My Name Is Joker

This 1970 musical extravaganza by Indian screen star Raj Kapoor qualifies as a “folly,” which critic Stuart Klawans defines as a film whose singular vision, excessive ambition, and costly execution earn it a place in cinema history. Autobiographical and intensely personal, My Name Is Joker unfolds in a series of flashbacks, following a rootless circus clown back through his life and his romantic relationships: his unrequited crush on a teacher, his tender love of a Russian trapeze artist, his mentoring of a feisty dancer. Each woman is awarded a “chapter”—long enough to be a feature in the original five-hour version—though the actresses seem to have been chosen less for their talent than for their looks. The film is driven mostly by the clown's eagerness to entertain and the tuneful, lavishly choreographed musical numbers, exemplified by the Felliniesque opening scene. Yet Kapoor's ambivalence toward his craft and career is evident in every frame; the film expresses his puritanical humanism while also catering to the puerile instincts of Bollywood (to no end—it was a colossal flop in India). Not surprisingly, he echoes the autumnal wisdom of Chaplin's Limelight and the glossy melodrama of Sirk's Imitation of Life, but he ends on a characteristic high note, more defiantly so than ever. 184 min.

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