SHOMA A.CHATTERJI | 5 AUGUST, 2019
Are They Happier Than We Are? One Wonders in This Crazy Film
A psychological thriller by a uniquely talented debutant
It is really very difficult to draw a perfect line of division between a normal and an abnormal person. Bobby in Judgemental Hai Kya is a victim of chronic and severe psychosis as the result of a traumatic incident in her childhood and the terrible domestic violence she has been witness to.
Psychosis signifies a mental condition in which the victim suffers an impaired relationship with reality. It’s a symptom of serious mental disorder. People who are victims of psychosis may have either hallucinations or delusions.
But Bobby (Kangana Ranaut) vacillates between reality and fantasy, between insight and alienation though everyone, including the audience, is convinced she is a complete nut case.
With her wide-eyed look, her crazy hairdo and strange sense of haute couture, her habit of eavesdropping and spying on her newly wed tenants without embarrassment when she is caught, and her internalising and identifying with the characters she dubs for, we begin to wonder what she is doing outside a mental asylum.
She has a pet cat she calls Panauti meaning ‘bad luck’ and a ‘boyfriend’ she treats like a slave, tempting him with sex but never allowing him to even touch her.
What I found both mesmerising and scary is the way the entire film pulls the audience into participating in the incidents that the characters are involved in, be it the half-crazy Bobby, her so-called boyfriend Varun (Hussain Dalal), her photographer whom she poses for dressed up as characters she dubs for, her great-uncle, the fat policeman (Satish Kaushik) who keeps munching something while investigating a murder, his funny assistant (Brijendra Kala), and everyone else she comes in contact with.
You, as a member of the audience, are trapped in the grip of a dilemma: of what is real and what’s a figment of her wild imagination. This keeps you on the edge of your seat with your eyes glued to the screen.
When Bobby is arrested for hitting someone in the dubbing studio, she prefers to spend some time in a mental asylum rather than cough up a 20,000 rupee fine. One wonders if such options are available to “abnormal” people like Bobby leading lives in the mainstream.
When it’s time for her to leave the asylum, the lady in charge threatens her with “See you soon again.” But Bobby is nonchalant. Her childhood nightmares return from time to time, cinematographed (Pankaj Kumar) magically with psychedelic colours and for once, we are freed from the normal Holi dance-and-song number to a different kind of Holi, which sets the tone of this intriguing film.
A cockroach plays an interesting role in the film and also in Bobby’s life. She persistently refuses all medication on the grounds that it makes her groggy and sleepy.
The film takes a 180-degree turn when Keshav (Rajjkumar Rao) and his bride Nina (Amyra Dastur) step in as tenants in her old home next door, making it easily accessible to both landlady and tenant.
Keshav offers a perfect counterpoint to Bobby. He is suave, sophisticated, smooth-talking, smart and very openly demonstrative in his adoration of his wife. Bobby is attracted to him and doesn’t seem to like the wife very much.
But when Nina is burnt to death and the police close the case as an accident, Bobby insists that it was husband Keshav who killed her. Of course her claims are rubbished by everyone because she is “crazy” and the evidence, if any, points to Bobby herself.
But it makes you wonder, is she really crazy? Is she putting on an act? Or does she have her sane moments of reading into a person the way no “normal” person can?
The second half is about how Bobby lands up in London invited by her pregnant cousin. Bobby is surprised to find Keshav also in London. She proceeds with her own investigation into the murder, which takes up her entire concentration.
But the solution is all too sudden. The unravelling of the suspense and the mystery of the murder is thrust on us so hurriedly, without space for understanding, that you don’t quite know what hit you when the end comes.
The film closes on hope rather than a happily-ever-after. The closing scene is a wonderful shot on the streets of London with Bobby leading a crowd of crazy men and boys marching with wide smiles on their happy faces.
Are they happier than we are? one wonders.
The best feature of this film lies in director Prakash Kovelamudi’s ability and decision to turn normal things used in every other film on their head, treating them differently through the eyes, or rather belly of a person who is “not all there.”
The Holi scene for instance, has a unique treatment which turns into a life-altering event in the young Bobby’s life. Her obsession with cockroaches when we see only one and no other character in the film can see it. The cockroach is a metaphor for her “madness” whatever there is of it.
Jars of insecticides perform a dark and sinister role in the film. The album and the video clips on Bobby’s laptop showing her in varied fancy dresses that the characters she dubs for are supposed to wear appear as one of several symptoms of her ailment. And the origami flyers Bobby makes from newspaper clips reporting murders and extreme violence offer a strange glimpse into her out-of-the-box mindset.
All of this gives the cinematographer ample opportunity to play around with colours, angles, close-ups, bizarre dresses, costumes and everything else, which he has done beautifully.
Bobby’s is also a humorous character who sometimes makes you laugh at her antics, especially when she is with her “boyfriend” who is equally funny in his frustrations about you-know-what. And the three “characters” in funny costumes following her around and “speaking” to her are unique in expressing the several “voices” she hears, only in her mind.
The “modern dramatisation of Sita” in London doesn’t quite jell with the plot of the film or with Bobby’s character. The music is a bit too loud, but that sound of Bobby’s heartbeats whenever Keshav is around, is a very imaginative touch to suggest a range of meanings, from passion to obsession to crush to suspicion to fear.
The editing, especially in executing the leaps of time and space, is very good indeed.
Kangana is incredible as Bobby, the girl who appears mad but isn’t as mad as one would think, with her character going through changes as swift and as electric as her changes in costume and temperament. It is an award-worthy performance.
Rajkumar Rao as Keshav is equally wonderful in a role that has hidden layers and shades and yet comes out as smoothly as butter on a slice of bread.
Amyra as his wife is spontaneous, cute and sweet and that is how the director has fleshed her out. The same goes for the girl who plays Bobby’s cousin – these two female characters are linear and flat perhaps to make Bobby stand out in relief.
The London beat could easily have happened anywhere else in India, so one wonders why a madcap girl like Bobby agreed to get on that flight to faraway London! In general the script needed to be tighter, more concentrated on the psychological element than on the thriller element.
But the director has worked out a fine mix of both these elements to bring out a very entertaining film that spans an entire range of emotional entertainment and keeps the audience hooked. The form and technique the film adopts is as crazy as the story.
The thriller element in Judgemental Hai Kya comes to the fore, reflecting both the unique talent of the debutant director and the particular strengths of the psychological crime thriller whose emphases on internal pressures and forward construction make it especially receptive to suspense.