Kangana Ranaut is a tour de force in what is a bonafide original
The lines between real and reel often get blurred in Judgementall Hai Kya. This is not just limited to its mentally unhinged protagonist Bobby failing to distinguish between the fiction and reality that plays out around her. In what is a case of inspired casting, Kangana Ranaut not only slips into the shoes of a woman whose version of the truth is constantly questioned and often dismissed, but also adopts a self-referential tone. At one point, her Bobby — a dubbing artiste who nurtures ambitions of becoming a heroine — rues being passed on for opportunities with a disdainful, “Kaise kaise logon ko yahan kaam mil jaata hai”, mirroring her real-life angst against nepotism in Bollywood. At another instance, Bobby hits back at a character in the film with, “I will expose you!” Now where have we heard that one before?
Even otherwise, Judgementall Hai Kya is an extremely self-aware film. It takes pertinent issues like mental health and the physical and emotional fallout of domestic violence and melds it into a trippy thriller. This is a heady ride where different versions of the truth are presented, daring the audience to believe in one or the other or none at all, and the characters oscillate between flights of fantasy and free fall to give rise to a complicated and layered narrative. It uses the trope of multiple unreliable narrators to further confuse the viewer. And then, of course, there is a murder. Which makes the mention of Sriram Raghavan in the opening credits all the more significant. Judgementall Hai Kya’s deliciously twisted premise — it’s a little bit of a hat tip to Andhadhun, but on steroids — is the stuff that a Sriram Raghavan thriller is made of.
Like in Andhadhun, nothing is what it seems in the world of Judgementall Hai Kya. At the centre of it is Kangana’s Bobby, a 20-something single woman navigating through acute psychosis and paranoia whose sense of self has been damaged so irreparably by an incident in her childhood that she suffers from dissociative identity disorder, often taking on the identities of the characters she dubs for in Bhojpuri B-movies. “Uske dimaag mein satrah-atharah log rehte hai”, is what her manager Varun (Hussain Dalal, bringing on most of the laughs in the film), who sometimes doubles as her boyfriend, chalks down Bobby’s bizarre behaviour to.
Such is Bobby’s desperation to seek her identity in others that the walls of her home are plastered with her own Photoshopped images — from Pamela Anderson in the red Baywatch swimsuit to Angelina Jolie with those unmistakable Maleficent horns. While some of Bobby’s antics — including her predilection to smash imaginary cockroaches to pulp and ace impossible tongue-twisters — give rise to the film’s lighter moments, Judgementall Hai Kya skilfully and sensitively builds Bobby’s inner world, egging us on to understand what makes her the way he is.
Writer Kanika Dhillon — who afforded deep insights into modern Indian relationships in Manmarziyaan last year — doesn’t make the mistake of dismissing Bobby as quirky and the character’s #win — Kangana owns Bobby with warts and all — lies in the fact that you root for her even when she isn’t particularly likable.
Bobby’s fanciful world is disrupted by the entry of her tenant Keshav (Rajkummar Rao) and his wife Reema (Amyra Dastur). The young woman, till then wary of physical intimacy and mental bonding, becomes semi-obsessed with Keshav, but not before she becomes even more obsessed in proving that something’s not quite right with him. The journey takes Bobby and Keshav — Rajkummar is cast against type as a rugged alpha male and aces the part from the get-go — from Mumbai to London. Is Keshav the culprit that Bobby believes him to be or does Bobby’s obsession with proving him a murderer make her orchestrate the crime, is the question the film constantly throws at the viewer.
The twisted and trippy, wicked and wacky ride culminates in a climax which may not be as much a kick in the gut as one would have liked it to be, but, with its play of colour and fire, is nevertheless exhilarating. Props to the visceral camerawork by Pankaj Kumar, who also brought the visually-rich Tumbbad to life last year.
In story and storytelling, Judgementall Hai Kya brings a new idiom to Bollywood. It straddles genres effectively, tempering dark and edgy with a touch of humour. The film, like Bobby, often ends up being all over the place and strangely that’s where its strength lies, as it keeps throwing constant curveballs at the audience.
Part of the film being on solid ground for the most part is courtesy the various devices — pop-culture to mythology — that debutant director Prakash Kovelamudi employs to take the narrative forward. Judgementall Hai Kya has some smartly done Bollywood camp, with the use of old Hindi film music — Duniya mein logon ko to Tauba tauba kya hoga — contributing immensely to the suspense side of the narrative (a special mention to Daniel B. George for the edge-of-the-seat background score).
Bobby’s involvement in a play called ‘Futuristic Ramayana’, a feminist reading of the epic told from Sita’s point of view, is allegorised with her constant struggle — like Sita — to prove her truth. These compelling tropes in what is largely a Bollywood commercial film makes Judgementall Hai Kya — that tackles a relevant theme like gaslighting — a bonafide original. And even when it peters out in parts — the physical manifestation of the voices in Bobby’s head is interesting but becomes tiresome after a while — Judgementall Hai Kya is partly successful in its attempt to “normalise” mental health and bring it into the Bolly mainstream. Baby steps yes, but a #win.