1. The color and the cinematography – Not every picture I post from this is going to show how beautiful the film is. (Screen caps can be hit and miss that way, and I don’t always have time or energy to find the perfect ones.) But the colors and the scenes are often breathtaking. I’m someone who most appreciates the black and white films (in case people haven’t guessed that by now), but sometimes the color of a film can really grab me, especially because I’ve spent so much time with black and white. (Though, on the other hand, when I looked up the cinematographer for this one, I saw that it was Radhu Karmakar, who also did Shree 420, Awaara, and Jis Desh Men Ganga Behti Hai. So maybe I also like the visuals in this one so much for the same reasons that I like them in some of my favorite black and whites.)
2. Beautiful Padmini in an unconventional light – Padmini remains my top filmi goddess – she was the best dancer (though Vyjayanthimala was often just as good) and was more beautiful than anyone. I suppose strictly speaking, by most standards, she was most beautiful in the late 50s and early 60s, but she still was a sight to behold in the early ’70s. And after seeing her in so many roles showing a traditional kind of femininity, it was interesting to see her with short hair and masculine clothes – which she wore during one part of the movie because, unbelievably, her character had been passing herself off as a boy, fooling the Raj Kapoor character, even for a short time while they were living in the same shack (perhaps one moment of the film that was a bit funnier than it was meant to be). I think it’s fun showing the uncoventional and slightly older Padmini, still looking great. (And though the image header that I posted just before writing this does show her after she’s put on a sari (and got the sari wet, as Padmini often did), she’s still got that very short hair – quite different compared to the Padmini of years past.)
3. Beauty shown in the lives of characters who are homeless/poor – This is a tricky one. Some people might say it’s wrong to make the lives of two people who are supposed to be homeless look so beautiful and even glamorous sometimes. Homelessness is, after all, a terrible situation to be in, and it should not be glamorized or glorified. On the other hand, it is really nice to see characters who are poor doing so well, in terms of what they create – including their music, dance, etc. – and what environment they make for themselves, despite their very limited material circumstances. And in the phase of the movie that I’m thinking about most, the one that I’ve been taking pictures from, they’re not living in a footpath, either, but in an abandoned shack. It reminds me of some squatters I met in the late 1990s and early 2000s who actually did some interesting things, aesthetically speaking, in buildings that were not supposed to be occupied…
This aspect of Mera Naam Joker is also a specialty of Raj Kapoor’s – i.e., making something beautiful out of places where people without homes might end up living. Though Raj Kapoor isn’t the only one who does this… It seems to be very common in Indian movies, especially from the era between the late ’40s and the ’70s. Maybe it’s because it was/is such a common condition in India. But in a few more recent Indian movies that I’ve seen, a lot more attention was given to very comfortable, affluent surroundings, as with most American TV shows and films. (I’ve heard this phenomenon attributed to the rise of the Indian middle class and its values. Well, maybe, though I don’t feel qualified to judge such a generalization one way or the other.)
4. Mera Naam Joker is a good movie – People like to make fun of it because, of course, it is an exercise of Raj Kapoor’s huge ego (though he didn’t actually write it). And some people find it a bit pretentious with the allegories, etc. But it’s also admirably ambitious, and it’s so nice to see a movie that’s trying to be poetic in this way. It’s got a few cliches, but it’s all also very thoroughly thought out. The part involving the Russian circus (and the friendship between Russians and Indians) is charming and full of heart, even if Raj doesn’t look exactly right being romantically paired with that young, anorexic ballerina. And then his pairing with Padmini is almost perfect in this film. Meanwhile, her dancing is terrific as always, and sometimes she is very funny too. (Even if the character whom she plays is not the most sympathetic, by any means – which actually is a source of much of the humor that she displays.)
And I found the emotional content of the whole film to be quite satisfying. It definitely tugged at my heart strings.
Sometime, maybe I’ll write this movie up more thoroughly, in a way that will do it justice. I know it had some minor problems, and at the box office it was a terrible failure. But it’s also a classic, and maybe my favorite from the ’70s – maybe because it was a significant work by that old master from the ’50s.