For audiences of Tamil cinema fed on a diet of masala, violence, worn out themes, sound and fury and what have you, a film like Joker is a reason to celebrate. Holding up a mirror to society and the injustice therein, from hit and run cases to sand mining to corruption, bureaucratic apathy and even euthanasia, through the eyes of protagonist Mannar Mannan aka President (played by Guru Somasundaram), director Raju Murugan has come up with a film well on its way to becoming a hit.
Talking about the theme, the two-film-old Murugan says, “I wanted to communicate whatever I saw, heard and felt. I had a lot of exposure to young Leftists and had worked with them. Besides my brother Saravanan and lyric writer Yugabharathi introduced me to politically oriented books and I was impelled to highlight social issues. That said, the film is not a sort of identification with my Leftist leanings.”
After working as an assistant director to N Lingusamy on films like Bheemaa and Paiyaa, he moved to directing films. “Cinema is simply the next stage. It is all one art form,” says the former journalist and author.
Gratified by the overwhelming response to the film, Murugan, who is an electronics and instrumentation engineering by qualification, says, “It has exceeded expectations. People across the spectrum, from human rights activists to those in politics and even ordinary citizens, are speaking about it. I have to thank my producers Dream Warrior Pictures, who never compromised on the budget and gave me what I needed, and the censor board.” Would he call it a low budget film? “It was made at a budget commensurate with the story,” he says.
Where Joker also scores is in the casting. The actors look their parts and come up with performances that bring the characters to life.
As is the practice with Murugan, they were all put through workshops after the script was written. “The rehearsals were very helpful,” says the director.
As the film pans out, the audience realises who the real joker is—the protagonist or each of them. “While people who do wrong and use the system get away with it, it is the public who end up becoming jokers,” says Murugan. What is also memorable for him about Joker is the support lent by the people of Dharmapuri where the film was shot. “Quite a few of them acted in the film and the friendship continues to this day,” he says.
Murugan’s first film Cuckoo was about a romance between two visually impaired people. “It was based on an experience that deeply impacted me,” he says.
As for projects in the pipeline, he is finalising his third script and discussing the possibility of remaking Joker in Telugu and Hindi.