Akshay Kumar may be Bollywood's most hardworking actor today, but that also means that not every one of his films is successful given his constant churn of films, although his dabbling in just about every genre conceivable means a very versatile actor balancing his need for high art, with that which can pay the bills. Arguably his 100th film, Joker is that fantasy adventure that started off very brightly, but fizzled from the mid point with ideas running out of steam, and Akki very much hung out to dry, so much so that he's distanced himself from the promotion of the film. Really sad indeed.
But of course the producers, himself included, would love for you to believe otherwise. The signs are there reflecting a troubled production, with the making of the film stretching as far back as 2011, and deciding to abandon its plan of post-converting this to 3D, after the none too stellar outcomes of both RA.One and Don 2. But what's more criminal here, is how Shirish Kunder, in his second film outing as director, failed to capitalize on the fun premise that could have made it a more memorable film, rather than to now market this as for the kids market segment, hoping that the younger demographics would be more forgiving in what it had tried to achieve. Having started on a journey, but making no headway, then pinning it on a misunderstanding from the start, doesn't provide any confidence.
This marks the second time that Akshay Kumar and Sonakshi Sinha are paired together in leading roles in as many times, immediately after Rowdy Rathore. While the latter film was a lot of Masala fun, their outing here proved to be somewhat lacklustre. Akshay plays Agastya, a Non Resident Indian living with his stay at home girlfriend in the USA, working on a technology single-handedly that can communicate with the truth out there, but finds himself making no progress. I mean, it's an expensive project, and the dweeb of a trillion dollar company decided to put all its eggs in one basket, and one employee. Sure, he may be a genius, but even geniuses need help. So he's given one month notice to show results, or be shut down.
Some moping later, Sonakshi's Diva picks up a random call from someone from India telling her that Agastya's father is breathing his last breath. It's only 10 minutes into the story, but already the convenience with how things progressed, is showing signs of narrative trouble. Agastya had told Diva he's an orphan, and now some random call from a stranger comes in, claiming to be Agastya's brother (whom we find out only talks gibberish), citing some medical emergency back home, sees her packing up for the both of them, ready for the next flight out to India. Right. I guess Diva's only demonstrating that she's a real Joker alright, only that she's really serious about Agastya making that trip despite his work deadline, to attend to what could have, in any day, been a prank call.
But this is a film, so they do make their way to his village, in fairly comical fashion, and we see that things are still backward. The prologue had shown that lunatics have taken over the village just before Partition, and the maps having drawn such that this village was dropped out from paper existence, but it's still there, and amongst the madness comes Agastya's genius, who had decided to move out and overseas to make a name for himself. He returns, is moved by everyone's sincerity in seeing him back, and some Tarzan swinging antics later, is convinced to stay put, and make his village visible to the outside world again. The plan? To kill multiple birds with one stone, by crying wolf - that aliens have come, his device works, and having the world's attention focused on the village.
It all goes down from there however, as the ludicrous is piled upon by more ludicrous, and the jokes are just plain unfunny. Perhaps the item number Kafirana is just abut the best thing in the film with its energy, and provided for more livelier moments in the movie, but otherwise everything, moving like the expected clockwork of trouble finding its way to Agastya's plan like a spanner in the works, spelt boredom. It was fun to have the loonies dress up as would be aliens using very common household items and crops, but those cute moments dragged out for far too long. And as mentioned earlier that Agastya's brother speaks rubbish, well, actor Shreyas Talpade who plays him, speaks gibberish all through the film, that sounds rather familiar, like the chants heard over UTV's logo introduction, repeated ad nauseam.
Sure it's a kids movie, and one can point out that it shouldn't be taken too seriously, but I reckon kids should probably enrich their time by watching another alien film with more entertainment value, that of Steven Spielberg's ET. That's not to say there aren't some positives from the film though, but they belonged to the more technical aspects. The production sets here are incredibly beautiful and wonderfully designed, which is a pity given that it's adorning a story that finds itself losing steam from the get go, and not exploiting its art direction fully. The CG work used to recreate the aliens and their wares is adequate, not fantastic, but would still barely work to engage children who couldn't care more about the design, but only the presence of something out of this world.
There was bewilderment when the title of the film was announced, until Sonakshi Sinha tweeted that the Joker is found in a deck of cards not belonging to any suite. I guess that's true, that this film, in its current incarnation, doesn't find itself belonging anywhere nor fitting in, trying to be a lot that it isn't, and falling flat. The joke's clearly on us all, the audience, and you'd do yourself a favour by not falling for this joker. I hate to say this, but this goes into the shortlist as the duds the year has experienced so far. It's a real pity that Akshay Kumar had this to show for as his centurion body of work.