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Saturday, Sep 21, 2019

Let’s get judgementall

If the point of Judgementall Hai Kya was to represent mental illness with more nuance, it failed on that

mumbai Updated: Jul 28, 2019 00:13 IST
Deepanjana Pal
Deepanjana Pal
Hindustan Times
A promotional image for the film Judgementall Hai Kya
A promotional image for the film Judgementall Hai Kya(HT Photo)

The day Judgementall Hai Kya (JHK) released in theatres, actress Kangana Ranaut was in the news for being one of 49 people who signed an open letter in support of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, and attacking “false narratives”.

Considering how JHK, written by Kanika Dhillon and directed by Prakash Kovelamudi, is all about sifting through false narratives, the letter was timely. Ostensibly, JHK is about a young woman named Bobby (Ranaut) who is characterised less by her profession (an actor) and more by her mental illness. Her behaviour is never simply eccentric. Even at her most innocent, there’s a menacing quality to her. Yet, Bobby is also obviously vulnerable and you can’t help but feel protective of her, especially when she starts crushing on the much-married Keshav (Rajkummar Rao). When Keshav’s wife is killed in what may or may not be an accident, the audience is dangled between unreliable narrators. Who will you believe – Keshav or Bobby?

Except as JHK unravels into an ungainly, haphazardly-written, violent mess, the real question ends up being not whom you believe in the film, but how you feel about the phenomenon that is Kangana Ranaut. This is why so many reviews have discussed the film’s “meta” quality. Is it a commentary on how Ranaut has been treated by the Hindi film industry? Is it an exercise in self-awareness? Could it be an exposé of how Bollywood grinds down outsider talent? Is the film’s last monologue, Ranaut taking on all those whispered rumours about her allegedly unhinged behaviour?

These questions are all reminders of the off-screen Ranaut and distract you from judging the film on its independent, cinematic merits. The premise of Dhillon’s story is excellent and to create Bobby’s world, Kovelamudi uses a terrifyingly bright palette, full of supersaturated colours that make you notice the artifice behind their intense pop. However, though JHK begins well, it quickly devolves into a badly-written psychological thriller that is full of clichés, coincidences, unsubtle quirk and incoherence. On top of that, it short-changes one of its lead characters in order to worship the other. When the acting talents of Ranaut and Rao – two of the finest in today’s Hindi film industry – can’t salvage a film from its script, there’s a problem.

More confusing than the mystery in JHK’s plot, is the intention behind the film. Dhillon and Kovelamudi deserve credit for the first half of the film, when they fill a murder investigation with as many twists as laughs. However, Dhillon quickly stops investing in logic and credibility while advancing the plot. For instance, post-intermission, out of the blue Bobby acquires a sister who is in London, married and pregnant. Added to the mix are an unnecessary sub-plot involving the Ramayana, a random Jimmy Shergill, and eye-roll-inducing revelations. Dhillon would have us believe evil masterminds keep evidence of past crimes in the unlocked, top drawer of a cabinet; that a simple Google search can uncover links and plots that police teams have missed for decades; that origami and telepathy can save the day.

If the point of JHK was to represent mental illness with more nuance than Hindi commercial cinema usually displays, it fails on that front too. As far as JHK is concerned, those with mental illnesses are either to be laughed at for their ridiculousness or feared for their capacity for violence. There’s no middle ground.

While illnesses like schizophrenia are not easy to represent realistically, Bobby’s symptoms mutate as per the requirements of specific moments in the film. They don’t feel like the shifting pieces of one person’s mind. More dangerously, the film subtly puts forward the idea that a patient with psychosis and dissociative identity disorder doesn’t need medication and that doctors are incapable of helping their patients. That’s flat-out irresponsible.

However, as a narrative that seeks to depict Ranaut as temperamental, brilliant and defiant, JHK is a complete success. It’s been helped by Ranaut’s off-screen antics, which we probably should have ignored but ended up validating (responding to her bluster gave it credibility). Some, like the lady sitting next to me, may well observe that Bobby makes Ranaut look “quite sane, thank god”. Or you might notice how the most innocent character in JHK – Bobby’s sister – has to suffer to make Bobby establish her hero credentials. If JHK really is as “meta” as many reviewers say it is, then spare a thought for the sister.

First Published: Jul 28, 2019 00:12 IST