“Judgementall Hai Kya”… Kangana Ranaut pulls out all the stops in a nuttily entertaining psycho-thriller

Posted on July 30, 2019


The film is far more convincing as an art installation about a mental condition than as a whodunit, whydunit or did anyone indeed dunit in the first place!

Spoilers ahead…

The straight way to narrate the story of Judgementall Hai Kya is as follows: a young girl sees her mother as a victim of domestic abuse (by her father). One day, she intervenes and there’s an accident: the parents end up dead. The girl (Bobby, played as a grown-up by Kangana Ranaut) is traumatised. She ends up obsessed by other stories of abuse – she keeps cutting out clippings from newspapers and shaping them into origami figures like birds. (Flight? Escape?) A little after she meets Keshav (Rajkummar Rao), she suspects him of abusing (or maybe even planning to polish off) his wife. She makes it her life’s mission to stop him. Of course, Bobby could be imagining it all, given the number of other voices inside her head, all screaming at once and drowning out her sanity. After all, listen to the RD Burman hit that plays when Bobby runs into Keshav. Duniya mein logon ko dhokha kabhi ho jata hai… But what if it isn’t dhokha? What if she’s right?

In the hands of the director, Prakash Kovelamudi, this straight story becomes a tangled mess – and I mean this as a sincere compliment. The twisty screenplay complements the leading lady’s hair. (It’s curlier than ever, as though shaped by the electric currents in Bobby’s hyperactive brain.) Bobby hears voices because she has psychosis – and how apt that she’s a voice actor! She stands before a big screen pouring her voice into other actors, as if to ensure she isn’t the only one with this condition. She dubs for disreputable southern films (which look like no southern film being made today), and one day, on the screen in front, she sees herself with Keshav. Is this projection a sign that she’s obsessed with exposing him? Or that she’s obsessed with him?

Imagine Gaslight possessed by the spirit of Alan Parker’s film of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. That’s Judgementall Hai Kya, filled with Pankaj Kumar’s psychedelic cinematography that functions like a voice in our heads, narrating a parallel track about the interiors of Bobby’s psyche. At first, I was put off by the off-the-charts quirk factor, beginning with Bobby’s name: she’s Bobby Batliwala Grewal, both Parsi and Punjabi. Then there’s the off-the-charts twee factor – Bobby uses lorgnettes instead of binoculars! But slowly you see the stylisation is one with the story and its central character. As with Bobby, the film is filled with multiple personalities clamouring for attention. Kanika Dhillon’s writing (tongue twisters, a very literal “fuse ud gaya” moment) has a strong personality. The detailing (a cat named Panauti, a Grand Guignol poster) has its own personality. Daniel B George’s score has a different kind of personality, ranging from Ennio Morricone-era harmonicas to RD Burman-era jazz to sudden choral bursts that would fit right into Bohemian Rhapsody.

And of course, Kangana comes with her own outsized personality, onscreen and off it. (Is the conspiracy-crazy Bobby really… Kangana?) She has a tendency to suck up all the oxygen in a room, but here, it couldn’t have been any other way. Her every molecule is alive, twitching like the roaches she imagines are all around her. Even a throwaway line where she asks a maybe-boyfriend to be adjusting like the bland, goes-with-anything aloo is flavoured with her unique spice. (Her line readings, in other words, are anything but aloo.) In comparison, Rajkummar comes off like… aloo. It’s not his fault though. It’s just that the film is far more convincing as an art installation about a mental condition than as a whodunit, whydunit or did anyone indeed dunit in the first place!

There’s a bizarre, unconvincing turn of events that relocates Bobby to London to be the understudy of the Sita character in a “futuristic” Ramayana. Doesn’t anyone know about her condition? Then again, you can excuse anything in this nuttily entertaining film: even the “mad” developments are simply indications of how Bobby would have shaped her life. But at least the conceit in these closing portions is pure genius. We have seen many thrillers about avenging angels, and here, too, the soundtrack reverberates with Aigiri Nandini, that ode to Durga – but Judgementall Hai Kya may be the first time we’ve been told that a “saviour” needn’t always be “sane”. When Bobby Photoshops herself into Keshav’s photographs, or pads her stomach with a cushion as though carrying his child, we think it’s one of those psychotic, Fatal Attraction-type chillers where the man had better watch out – but maybe Bobby just feels a kinship with Keshav, who stands before many mirrors and proves he has multiple “personalities” as well. After all, we see both characters as children who cause/endure trauma. Only, some of us grow up just fine and manage to keep those voices hidden. We manage to pass off as “normal” in society. Poor Bobby doesn’t have that luxury. Her voices make themselves heard through megaphones. But she lives life unapologetically, on her own terms, just like the woman playing her.

Copyright ©2019 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi