The joke is on us!

Written by Yogesh Pawar | Published on: October 10, 2019
Almost everyone I know has gone on and on about how brilliant the movie Joker is. I watched it. And yes, Joaquin Phoenix really throws himself into the role of the incel from Gotham City (New York with all its warts standing out in glory) who feels left out and resorts to murder to make himself feel relevant. But this is a really scary, depressing film which holds sway over you for a long time after the end credits roll. And this is not because of the film itself but the warped politics of what it seeks to hold up and justify.

Joker Movie
A still from the film

But first things first. Wonder how many in the packed theatre Mumbai's western suburb of Goregaon where I caught a morning show (interspersed with smells and sounds of wafers and frantic talk about Aaj raatey tamey kyaan daandiyaa ramavaa jaaye rahyaa chho?) would cheer similarly if the Joker was a man of colour. Think about it! An American desi (a Howdy Modi attendee from Houston, if you may), a black man or a Filipino as Arthur Fleck? Or if the youth who steal his sign and brutalise him in an alley were white skinheads instead of boys of colour?

Would it work? Would people still cheer and go on about the film's brilliance like now? I know its hard for the white man to accept that he has to cede ground to others equally to stay relevant and in the game. This is exactly how entitled conservative upper castes feel about the rise and rise of sections of society who their forefathers 'kept in place.' And they had to reluctantly cheer when a few upper castes hit by the helper's high 'touched the lives of the downtrodden.' But that's changing. Fast and furious.

Angry about their entitlement being cut they have begun seeing hope in grabbing power even if this means pushing the world as we know it to the precipice of anarchy. Polarisation, otherisation, exclusion, deciding who is a citizen and/or patriotic or not, what you eat, how you pray, who you vote and cheer for can decide which side of the divide you find yourself on.

When Arthur Fleck brutally shoots dead Murray Franklin on his live show it sparks rebellion on the streets of Gotham. When police take him away he laughs eerily into the camera, a gang in clown masks in an ambulance hits and turns the police car turtle. They rescue and sprawl him out on the bonnet of a police car to celebrate Fleck who is now Joker, their hero. The parallels here to the cow-vigilante lynch mobs being celebrated by mainstream politicians who help them stay out of jail and felicitate them inciting others to mirror them is too strong to ignore.

And look at the symbolism here as the Joker stands up to dance his moves mimic Michael Jackson - one of the most iconic black artistes we have known. Its like Joker wants even the last vestige of law and order as we know it destroyed and create a new one. And for that, he has no qualms borrowing the victim narrative and grammar of the actually marginalised and disenfranchised groups. Again the parallel with the entitled majoritarian Indian upper castes trying to appropriate victim narratives to stay in power and in control is too stark to ignore. But that's not all, once they come into power, like the white Joker they also are trying to destroy every vestige of what the founding fathers have left us (like the Constitution itself!) and we remain clueless.

Just like the joke Arthur is telling the black social worker at Arkham State Hospital this one's on us. And the system keeps laughing uproariously and uncontrollably just like him to our face because we “wouldn't get it.” Two general elections have proven that. Conclusively.