Mannar Mannan, an ordinary villager, decides to call himself the president of the country and stars fighting against the injustices he comes across in his society. What's his agenda?
: The first half-an-hour or so of Joker plays out likes a farcical drama on contemporary society and politics. Director Raju Murugan (who earlier gave us Cuckoo) doesn't spare anyone. From cops who salute helicopters flying across the sky to leaders who stage half-day hunger strikes and movie stars, everyone is a fodder for his sharply written dialogues that sting like barbs.
We are introduced to Mannar Mannan (Guru Somasundaram), a villager, who, for some reason, calls himself the president of the nation (a chart in his house has photographs of all the presidents we have had till date, with Mannan's own mug) and takes it upon himself to solve the issues that he comes across. He also has two accomplices — Potti Case Ponoonjal (Mu Ramasamy), an elderly man who has a habit of taking offenders to court (Traffic Ramaswamy seems to have been the real-life inspiration here, though his look is modelled on the late writer Jayakanthan), and Isai (Gayathri Krishna), a young widow, who shares Mannar's ideals and functions as his secretary and social media manager (she uploads every moment from their protests, and these become viral memes online).
There is also plenty of humour in these scenes (a goat kid is called Usain Bolt; Mannar refers to his work place as Pappireddy Bhavan). There are also some issues that keep getting raised again and again — illegal sand mining and open defecation, in particular. And slowly we are told how Mannar became 'President'. We are shown the love story of Mannar and Mallika, the girl from his neighbouring village who rejects him initially and is later charmed by his sincere attempts to woo her (Mallika lays down one condition to marry him — that he should first build a toilet in his house). We also see how Mannar becomes fixated with the powers of a president, thanks to his conversations with a father-figure (Bava Chelladurai). Meanwhile, the actual president is about to visit the village to launch a 'Toilets for everyone' scheme, and Mannar's life becomes interlinked with this. Tragedy strikes in the life of this couple, and this changes Mannar completely, and he begins his unique fight for justice.
Raju Murugan seems to have realised the chief problem that hemmed in Cuckoo —overpowering melodrama, and in Joker, he strikes the right balance between drama and comedy. And the dramatic moments are dealt with in such a subtle manner that they are heartrending. The director still hasn't completely gotten rid of the didactic nature of his lines, but given that the film is built as an 'issue film' driven by a dramatic plot, this doesn't harm the film much. Still, the climactic breakdown by Mu Ramasamy, while searing in its intentions, sticks out as a message moment.
Still, the director, once again, displays a flair for using music and casting. Sean Roldan's fabulous songs and score enhance the drama in the scenes, and the actors are wonderful. The two female actresses are very natural while Bava Chelladurai adds humour. But it is Guru Somasundaram's fantastic performance that is actually the film's driving force. Watch out, for he is going to be a major contender at the awards shows next year.