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
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
* 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.)
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