Mild subjective spoilers ahead.
Why the characters of Joker and Asuran find resonance with us today?
It has been an explosive week for me with loads of office work and loads of violence on screen.
India is celebrating 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi preached non-violence, and I doubt whether practising non-violence is still relevant today, but I want to deal with the themes of the recent violent movies, Joker and Asuran in the context of Gandhi’s quotes.
A man is but a product of his thoughts. What he thinks he becomes.
Joker tells his therapist “You don’t listen, do you? You just ask the same questions every week. How’s your job? Are you having any negative thoughts? All I have are negative thoughts.”
The reason the Joker is having negative thoughts all the time is because of the society he lives in. His traumatized upbringings made his mind wander all the time with no one to share his grief. Add to it, his insane medical condition to laugh hysterically in emotional situations, happy or sad, has driven him to madness, which we watch in the drama by Todd Philips.
Coincidentally, I find Gandhi’s quotes reverberating all through the movie on his birthday. Another Gandhi quote.
You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.
There were many citizens in Gotham affected by the society’s unruly attitude. Everyone is breeding with anger and disappointment at the state of affairs. All they needed was a small trigger against their oppressors to unleash havoc. And, Joker does this. Heath ledger’s Joker told us a decade ago, “Madness is like gravity. All you need is a little push”. Gotham city’s oppressed want to avenge their sufferings, but none of them tried to do something to make their life better. If not people, what makes society? They fail to understand it because of their geopolitical circumstances until a caped crusader comes and makes sense to them after a few decades.
Joker is an enigmatic character worthy of in-depth study. He is not devoid of humanity. In one of his crimes, he leaves his dwarf colleague alive by saying that he was the only person who has been kind to him. There are many jokers amidst us today, and a thin line of moral control is separating them from unleash of their terror. When morality goes off, the world burns like hell, and this is what Joker wishes to happen.
At the Venice film festival where Joker premiered, a film journalist asked the director “Arthur becoming Joker, Is it a failure or an evolution?”. After watching the movie, I recalled this question and thought “Did Joker fail in living a decent human life, or did the society fail in providing a better life to him?” To this question, the answer was given two days later by Vetrimaaran’s Asuran (English: demon) in a very poignant manner.
Let us have one more quote by Gandhi.
I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.
Sivasamy(Dhanush) is the only person who appeared to think in Gandhian philosophy, during the most vital situations in his life. When a moment comes to avenge against his elder son’s death, while the perpetrator of crime fells in his clutches, he falls back thinking about his family and the consequences they have to face.
Joker depicted the disparity and hatred between the haves and have-nots, whereas Asuran dealt with the differences and conflicts between higher and lower classes of society.
The most dangerous gift society can give to an individual is a set of circumstances where a person has got nothing to lose. Joker lost everything. He lost his happiness, his career,
his mother, and later goes on to become the clown prince of crime. However, Sivasamy has a family. He already lost his elder son and has another son and a little daughter to protect.
This thin line of critical thinking is what separates Joker and Sivasamy. Joker becomes an Asuran to create havoc, whereas Sivasamy becomes a Mahishasuramardini to protect the world from demons. What an experience I had this Navratri week!!
Coming to the final Gandhi quote,
Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.
Sivasamy advises his son to keep all the nonsense away from his mind and concentrate on getting a proper education. Knowledge and awareness of society enlighten us from ignorance and gets us out from the oppression. All the killings and suffering Sivasamy underwent was to live a proper life, but he was never successful. The caste factor pulled him back from having a dignified life. If he was educated and had power in his hands, his life might have been decent.
If we keep caste factor aside, Asuran is also about the love of a father towards his children. If we keep society and caste factors apart, Joker is a movie about the consequences of failed and abusive parenting.
It might appear to a few sections of the audience that Joker glorified and justified the use of violence, but I feel it is immature to think in that way. Instead of identifying the root cause of a problem and fixing it, it is illogical to cure the wounds by patches of moral lessons.
Vetrimaaran is a terrific filmmaker, and Joaquin Phoenix is a marvellous actor. With ample support from Dhanush and Todd Philips respectively, they have given us an exhilarating movie watching experience after a long time.