film, it has a very humane and moving love story at its heart. As ironic as it may sound, the protagonist’s name is Mannar Mannan (The king of kings). He lives in Pappireddipatti, a small town in Dharmapuri, where people still defecate in the open.
When we meet him, Mannar Mannan (Guru Somasundaram) is squatting on a toilet that has no walls to give him privacy. He is relieving himself while reading the daily newspaper. He finishes, gets up and walks to the makeshift bathroom to take a bath. Suddenly, he gets angry after hearing a news story on TV. He stops taking the bath and walks inside his depleted home. He phones his assistant Isai. He asks her why he was not invited to the rocket lift-off. She says only the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister were invited to the event. He warns of dire consequences if he decides to set loose the Bhagat Singh in him. Mannar Mannan believes that he is the President of India.
Mannar Mannan is a social media star, thanks to his antics. He comes up with a variety of innovative protests that are full of buffoonery. He draws the attention of the media and public to various social issues by risking his own life. Ironically, the media and public are amused by his antics and fail to see reality and reason behind them. Hence, he is a “joker”. An abnormal person who has delusions of grandeur.
There is a reason why he loves to live in a make-believe world where he is the most powerful person in a country. He would then be able to solve every problem in a jiffy.
Mannar Mannan’s fight against social injustices begins with a tragedy, which involves his wife Mallika (Ramya Pandian). She initially refuses to marry him because there is no closed toilet in his home. No, it is not one of those optimistic love stories where the hero succeeds in helping all the households in the village get toilets in their backyard. Nothing is okay in this film. Or it does not make promises of a better tomorrow, where people wake up from their vegetative state (intellectually) and fight for their rights. It’s grim and realistic.
Raju Murugan has not lost a single frame in the film without inserting a comment on a myriad of social and political issues that were so current and they still are. Even the actor who plays the President looks like then President of India, Pranab Mukherjee.
In the end, Joker is a story about another victim of government and public apathy. We laugh at him, make him the butt of jokes, and use him for entertainment. We read about all about him in the newspaper and move on, without giving a thought why the “Joker” did what he did. We are so distracted by Vijay vs Ajith fan war on social media that we have horrible short-term memory when it comes to fighting for real issues.
Joker is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.