Imagine if Shah Rukh Khan left his posh job at NASA in "Swades" and returned to a village filled with escapees from a lunatic asylum and you have the basic plot structure of Shirish Kunder's "Joker", a film as crazy in intent as its characters make the proceeedings appear to be.
The film is fun to watch when it isn't trying to be too clever for words, or when it isn't tripping over with its tongue-in-cheek smart-ass humour. The characters are uniformly self-deprecating. Some of the material connected to an outsider helping set a scrambled village in order through mirthful masquerade echoes Farah Khan's "Tees Maar Khan", though this time Akshay Kumar plays a far more 'serious' character.
He doesn't even have a romantic duet with his co-star Sonakshi!
I wonder why Akshay Kumar chose to distance himself from this film! He has done much worse comedies in his career. Crass, loud, inane, repetitive and unfunny ones. "Joker" is none of these. The humour is never below-the-belt.
Its big USP is its audacious originality. A village named Pagalpur that has been wiped off the Indian map during the British Raj, a scientist-hero who is trying to make contact with aliens, a heroine who has nothing to do except stand attentively listening to her live-in partner's crazy schemes to bring aliens down to earth, and a village filled with crazy maladjusted anachronistic oddballs for whom the clock stopped ticking 50 years ago - these populate Kunder's kookie kingdom.
Welcome to blunderland!
There is an arresting sense of frozen farce in the proceedings. The characters are so silly they end up being distant avatars of the zonked-out villagers in Farah Khan's "Tees Maar Khan". The spoofy ambience is painted in believable shades. The film is shot an interesting shades of iodized sepia which creates a sense of fading flamboyance in a location where the characters have lost their sense of time.
Beneath the veneer of joviality the film has a serious message on the malnourished state of rural India. Politicians are shown to be so conniving and caricatural, they seem real! Likewise the 'aliens', actually villagers dressed in pumpkins and other fruits to attract outside attention, are so clumsy they look more aliens than real aliens.
"Peepli Live" gone berserk, "Joker" is funnier and less vulgar than a lot of the over-the-top situational comedies that rely on double meanings, cleavages and gay-bashing to tease titters out of a comatose script.
Not everything in "Joker" works. Some of the material echoes the calibrated linear movements of a televidio serial with our hero Agastya aka Sattoo moving from one place to another with the villagers in tow.
Yet setting aside the aimlessness the film gradually builds to a moderate momentum where we don't need to feel cheated by a film that splits the comedy genre wide open without fracturing the farce. The jokes hold up.
And so do some of the performances. Shreyas Talpade as a gibberish-mouthing villager who gets all weak kneed in front of journalist Minissha Lamba, steals every scene from Akshay Kumay whenever they are together.
Flawed? Yes. Seriously so, specially in its failure to pin the aliens' theme down to a manageable streamlined structure. That apart, "Joker" is an utterly original parable on rural development, done with lots of colour, vibrancy, attitude, gusto and giggles.