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Mera Naam Joker – 50 Years Ago

December 18, 2020 | By

On the 50th Anniversary of the release of Raj Kapoor’s magnum opus, Mera Naam Joker, Sundeep Pahwa looks back with memories at the film that didn’t cut ice at the box-office then but is today much talked about.

The rare double spread advertisement used in the story is courtesy Vivek Kumar

Mera Naam Joker

Mera Naam Joker release advertisement published as a double page spread in Screen, dated Dec 18, 1970

Raj Kapoor’s magnum opus and most ambitious film Mera Naam Joker was released on 18th Dec 1970 at Bombay Delhi UP. I would also call it his most difficult film.  Today fifty years after its release I recall some memories of the film.

I was in the First year of my College in Delhi University and saw the film first weekend at the ‘now closed’ KC Cinema in Faridabad. The film was unduly long with two intervals – a length of four hours was uncommon ‘even in those standard times’. The entire length was divided into three chapters of the Joker’s story.

The first part had Raju as a young adult school boy played by Rishi Kapoor in his debut film. The second part revolved around Raju as the young man trying to become a Joker and his experience in Russian Circus. And the third part was a mature Raju making a living as a street performer in Bombay. In each of the three parts, Raju was attracted to a woman. He lost them all in the end.

The entire storyline was interwoven with some fine songs, picturised beautifully. The circus sequences were expected to be a great draw, at least with the children. Raj Kapoor was so firm and sure about the success of the film that he planned a Part 2 even before the release. Recall the last scene where Raju confirms to the audience ‘Joker ka tamasha abhi khatam nahin hua’ (The Joker’s show has not ended.)

“The Joker was conceived as early as the post Awara years and Abbas sahib’s marathon script was the result of years of visualization and labour. Still many a year and many a film was to pass before I finally mustered up enough courage to actually go down to making it.”
~ Raj Kapoor Speaks, by his daughter the Late Ritu Nanda.

Cinegoers had something else in mind and within the first three days they rejected the film and it proved to be a box-office disaster.

Shankar Jaikishan, his long time partners in composing music were the only bright spot the audience appreciated. The songs, written by and the music in the film made those scenes come alive. To give an example, Jaane kahan gaye wo din (Hasrat Jaipuri) depicted pain, Jeena yahan marna yahan (Shaily Shailendra) was life’s eternal philosophy, Kehta hai joker sara zamana (Neeraj) was a strong comment on hypocrisy, Ae bhai zara dekh ke chalo (Neeraj) was loaded with sarcasm.

Jaane kahan gaye wo din (Mera Naam Joker, 1970) Shankar Jaikishan / Hasrat Jaipuri / Mukesh

Some trivia about Mera Naam Joker

* Rishi Kapoor won a National Award for the Best Child Actor for his debut film.

* Raj Kapoor in a rare example during the song sequence Kehta hai joker sara zamana went into a retrospective reference to the famous Raj/Nargis romance of the 50s with excerpts of Shree 420 shown in a fast motion. Later during the end of the second part, the song Awara hoon played in the background.

* In the third part, there is a party scene where Rajendra Kumar, who plays the film producer and also its lead actor, throws a party to introduce his new found lead actress to the world. Raj sahib was a perfectionist. To make the scene look real, he asked his film producer friends GP Sippy, FC Mehra, Sham Behl and RC Talwar to stand in the crowd when Padmini ‘as an actress’ was being introduced to the Press.

* Sharda, the singer introduced by composer Shankar, recorded two songs for Mera Naam Joker but ultimately these were not used when the film was released. One was a duet with Mukesh – Gao gao jhoom ke gao, supposedly picturised on Manoj Kumar and Simi and the other one was a solo Mere Alibaba friends. Both songs are there on YouTube.

* MNJ had a grand triple premiere in New Delhi on 17th Dec 1970 at the newly opened Chanakya Cinema Pride of the Capital and later at the Regal cinema hall and the prestigious Vigyan Bhavan for Information & Broadcasting ministry officials, top government officials and other dignitaries.

* Screen had reported in the late 60s that Sharmila Tagore, Mumtaz and Biswajit were also announced in the starcast but they never shot any scene. Probably they were replaced or that character was dropped

As a concluding note, I would like to quote from the book Raj Kapoor Speaks.

“The character of Joker is the character of ‘The Little Man’ as embodied by me in films such as Awara, Shree 420 and Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai – but rounded-out and complete with spiritual dimensions. For years I have had the images of all of mankind ghosts and spiritual leaders on the walls of my cottage, and to them I bow my head in prayer every night. The Joker moves from one phase of his life to the next. The different woman whom he loves, all leave the scars of separation and unfulfilled love in his heart. But the smile is always there on his lips.”

Jeena yahan marna yahan (Mera Naam Joker, 1970) Shankar Jaikishan / Shaily Shailendra / Mukesh

(The views expressed are personal.)

More to read

Nargis and Raj Kapoor – Redefining Dreams, Aspirations and Romance

From Awara to Shree 420 – Relevance of Raj Kapoor’s Post-Independence Cinema in 2020

Prithviraj Kapoor – The Icon of Hindi Cinema

Traversing the Two Worlds of Mainstream and Art: Shashi Kapoor’s Unexampled Journey

Shammi Kapoor: The Charisma of the Original Dancing Hero

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Film and music enthusiast Sundeep Pahwa has a wealth of knowledge and information on movies, especially of the Golden Era. He belongs to a family which was closely connected with the film industry and had produced two films Bahu (1955) and Bombay Race Course (1965). Sundeep is an active member of several movies and music groups and foundations which are striving towards reviving and preserving our film heritage. He is known for his tireless efforts towards helping other film enthusiasts and writers access authentic and accurate information of movies and music.
All Posts of Sundeep Pahwa

10 thoughts on “Mera Naam Joker – 50 Years Ago

  • Lakshmi K. Tummala

    Thank you, Sundeep, for the in-depth article on Mera Naam Joker. As a huge SJ and RK fan, I saw the movie at on the opening day at Hyderabad and was terribly disappointed. No wonder, it flopped at the box office although the music was a winner.

  • Rajan Bedke

    Great article Sundeep Pahwa ji. *Happy Golden Jubilee MNJ*
    I had seen the 1st & 2nd Show continuously 50 years back on this day & further the 1st show on 19th Dec also in Ulhasnagar camp Mumbai. Ticket of 1st day 1st show is misplaced.

  • Manek Premchand

    This is so rich with info! Sundeep ji you are a wealth of knowledge, and your passion also shows. I was stumped to read this essay, especially all that trivia, the award for Rishi Kapoor, the triple premieres for the film in Delhi, and that element of Rajendra Kumar as a producer, so real producers were included in the frame, wonderful sir _()_

  • PADMANABHAN G

    Excellent write up.. some details given by Sundeep not aware earlier.. remember the premiere at the iconic Chanakya cinema in New Delhi.. whatever the outcome at box office MNJ remains a marvel..

  • Nutsure Satwik

    Lovely write up Sundeep ji. When I saw this movie I was slightly disappointed. But thinking retrospectively I realised why should such very well touted project not reach the mass audience reject such a lifetime ambitious project. It was very well written and technically perfect project be flagged by audience. In my humble opinion it was flagged of. Individually viewing each and every frame was perfect. Nothing could be flawed. The weaving of these frames could not be flawed. The music is eternal and unforgettable. Dharmendra’s trapeze act was a novelty as much as Rishi infatuation over Simi. Am we could relate to at our age at time. Excellent Sundeep ji. Just too long. Excellent …

  • Kailash Mundra

    Excellent article Sundeepji. I saw the movie first day second show in Pune & liked it immensely. I loved the first part which was at par with any English movie, those days. For your information, I am a witness to the hockey scene, where Simmi is shown playing hockey & which was picturised in my school in Pune (I was standing behind the goal post cheering Simmiji). SJs’ music was the crowning glory of this film along with the lovely direction by Raj Kapoor.

  • Kailash Mundra

    Excellent article Sundeepji ! I saw Mera Naam Joker first day second show at Alankar theatre Pune then. I loved the movie , specially the first part , which was at par with any other English movie of those days. For your information I am witness to the Hockey scene where Simmi is shown playing Hockey . Raj Kapoor had come to our school in Pune to picturize this scene in 1968 (I was standing behind the goalpost cheering Simmi as she scored a goal) ! Crowning glory was SJs’music/ songs and Raj Kapoor’s brilliant direction .

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