Rating: Three stars
In Hindi cinema, “paagal” means characters dressed in tatters, laughing hysterically, so in a sense, Judgementall Hai Kya is different, in that it tackles the complexities of mental illness in a whimsical but sympathetic manner.
Bobby (Kangana Ranaut) in this Prakash Kovelamudi film, has, as the slang term goes, a screw loose– she is diagnosed with “acute psychosis” and called everything from “paglait” to “baawli” to “atrangi” as if someone sat with a thesaurus. A troubled childhood has left her with a tenuous grip on reality. She is a dubbing artiste for films, who gets obsessed with the actresses she lends her voice to, so her behavior and dress sense are both off-kilter. She has an amiable and much bullied manager-boyfriend, Varun (Hussain Dalal), and lives as normally as possible with a mind as unhinged as hers; she makes origami birds with newspaper clips grisly reports, imagines cockroaches everywhere, sees a man on the street holding a sign with pithy sayings, claims to be comfortable in an asylum when sent there, and hears voices from her stomach.
Things go further south when Keshav (Rajkummar Rao) and his wife Rima (Amrya Dastur) move in as her tenants. Bobby finds their romantic relationship strange, and when Rima is murdered, she suspects Keshav. But who would believe a “mad” woman? The wafer-chomping cop (Satish Kaushik) is confused by her outbursts but forced to close the case for lack of any evidence against Keshav.
The first half builds up the intrigue well enough—the audience does not know whether to trust Kesha. Is he innocent or doing a Gaslight (the famous Patrick Hamilton play, later turned into a film in which husband tries to cover up a crime by driving his wife to near insanity). The second half, moves to London, where Bobby discovers that Keshav now calls himself Shravan and is married to her cousin Megha (Amrita Puri).
The plot (writer Kanika Dhillon) already stretched to tedium is complicated by a stage production of a “Futuristic Ramayan,” directed by a kindly Shridhar (Jimmy Shergill), who is patient with Bobby. This Ramayan is supposedly from Sita’s point of view and Bobby is hired as an understudy. One suspects this funky play exists only to give shape to the multiple characters in Bobby’s head.
The film teeters between dark comedy and thriller, reality and Bobby’s delusions, which is a tightrope neither the director nor the actress can manage consistently, still, what they pull off is remarkable. But the production designer, stylist and DOP (Pankaj Kumar) have fun with their inventiveness, because the film has a psychedelic, hallucinatory look as if the audience was meant to see the world through Bobby’s not-quite-normal POV; the soundtrack also has a trippy quality.
Bobby’s craziness is given enough footage, but Rajkummar Rao has to play a character who is tough to pin down, and he captures the slipperiness of Keshav with perfect ease.
The film may not appeal to everyone, there are many problem areas, but there is a lot going for it too–mainly its audacious experimentation.