Director: Prakash Kovelamudi
Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Rajkummar Rao
The first thing to note about Judgementall Hai Kya is that Sriram Raghavan features in the opening credits. The director of the deliciously twisted Andhadhun is a definite influence of this film – especially the first hour. Director Prakash Kovelamudi takes the Raghavanesque route of a murder, two suspects, investigating cops. And of course, absolutely nothing is what it seems.
Because our point of view comes from Bobby Batliwala Grewal who is an unreliable narrator. The film begins with her childhood – Bobby is an imaginative but disoriented little girl who sees her father routinely abuse her mother. The childhood trauma shapes her worldview. As an adult, Bobby marches to the beat of a different drummer. She’s unapologetically different with no filters or niceties. Her sharp edges are revealed in everything – including her abrupt manner and distinctive sunglasses. When someone asks about friends, she says, “Zaroorat nahi hai.” Bobby’s mansik bimari is identified as acute psychosis and dissociative identity disorder. The Cleveland Clinic describes this as a mental illness that involves disruption or breakdowns of memory, awareness, identity and/or perception.
Bobby of course couldn’t be bothered. She throws away her meds and starts lusting after her hunky, married tenant. Bobby’s job, as a voice artist, further fuels her flights of fantasy. She becomes the characters she dubs for – imagining entire scenarios, photo-shopping herself into them or play acting them in a photo studio. In short, Bobby is a fascinating, full-blown mess. And if you still don’t get how complex her headspace is, writer Kanika Dhillon underlines it with a pet – Bobby has a black cat named ‘Panoti’ or ‘unlucky’.
What’s wonderful is that Kangana Ranaut and Kanika aren’t timid about Bobby’s messiness. They don’t feel any pressure to make her likable. She’s unreasonable and difficult. Prakash and DOP Pankaj Kumar skilfully immerse us in her fractured psyche with oversaturated colors and skewed frames. When Bobby applies lipstick, we see her reflection in three mirrors because she is multiple personalities. The background score by Daniel B. George and sound design by PM Satheesh and Manoj M Goswami accentuate this further – every tremor is amplified and potentially threatening. The memorable R. D. Burman song ‘Duniya Mein Logon Ko’ is used to great effect. This is Bobby’s world and she demands that we don’t measure her by standard yardsticks. There’s a lovely moment in which she says, with frustration, “Artist hoon main, artist.”
Kangana commits to being Bobby. It’s not an effortless performance but it’s a full-bodied one. Kangana has traversed this road often – in her debut film Gangster, her character Simran commits suicide. Soon after, she played the schizophrenic Sana in Woh Lamhe who also slits her wrists and later Shonali in Fashion, a coked-up supermodel who ends up homeless. But unlike these characters, Bobby is fierce. She drives the narrative with her desires and her determination to see justice done. Prakash and Kanika want us to admire the beauty of her singular mind and Kangana compels us to root for Bobby even when she is at her most impenetrable. If Kangana had faltered, the film would have collapsed. But she admirably stays the course.
Rajkummar Rao is a worthy sparring partner. Keshav, like Bobby, is unreliable. Rajkummar layers his performance so we connect with his exasperation at dealing with Bobby but we also sense that something’s not quite right. There’s a real pleasure in watching these terrific actors play off each other. And they have solid support with Satish Kaushik, Brijendra Kala, Amrita Puri and Hussain Dalal, who is good as Bobby’s tragi-comic boyfriend.
If Kangana had faltered, the film would have collapsed. But she admirably stays the course
Hindi cinema has an extremely dodgy record of depicting mental illness. Judgementall Hai Kya comes with an empathetic gaze, which is a big step forward. The ambition of the story – both in content and style – is very exciting. But Kanika’s screenplays seem to suffer from the soft belly syndrome. Manmarziyaan, Kedarnath and now Judgementall Hai Kya exert a solid grip in the first hour but in the second, the plotting becomes unsteady. Here, the narrative shifts to London, where Bobby goes to be the understudy for Sita in a play, which is a reinterpretation of the Ramayana from Sita’s point of view. This strand feels more like a convenient plot device rather than an organic development. The thriller aspect gets overshadowed by messaging. In an effort to tie up the narrative strands, the writing also becomes simplistic and eventually, the big reveal feels implausible and forced.
Judgementall Hai Kya dips and soars. Like Bobby, the film can be exhausting. But like her, it’s also a true blue original. And you should give it a shot.