Judgementall Hai Kya movie cast: Kangana Ranaut, Rajkummar Rao, Amyra Dastur, Husnain Dalal, Amrita Puri, Jimmy Sheirgill, Satish Kaushik, Brijendra Kala
Judgementall Hai Kya movie director: Prakash Kovelamudi
Judgementall Hai Kya movie rating: Three stars
The trickiest thing about a movie showcasing an unhinged character is that it can appear half-cocked if it slips even an inch from its graph. And Judgementall Hai Kya has one of the kookiest, weirdest, flakiest female characters ever to grace Hindi films.
I am happy to report that in this film, shifts do happen, but it is of registers, not tones, which in itself is quite an achievement. And even though there are occasional slippages and some clumsiness on display, Judgementall Hai Kya stays unwavering in its intention, and that is to get us to look at the world through a character who does not see it like the rest of us, served up in a crowd-pleasing but strikingly original medley – a dark serio-comic thriller with touches of horror bound by stylized edges.
Kangana Ranaut’s Bobby, burdened with unresolved childhood trauma, has been slapped with a label of ‘acute psychosis’. We are told helpfully that she has a ‘maansik beemari’ and that ‘uske bade saare complex hain’. The word ‘mad’ pops up later, when we are fully primed for it. A brief stint at a mental health facility is summarily dealt with, and in a different sort of movie, we would critique it as being too facetious. But the plot quickly plops Bobby close to a cuddly much-in-love husband and wife pair, and the film switches gears. Keshav (Rao) and Rima (Dastur) instantly turn into objects of fascination for Bobby, leading to a horrible fatal accident which unsettles the film, and us: who is guilty?
I started warming up to Bobby and the film only after a while. To begin with, I found things a bit choppy, and sloppy, with Bobby’s sex-deprived boyfriend (a hilarious Dalal) making broad jokes about not getting any, and Bobby herself being annoyingly all over the place. At one point Bobby laughs uproariously at her own joke, which no else finds funny, and your heart sinks: is it going to be that film in which ‘crazy’ people are going to be derided/demonized/poked fun at? A series of gags with nothing to tether them?
But once the film settles down, and takes aim, it doesn’t let go. The scene shifts from Mumbai to London, and a twist in the tale gets Ranaut and Rao in the company of a very pregnant young woman (Puri) and a theatre director (Shergill ) who is busy overseeing a contemporary playing of the Ramayana, in which the idea of Ram, Sita and Raavan are happily subverted: is Sita an ‘abla naari’ who needs rescuing all the time?
This is when the film goes off the rails, and I mean that in the best way: Rao plays his part with brio, and Ranaut hits all the notes perfectly: is she ‘normal’ under all the ‘craziness’? Are ‘mad’ people capable of empathy and vulnerability? I am not getting into the shoes of those of who will find mention of such phrases as ‘paglait’, ‘paagal’ problematic: yes they are, but equally, they need to be uttered so that their sting can be blunted, though the film needn’t have conflated ‘mad’ with ‘dangerous’: that’s the kind of twinning we can do without.
Other, more affectionate, less judgemental descriptors as ‘baawli’, ‘atrangi’ also come up, and you realize how many ways there are to classify those who do not fit into the norm. And for me, this film does just that: by not boxing in its ‘mental’ character, played with ferocious, single-minded acuity by Ranaut, who after a couple of initial fumbles, draws a bead on Bobby and rides her unerringly. Bobby may live with 17 or 18 characters in her head (so we are told more than once), she may be obsessed with men who have a thing for fire and arson, but she is not a victim. She is a survivor.
It is a terrific, hang-everything-out-to-dry performance, and you can’t help but make connections between what’s happening on screen and Ranaut’s off-screen seemingly off-kilter joustings which routinely make so much news of the wrong kind.
There’s a great deal of craft going on alongside in the film. Some dips aside, this is grown-up writing, making no allowance for dummies (when it starts to explain things too much, in fact, it detracts from the dreamy, trance-like, near nightmarish atmosphere in some parts). The psychedelic, surreal touches are marvelous, with some characters flitting in and out of Bobby’s head: are they real or imaginary? A sequence in which Bobby and gang go wandering in the grungier parts of London town is suffused with inspired lunacy. We never relax, and are always on edge, just as the film intends for us to be.
It’s been a long time since I have seen something so determinedly experimental, so inventive, despite its flaws, to come out of Bollywood: even the films-within-a-film references (from the classic Hindi horror film Mahal to the more recent Birdman) are artfully done. Perhaps getting the producers to rename the film Judgementall Hai Kya (the original name was the much more bold and potentially hurtful Mental Hai Kya) may have been a good thing: a we-are-different-but-we-are-fine post-script seems to have been forced in, but it manages not to be offensively, patronisingly chirpy.
This is the kind of movie which will sharply divide audiences. And that’s as it should be. Once I began seeing it as the murmurings of a different mind, I bought it as a caper, as burlesque, where nothing is as it is. I had problems with some of it, but I really liked the rest of it.