This Week, That Year: Mera Naam Joker completes 50 years and the show goes on...
Raj Kapoor had booked the Udagamandalam railway station in Ooty, part of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, a World Heritage Site, for his fourhour cult classic Mera Naam Joker. They were shooting the scene where the schoolboys chug back to their boarding school after a vacation.
Sixteen-year-old Raju, the chubby class clown, played by , were part of the Tamil Nadu Students' Anti-Hindi Imposition Agitation Council. The Council was demanding the scrapping of the three-language formula and an end to teaching Hindi in the state. It also wanted to abolish the use of Hindi commands in the National Cadet Corps (NCC) and have Hindi films and songs banned, along with the closure of the Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha (Institution for Propagation of Hindi in South India).
In the face of the protests, shooting was cancelled for the day and Raj Kapoor returned to the hotel, with his co-actor Manoj Kumar. The latter was entrusted with the responsibility of speaking to the students and their leaders the next morning, to persuade them to let work continue smoothly. Mr Bharat was quick to point out that he had crossed over from Lahore in the wake of the Partition and learned Hindi here.
By pointing out a discrepancy in K A Abbas's screenplay, Manoj saab had earned the showman's lifelong respect and had reworked the entire first chapter of Mera Naam Joker. "Raj saab would quietly sit in my hotel room while I was writing, occasionally ordering a cup of tea for me or putting the ashtray closer to my hand. It amazed me that this man, whose films I went to watch, first day, first show, was doing all this for me," marvels Manoj saab, adding that the showman believed that his late lyricist-friend Shailendra's spirit had entered him, which explained his beautiful thoughts and lines.
Prod him on the RK he got to know in Ooty and when they were in Delhi together for over a month, representing the film industry in the taxation case to the government, and pat comes the answer, "He was not a hypocrite; he said what he believed, and while he was fond of food and drinks, he did not touch a drop of alcohol when he was working. I agreed to do a cameo in Mera Naam Joker not because he was a superstar or the showman but because he was a karamyogi who worked without thinking of rewards. Main koi heera nahin, par Raj saab johri zaroor the."
Manoj saab was to write the Joker sequel, but after Part 1 bombed, the idea was shelved. "I then took a story to him, revolving around a man and a dog who dies for him. I called it Sahabji-that's how we addressed each other and wanted to direct it. Raj saab liked it but told me it was too late for him," rues the actor-filmmaker, who would prescribe homeopathy pills for Raj saab who was suffering from chronic asthama.
Raj Kapoor was born on December 14, 1924. He passed away on June 2, 1988. He was only 63. Mera Naam Joker released 50 years ago on December 18, 1970. Remembering his Sahabji, Mr Bharat says, "Joker ka show khatam nahin hua. The show goes on..."