I haven’t written a review in what feels like years, so the fact that Judgemental Hai Kya made me write one says something about the movie, I guess!
It’s ironic that Judgemental Hai Kya (JHK)got into trouble for its earlier name “Mental Hai Kya” because the PC police thought it showed “disrespect” for people dealing with mental health issues. The movie is singular in the way it gives agency to its psychotic protagonist, Bobby Batliwala Grewal, a young woman with some kind of dissociative disorder, possibly from being traumatized as a child. JHK also offers a template to the neurotypical in how to approach the mentally ill – all the characters, even the ones deeply affected by Bobby’s behavior, treat her as an equal, and accommodate her quirks with a patience it would be rare to find in the real world. There is the occasional laugh at her “no-filters” approach to life and relationships, but the jokes never seem mean-spirited; rather, as a woman, I felt a sneaking admiration for how Bobby lives her life without making compromises to the patriarchy – we’ve all tempered our behavior and our dreams to make it in a man’s world, Bobby carries a knife to cut anyone who tries anything fishy. And she is willing to pay the price for being who she is – when given a choice between paying a fine or going to the asylum for “rehab” she happily chooses the latter. “I spent 3 months in the asylum and returned home, but he is never going to get his nose back,” she explains after punishing a groper.
Bobby’s hallucinations and delusions make her an unreliable narrator, and this gives JHK much of its unique appeal. With most of the story being told from her perspective, the audience is perpetually off balance, much like Bobby. Writer Kanika Dhillon uses Bobby’s instability wonderfully to keep us guessing till the climactic scene, even though there are many moments in the movie where you are sure you know what’s going to happen and the denouement, when it does come, is probably what you expected.
The cinematography by Pankaj Kumar is a terrific supporting character in this thriller. I’m not an expert on art appreciation, so watching Sucharita Tyagi’s Not A Movie Review of JHK was very helpful in understanding the nuances of the scene and color choices. Go see it first.
JHK is Kangana Ranaut’s movie all the way, and you’ll appreciate her performance even more when you realize her co-actor is Rajkummar Rao, one of the best actors in Hindi movies today. Rao exudes charm and sexiness (yes, sexiness!) and the menace his Keshav Kumar Shravan generates in Bobby is so subtle that, like her, you wonder throughout the movie if you only imagined it. He is a master of the craft and she matches him scene for scene, moment for moment. Even her dialogue delivery, which I have had issues with since Gangster, has improved steadily film after film till it is pretty much perfect here. What a tour de force Judgemental Hai Kya is for Kangana!
It’s tempting to make a cheap comparison between Kangana’s character’s psychosis and Kangana the actor’s recent anti-social behavior in public but, oddly enough, JHK made me feel a lot of compassion for a woman who has powered her way to influence and success in the cesspit that is Bollywood. Who knows what she had to do to get there and how it affected her? I will certainly reinterpret her actions going forward as the reactions of a person who is trying to navigate a reactionary and patriarchal world without giving up her identity and power.
Back to the movie. As a thriller, is it as good as Andhadhun, which completely blew me away? My personal preference is for movies that mystify me a little by not explaining everything and for that reason, I (narrowly) prefer Andhadhun. Just as an example, without spoiling anything, there is a scene where Kangana imagines some fantastical characters bearing the distorted faces of her acquaintances. The film helpfully shows us who these characters originally are by cutting between their normal faces and the new ones. I think I would have preferred to guess.
The other issue I have is with the shifting of the narrative to London in the second half and the rather incongruous device of a futuristic Ramayana play to set up the climax. Possibly the London setting is so that Bobby feels even more un-moored in a strange place without the support system that keeps her functioning. And the Ramayana does provide the opportunity for fabulous cinematography. I just have an inherent suspicion of foreign locations in Hindi movies.
But these are just quibbles. Judgemental Hai Kya is a terrific entertainer that will keep you riveted to your seat for 2 hours. I highly recommend that you watch it in the theaters, if only to support good Indian cinema and act as a counter to the Golmaal 5s and Housefull 7s that dominate Bollywood box offices. You’ll get to see 2 fantastic actors at the top of their game and a good, masala thriller that slips in a message of kindness, compassion, and respect for the differently-abled while giving you a good scare.