Joker comes as a breath of fresh air in Tamil commercial cinema.
This little gem is written and directed by former Tamil journalist Raju Murugan; it neither has stars, nor does it stick to the formulaic patterns of Kollywood.
Let's start with the hero's 'introduction' scene: It is unglamorous. The guy is squatting in a makeshift toilet reading a popular Tamil daily while he relieves himself. The crucial interval block scene has the heroine taking a look around hero’s shanty house, as our man boasts that he has a colour TV and mixer-grinder in the kitchen. She just turns around and asks him, does he have a proper toilet? He is stumped, as she walks out on him and says she will not marry him till he has a toilet!
Mannar Mannan (Guru Somasundaram) lives in a village in Dharmapuri, a backward district in Tamil Nadu. Mannan, an angry crusader, takes up issues on behalf of the villagers and calls himself the 'people’s president' of India. In his fight against the corrupt bureaucratic system which denies justice to the poor, he is aided by Ponoonjal (Ramasamy) and Isai (Gayathri Krishna) who record his campaigns for social media (on which our hero has a huge following).
It is obvious that Mannan is mentally disturbed due to the fact that his wife Malliga (Ramya Pandian) is living in a vegetative state due to the apathy and negligence of the corrupt system. All this is told through a flashback including the romance between the two, which started as they were taken for a large political meeting after being promised booze and biryani. But soon tragedy strikes, which changes Mannan’s life as he fights for justice and files a petition in the Supreme Court for a mercy killing for Malliga.
Raju Murugan, whose earlier film Cuckoo was a melodramatic mush, has this time hit the bull's eye with Joker.
The Left-leaning director has taken on a relevant issue: that in the age of smart phones, usage of which has penetrated even villages, basic sanitation facilities are still poor, leading to health problems. Only 60 percent of the Indian population has access to a toilet and when the government starts free toilet schemes, corrupt middle men and politicians grab the money. Open defecation is still a major issue in villages.
The director has etched his story from many real life incidents happening across rural India. He has added a lot of local colour and humour into the script, which makes it entertaining.
Guru Somasundaram brings alive the anguish and pain of Mannar Mannan. He is brilliant and the supporting cast of newcomers is equally impressive. The music — especially the background score of Sean Roldan — is in sync with the theme of the film. Cinematographer Chezhiyan’s camera makes the story visually stunning and real. The only drawback of the film is the first half, where some scenes are repeated. If the film is trimmed by 10 minutes, it would be an even better watch at a crisp two hours' runtime.
One thing is certain — Joker is a path-breaking film in Tamil, and others will now have the courage to make different cinema, instead of merely chasing stars.