Have you ever listened to a four-year-old girl tell a story? They usually sound something like this: “There once was a princess who flew to the moon, and then they ate cake, but she was really a donkey, and her dad was a mailman. The end.” That four-year-old girl’s story has better continuity than Joker.
Scientist Agastya (Akshay Kumar) is in danger of losing his research funding after his experimental device fails to make contact with extraterrestrials. He’s given one month to complete the project when his girlfriend, Diva (Sonakshi Sinha), informs Agastya that his brother called. His father is sick, and Agastya must return to India at once.
In India, Diva learns why Agastya kept his family a secret: he comes from a village whose population descended from patients who escaped from an insane asylum. Everyone in Paglapur is wacky, including Agastya’s brother, Babban (Shreyas Talpade), who speaks only in gibberish. (The film doesn’t bother to explain how gibberish-speaking Babban was able to communicate the message about Agastya’s sick father over the phone to Diva.)
Eventually the truth comes out: Agastya’s dad isn’t really sick. The local river has been dammed, and the villagers need Agastya’s help to get the dam removed so they can water their crops.
Unfortunately, the village was left off the survey maps created in the 1940s, and none of the regional bureaucrats want to claim jurisdiction over Paglapur. One of the bureaucrats compares the village to the joker in a deck of cards: it exists, but it doesn’t belong to any of the suits (or, in Paglapur’s case, states).
I think the bureaucrat’s explanation is where the movie lost me for good. What a dumb justification for a movie title. It’s not a great analogy in the first place, and the title is meant to prey on moviegoers’ mental shortcuts. “I think Akshay Kumar is funny, and a joker is someone who is funny, so Joker must be another funny Akshay Kumar movie. Take my money, please!”
The surprise for those unfortunate moviegoers is that Kumar plays the straight man in Joker. He spends an uncharacteristically small amount of time running around and screaming, compared to many of his recent roles. Not only is Kumar himself not funny, neither is the rest of the cast.
Babban’s ceaseless gibberish is particularly grating. It’s the most annoying vocal tic I’ve heard since that character in Golmaal Returns who speaks only in vowels.
All the wacky character tics — the guy who thinks he’s a king, the guy dressed like a centurion, the kid who thinks he’s a lamp — are cover for an inane plot that seems like it’s being made up as it goes along. Events happen with no consideration for how to get from Point A to Point B. Director Shirish Kunder just has everyone act nuts to distract the audience from the radical shifts in the plot.
There’s a mystery that runs throughout Joker: where are all the women? There’s not a single female villager in Paglapur — apart from Diva, who has little to do in the film besides look bemused — yet ladies materialize from nowhere whenever a song-and-dance number starts. The absence of estrogen in town may explain why Babban falls for the first woman he sees, a news reporter played by Minissha Lamba, in one of the most underused cameos I’ve ever seen.
So, what are the positives about Joker? Chitrangda Singh looks gorgeous in the item number “Kaafirana.” Agastya’s American nemesis, Simon (Alexx O’Nell), has a magnificent head of curly red hair. Joker‘s runtime is mercifully short, at just about 100 minutes. Those probably aren’t good enough reasons to spend $10 on a movie ticket.