July 26, 2019
Kangana Ranaut, Rajkummar Rao, Amyra Dastur, Amrita Puri, Hussain Dalal, Satish Kaushik, Brijendra Kala, Jimmy Sheirgill
What if roles were reversed and instead of Raavan pursuing Sita in the Ramayan, she were to sense his intentions in advance and go after him? The question is at the core of director Prakash Kovelmudi’s Judgementall Hai Kya which places a story of domestic abuse, the effect of violence on a child’s psyche and mental illness against the backdrop of one of India’s favourite epics.
It is an intriguing concept, and for that, here is a hat tip to Kanika Dhillon who is credited with the story, screenplay and dialogues. Comedy is a dominant element in her writing of this film, but it never crosses the Lakshman Rekha to mock those with mental health issues – Kangana Ranaut’s Bobby Batliwala Grewal is designed to evoke laughter, but never pity or contempt. Hat tip, again. Dhillon’s words are comfortably ensconced beside Kovelmudi’s trippy storytelling, and delightfully unfettered performances by Ranaut and Rajkummar Rao that make the first half at least a compelling watch.
Artistry and good intentions abound here, and when the final scenes roll around, it becomes clear that the goal of the film is to question prevailing notions of what constitutes “normal” and “abnormal”. Unfortunately, the writer’s concern is not backed by solid research, and despite everything it has going for it, Judgementall Hai Kya ends up adding to rather than reducing prevailing confusions, misconceptions and stereotypes about mental health in India. This also causes the writing to get murky and somewhat muddled in a second half that calls upon the viewer to join the dots by tossing around medical terms like “acute psychosis” and “dissociative identity disorder”.
When she was a little girl, Bobby witnessed her father repeatedly bashing up her mother. The trauma of a childhood tragedy has left deep scars that follow her into her adulthood. She is a woman with many voices in her head.
Twenty years after we met the child Bobby, the grown-up Bobby (Ranaut) is living alone, works as a dubbing artist in films, and is kinda sorta dating a guy called Varun (Hussain Dalal) when she meets Keshav (Rajkummar Rao) and Reema (Amyra Dastur). She is drawn to Keshav but simultaneously suspicious of his attitude towards his wife, and from there begins Sita’s pursuit of Raavan.
The performances all round are phenomenal, well matched to the film’s intentionally hyperbolic tone. Kovelmudi also succeeds in sustaining the air of intrigue he builds around Bobby and Keshav. It does not quite add up in the second half though, which is when matters get slightly simplistic and the screenplay does not quite tie up all its loose ends.
I spent an hour and a half after last night’s preview interviewing a clinical psychologist because Judgementall Hai Kya traps us in a web spun out of our own ignorance about “acute psychosis” and “dissociative identity disorder” (DID). First, I learnt that “acute psychosis” is used incorrectly here. Second, DID is chucked in as a red herring – who exactly has it is left to us to conclude. There are two possibilities. At the point at which DID is first mentioned, the film is clearly trying to steer us in the direction of one particular character, but it turns out that that person does not display any symptoms of DID as I now understand it from an expert. How on earth is a layperson in the audience to know that though? Are we expected to interview medical professionals after watching the film, or to have prior, in-depth knowledge of such matters? If not, then should we conclude that mental health is a mere gimmick for this team? Later, the film steers us towards another character, but in retrospect I realise that it would not have made an inch of a difference to the plot whether that person had DID or not, whether that person was mentally unwell or not – everything that happened in the story could have happened either way. A criminal does not have to be given the excuse of a mental disorder to explain away their crimes – sometimes people do evil because evil is what they are.
In fact, the constant association of crime with the mentally ill in mass entertainment, not just in India but in other countries too, contributes to the stigma and ignorance surrounding mental illness. The world is full of regular folk like you and me grappling with mental health concerns, but such people are rarely portrayed in cinema and on TV. As it happens, Indian entertainers are among the worst offendors in this arena. Judgementall Hai Kya seems to mean well, but its limited understanding of mental health does not help matters.
It is challenging to say what needs to be said here without giving away spoilers, which is why those last two paragraphs will perhaps be understood only by those who have watched Judgementall Hai Kya. If you have already seen the film, think about these issues. Ask yourself too if the post-interval portion would have been possible at all if it weren’t for those two purportedly conscientious policemen involved in a murder investigation in the first half being uncharacteristically casual towards a massive clue that placed the spotlight on one of the protagonists and would have led them to the truth if they had cared enough to probe further. If you have not yet seen the film, then know that Judgementall Hai Kya is based on an interesting concept, it is often funny and fascinating, but in the ultimate analysis, it does not make the grade.
Rating (out of five stars): **1/2
CBFC Rating (India):
This review has also been published on Firstpost: