Kanika Dhillon Breaks Down The Motifs Of Judgementall Hai Kya

The writer discusses the film's treatment of mental health, the toughest scene to crack and why the movie begins with a note of thanks to Sriram Raghavan
Kanika Dhillon Breaks Down The Motifs Of Judgementall Hai Kya

In Judgementall Hai Kya, a voiceover artist (Kangana Ranaut), for whom reel blends into real, suspects her neighbour (Rajkummar Rao) of murdering his wife. She trusts her own mind,  but can she get others to trust her? From murder to mental illness to two films-within-a-film and even an acknowledgement of thanks to director Sriram Raghavan, there's a lot packed into this film. Writer Kanika Dhillon breaks it down:

That Sriram Raghavan acknowledgement

He was kind enough to look at the film when we were editing it and give us feedback. (Director) Prakash Kovelamudi and I both look up to his work and that's why the thank you note. He gave us his time, looked at the story with a certain gaze, was discussing certain scenes, had notes. It was a conversation that helped us see things with more clarity. We wanted someone who understands the medium and is a master of the genre. So his feedback was invaluable.

The imaginary cockroach

When Bobby sees a cockroach that means her madness is escalating. It's a symbol of her brain going completely haywire. She doesn't take her medicines and the cockroach starts appearing more frequently. At the interval, you realise there's no cockroach and she was just imagining it. It's symbolic of so many things that are wrong in her life, her troubles, her helplessness. She's constantly trying to get to it but it doesn't exist. It leads her to places rational minds can't go. So it's a symbol of hope and madness at the same time. In the second half, you know the cockroach doesn't exist so when you see it, you're reminded of the thread of madness running through the character.

The origami birds

Prakash came up with this. He wanted her to do something with her hands and that became doing origami. The trauma that she went through in her childhood – there's no bodily scar or external wound you can show or even emotional wound you can show. So what is the external manifestation of this wound that has scarred her for life and broken her mind? The origami is a contained wound that is channeled into something physical. It's channeled her emotions, her attention and her focus. The violence between a man and woman is channeled into some beautiful artwork. She's not negative, she's not gone into a dark zone – she's looking at brutality and murder and creating something beautiful out of it. There's pain and yet, art.

The man holding the signs

Over the last few years, I'd been noticing this man who stands at Juhu Circle. He had a sign saying: Dharam pe chalo, sab se prem karo. Whenever I'd cross Juhu Circle in an auto, I'd always look forward to seeing him. And I'd keep thinking about him for half an hour after. On days when he was not there, I'd feel like arre he's not here. It just became a thing. It stayed with me. I wanted him to be in the story – this man who stands with a placard, who makes you smile, makes you think. And who makes you think. We're always forming connections we aren't aware of. He really left an impact on me. He's just a reminder that life is not all that bad. In the humdrum and the routine, he reminds you of how beautiful life can be. There's also this church near American Bakery and whenever I was down or upset, their signs would make me smile. Their quotes were so inspiring. I would always see it as a sign that things would get better. It would uplift me. It could just be: Hold on, God is watching you. And I'd feel better.

The two movies-within-a-movie

Bobby (Ranaut) is influenced by her characters. So I had to show the peaks and the valleys that she goes through emotionally. Rowdy Rani is out there, she has all the control, she's whooping everyone's asses. Zara is suspicious, she's fearing for her life, feeling that there's a murder about to happen. So I needed these two extreme situations. Real life spills over into reel life and vice versa. In Zara, there's this situation with the baarish and the chhatri and is recreated in her life and that's the first time reel life creeps into her life. That sparks her interest in Keshav (Rao) in a sexual, inquisitive way. As she gets deeper into the story, she realises that the guy she was feeling for is suspicious and her instincts kick in. The sexual gaze turns into something suspicious and eventually, catastrophic.

The toughest scene to crack

When the characters come out of Bobby's head and into the real world. It was a tricky one because we've not really seen it in cinema before and the audience isn't familiar with this kind of a narrative. It was also bordering on the bizarre and a kind of breaking of the fourth wall – these characters came out of her head and are now interacting with her in real life. She can see, hear and feel them and so can the audience. Will they accept it? How do I make it land? That scene was crucial but could've undone so much of the narrative before. So I was worried about it while writing it but I was very happy with the way it got translated. There was no draft in which the characters didn't come out of her head though.

The parallels between Kangana Ranaut and her character

I wrote the character independently and Kangana was the best choice for it. She's a thinking actor – she asks questions, makes suggestions, has a specific way of playing the role. So of course one had to work around it.

The film's treatment of mental health

We did have a specific diagnosis but the Psychiatric Association of India told us not to make it so specific, which was fair. A mental condition is not a simple thing. You can't have only one kind of diagnosis under that. There are so many symptoms and so many ways to treat it and to project it that it would have not been fair to take one singular disease and go with it because that could be incorrect. A mental condition is very erratic. It has a lot of manifestations that we could not have covered with just one character in a story. So it was very well advised.

As told to Gayle Sequeira

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