Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Rajkummar Rao, Amyra Dastur, Jimmy Sheirgill, Satish Kaushik, Brijendra Kala
Director: Prakash Kovelamudi
Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)
A psychological drama with a welcome feminist slant, Prakash Kovelamudi's Judgementall Hai Kya goes zip-zap-zoom over a runtime of two hours, alternating between dashes of dark humour and sweeps of surreal fancy. When the difficult blend clicks, the film is a delight. When it doesn't, it wobbles a touch, especially in a less-than-perfect second half and a not wholly convincing finale.
But on the whole Judgementall Hai Kya skirts around its missteps without either losing its momentum or straying off its chosen course. Balance is of the essence here because the film plays out in a shady and twisted world where what you see is not what you should expect. The difference between what is apparent and what is concealed is underlined by the use of two 1970s numbers - Duniya Mein Logon Ko Dhoka Kabhi Ho Jata Hai (Apna Desh) and Tauba Tauba Kya Hoga Hona Hai Jo Ho Jaane Do (Mr Natwarlal). The film delights in playfully foxing the audience, swaying freely into and out of situations that baffle as much as they intrigue.
The plot oscillates between the average and the brilliant as it unfolds in a way that approximates the muddle in the mind of a wracked woman who goes head to head against a seemingly taciturn tenant of hers in the aftermath of a death foretold by the former. The smart writing and the spiffy directorial touches give the film its edge. The sharpness also stems from the consistent quality of the lead performances from Kangana Ranaut and Rajkummar Rao and the solid contributions of the supporting cast.
However, one question remains: should problems of a psychiatric nature be made the basis of entertainment of the kind that this film proffers? The jury is out on that, but like much else in the film, this doubt never takes the form of full-blown scepticism. Eventually, the woman sought to be dismissed as 'mad' - she suffers from dissociative identity disorder caused by a traumatic childhood incident and her outings as a dubbing artiste for C-grade genre flicks - gets the better of a world that is out to corner her and make her pay for her assertive deeds.
Kangana plays the fidgety female protagonist with aplomb. Reflections of the star's real-life run-ins with influential members of the industry and segments of the media are too obvious to be missed. Her character in the film exists on the fringes of the movie industry. She rues the paucity of genuine opportunities to prove her worth as an actress while many less talented than her rule the roost. She advises her errand boy to be like an aloo (potato), "easy going and adjusting". She is obviously no aloo.
She gives vent to her fears and frustrations by posing for photographs in the guise of the leading ladies that she lends her voice to. The pictures of her as 'Rowdy Rani' or as the resident of a haunted house end up on her living room wall. But her mind never stops playing tricks. She sees cockroaches where there are none and she brings home a whole jerrycan of an industrial pesticide to rid her home of the creepy-crawlies.
Rajkummar Rao, a picture of serenity that assumes shiftier hues as the story progresses, fleshes out the male lead with characteristic restraint and empathy. The top-draw lead performances add weight to this quirky Kanika Dhillon-scripted drama that takes the audience into nooks and crannies that Bollywood rarely explores.
Backdrops rendered flashy with the aid of a saturated colour palette and aptly stylised cinematography (Pankaj Kumar) lend the film a textural quality that enhances its impact and deepens the intensity of the clash between the fierce misandry of a woman tormented by a deep-rooted persecution complex and the insensitivity of a society that can only see her actions without understanding the workings of her severely scalded mind.
In a deceptively entertaining manner, the film addresses the deadly serious themes of domestic violence and mental illness. In doing so, it weaves the two strands into a zany tale of a woman grappling with their unhappy past, her inner self straining to burst out of the shadows of studied suppression, and the unsettling upshots of scars, mental and physical, that refuse to go away.
The woman, Bobby Batliwala Grewal, is a dubbing artist prone to flying off the handle at the slightest provocation. She hears constant chatter in her head - this state of mind stems from the varied women she voices - and anguishes over her failure to move up the movie industry pecking order. Her emotional vulnerabilities push her down a slippery slope even as her doltish manager and aspiring boyfriend Varun (a lively Hussain Dalal) tries his darnedest to keep her out of harm's way. But that is easier said than done. Sex is on the boy's mind, but he is unable to help Bobby dispel her hatred for men.
A much in love couple, Keshav (Rao) and Reema (Amyra Dastur), move into a part of Bobby's house. Bobby develops an obsession with the man and his unblemished love story. She spies on the husband and wife. The unpredictable ways of Keshav and his lying to his wife about his smoking and non-vegetarianism convinces Bobby that something is amiss in the couple's life. A fiery death occurs and she tries everything in her power to prove to the investigators (Satish Kaushik and Brijendra Kala) that it isn't an accident and Keshav is the killer.
Judgementall Hai Kya keeps the audience guessing for the most part. A 'futuristic' theatrical retelling of the Ramayana in London takes centrestage post-intermission, leading to Bobby, who is a projection of Sita, looking for a present-day Ravana in order to eliminate him in a reversal of the epic. From this point on, the film probes the roots of violence against women and how it plays out for both the victims and those who bear witness to such acts.
What is commendable is that Judgementall Hai Kya delivers the message without turning preachy or self-conscious. The breezy flow of the narrative, which isn't broken until parts of the second half begin to seem a tad indulgent, ensures that we are invested in the plight of the characters all the way through.
Kangana is a livewire. There are moments in the film where she appears to be striving too hard to make an impression. But when she is more reined-in, she is in total control. Rajkummar Rao is the exact opposite: baring himself little by little with exceptional control. He is the ideal foil for the out-on-a-limb Kangana. Together, they command total absorption. And that helps the film tide over its less convincing bits and add up in the end to a strong, meaningful statement on the mental distress engendered by abusive relationships.