By Poulomi Das
Prakash Kovelamudi’s Judgementall Hai Kya (the earlier title was Mental Hai Kya) joins the ranks of innumerable Bollywood movies that employ the quickest and most reductive way to justify trauma – domestic violence. The film opens with a young girl quietly witnessing her father abuse her mother before both of them fall to their death. It’s this tragedy that scars her for life, giving her dissociative identity disorder and an acute case of psychosis. I’m not suggesting that it isn’t possible for an adversity of this nature to leave a deep impact on the mental health of a child. But that most movies exploit the idea of domestic violence – they use it as a device, showing only a scene of a woman yelling and screaming – to get away without explaining its own plot or characters. Judgementall Hai Kya is one of those films. We’re expected to just believe that Bobby Batliwala Grewal (Kangana Ranaut) is unhinged because she has yet to process childhood trauma and not ask any other questions about it. It’s yet another iteration of filmmakers employing the “They are like that only” logic to justify a myriad range of actions of its protagonists instead of infusing each of their actions with a distinct insight.
Judgementall Hai Kya also wants to be too many things – a dark thriller, a campy psychological study of the thin lines between sanity and insanity, an indictment of a society that rarely believes women, and a PSA on mental health. But the movie is almost undone by its inability to straddle either of these genres convincingly. Instead it employs coincidences to craft a film that wants to believe that it is saying a lot more than it actually does.
Judgementall Hai Kya revolves around Bobby, a socially awkward, paranoid, 20-something dubbing artist who has been labelled “mad” by everyone in her life but still continues to live with the voices in her own head. Bobby is self-indulgent and has a habit of losing herself in every film that she dubs for – living in their cinematic universes and becoming those characters to an extent that she has trouble separating reality from fiction. Her house, for instance, is littered with pictures of her dressed as the characters from these movies (in a sly nod, one of the pictures is that of Kangana Ranaut from Queen). There’s a fun bit in the first half where Kovelamudi indulges in Bollywood camp to represent Bobby’s hallucinations and Ranaut is a hoot, playing her craziness up for the gallery; her visceral performance gaining from the real-life assumption of her unhingedness. It’s a satisfying meta instance of an actress owning the criticism of her personality (In one of the scenes, Bobby utters, “I will expose you” that had me chuckling at how much it resembled Ranaut in real life).
Then, after an inexplicable stint at a mental asylum (Judgementall Hai Kya treats asylums like they’re Essel World), Bobby returns back to her routine life; she resumes grocery shopping with Varun (Hussain Dalal), her boyfriend-in-waiting and gives her house on lease to a loved-in couple, Reema (Amyra Dastur) and Keshav (Rajkummar Rao). From the get-go, Bobby identifies something in Keshav; she is suspicious of him and remains convinced that he is a con, out to murder his wife. Bobby’s nosiness escalates to a point where it borders on obsession and even though her paranoia is confirmed when the tragedy does happen, the film mines her as the unreliable narrator. The question is, can we really trust Bobby’s version of events or is it just another instance of her making up scenarios in her head?
The casting of Ranaut, a woman who holds a reputation for being perennially dismissed, is nothing short of inspired.
Much of the mystery of the 121-minute-long film unfolds around the two conflicting narratives presented by both Bobby and Keshav. But despite a genuinely invested performance by Ranaut that makes it impossible at times to take sides, the trouble with Judgementall Hai Kya is that it never plays its cards close to its chest. The problem isn’t that you can see the film’s central plot twist coming at you from miles away, but that Kovelamudi refuses to imbue the proceedings with any characteristic flavour, instead taking refuge in cliches. The film’s second half, when the action shifts to London, comes apart at an alarming speed. There’s a whole sequence with a mirror meant to quite literally, highlight the different personalities of a criminal that leads to a laughably dumb climax. Bobby’s mental state is the victim of frequent jokes. And the Ramayana is unnecessarily invoked in the second half (with an appearance by the film’s writer, Kanika Dhillon): The metaphors, save for one line about Sita having to identify Ravana that is repeated more than once, don’t stand on a closer reading.
Even for a film that is centered around the pervasiveness of male violence, Judgementall Hai Kya offers no real exposition on how easy it is to get away with being an abuser. Rao remains a criminally underwritten character, whose psyche is underexplained, done away in one climax monologue. And after a point, the cat-and-mouse game between Bobby and Keshav starts to feel repetitive, partly due to the incoherence in the writing. It also doesn’t help that Judgementall Kya Hai’s last scene that falls into the trap of glamourising a mental illness, betrays how little a film that trains its gaze on a deranged protagonist actually understands mental health. But most of all, Dhillon’s insistence to craft it as a Ravana vs Sita story, presumably on the lines of #MeToo, and make Judgementall Hai Kya more than what it should be, hurts it the most. It takes away from the film’s ability to build on some fascinating ideas, like giving us a peak into the feverish state of the mind of an unhinged person and reinforcing just how easy it is to disbelieve women.
Stripped off its embellishments, Judgementall Hai Kya is ultimately a reminder of the age-old man vs woman debate, reiterating that the world at large will go to any lengths to ensure that the odds are always stacked against believing women. The casting of Ranaut, a woman who holds a reputation for being perennially dismissed, is nothing short of inspired. It’s precisely why it’s frustrating to see Judgementall Hai Kya be that film which ignores its engrossing roots in favour of meandering social messaging.
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