Bobby Grewal has serious issues. Self-sustained on the outside, she is ridden with suspicious imaginings. “I will expose you,” she threatens a seemingly innocuous man, and, when implicated in a crime, calls down the detective with, “People like you are a blot on the force.” There’s also the problem with the press: armed with a paper cutter, she snips out distressing headlines and makes origami birds out of them — delicate creatures that morph into scuttling pests in her distraught mind. It’s not a welcome thought, but the onscreen Kangana Ranaut can sometimes really outstrip the real-life one.
The meta-nudges in Judgementall Hai Kya are a bit much; at one point, someone invokes ‘Jhansi Ki Rani’, the protagonist in Kangana’s last. The film leans comfortably — at times too reliantly — on its leading woman. The one time you see Bobby truly smile, someone has praised her curly-blonde hair. We are introduced to her upside down, the camera mimicking her capsized gaze from a Yoga mat. This could all be humour, though I doubt writer Kanika Dhillon wants Bobby to stray far from the actor inhabiting her.
Directed by Prakash Kovelamudi, this is a psychodrama about trauma and the (perceived) benefits of doubt. A troubled voice-over artist takes in a young couple as tenants; a death occurs and the police are stuck between two suspects. There’s a low-key construction to the initial bits that recalls a Sriram Raghavan, who is duly thanked in the opening credits. We get a lot of foreshadowing, and enough psychological pointers to work with. “Whenever you do a film, you sink into the character and we have to bear the brunt” — Bobby’s manager warns her early on (as I said, it’s a wink fest).
What’s staunchly un-Raghavan about the film, though, is the subtext. The logical leaps in the script would have brought down an AndhaDhun any second; here, we still go with it to get to the emotional payoff in the end. This is a murder mystery with something to say, a perceptive, if calculable, reveal that helps us gloss over its flaws.
Another upside, of course, is the suitably dimmed performance of Rajkummar Rao. As the neighbourly Keshav — closet smoker and fixer of fuses — Rajkummar quietly shepherds the story, undercutting Kangana’s high-strung vibe with an in-wrought calmness. He is also one of those actors who can really keep his head down. Add the slightest vanity to his arc and the whole thing comes undone.
The film is a dazzlingly shot. Red light trickles past grilled windows to create ominous shadows. The chiaroscuro lingers in the daytime; there’s hardly any sun in the film, as though cinematographer Pankaj Kumar were replicating the gloom of psych wards and hospitals. The sound-work is equally creepy — red sangria pouring into a glass, or old Hindi film songs revealing new meanings. The second half shifts to London, but there’s hardly an impulse to scale up. Instead, the catwalks and corridors of a dingy theatre house are used to mirror Bobby’s coiling, shifting mind.
There’s one problem with Judgementall Hai Kya, though. When you stretch a thriller too much to one side, the other half gives. The inclusion of a Ramayana parable (2.0, as it were) is clever, but it gives away the film’s sympathies, making the climax predictable. Even then, Kangana and Rajkummar keep the tension taut — it’s hard to pick sides between them, which might be the film’s ultimate point: the endless flux between madness expressed and withheld.
Prakash Kovelamudi has made a punchy Hindi debut. Seductive and snarly, it urges us to look beyond the obvious — to do a double-take on things. In my case, a rewatch sounds like a good place to start.
Film: Judgementall Hai Kya
Cast: Kangana Ranaut, Rajkummar Rao
Direction: Prakash Kovelamudi