The judgement is out

The judgement is out

The new Kangana Ranaut film is yet another reminder of Hindi cinema's troubled relationship with medical conditions

By Khalid Mohamed

Published: Fri 16 Aug 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 16 Aug 2019, 2:00 AM

Currently, the big buzzwords in Bollywood are edgy, quirky, dark and out-of-the-box. Overused to the point of setting my teeth on edge, Bollywood's trade strategists believe unusual content is the way to go. No, the age-old melange of action, romance, tears and laughter won't work anymore. Yesterday's formula fadeth. Today, unusual suspects are the key to success.
The new template has been encouraged, particularly by the commissioned web series and original films format by Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and more. To keep in sync, the movies too released at multiplexes every week, are striving to be off-the-wall - whatever that means. Evidence: the recently released Judgementall Hai Kya, which attempts to be a brain-scrambling psycho-thriller. Spotlighting Kangana Ranaut, who has hallucinations galore, her facial expressions here vary from the twitchy to the twitchier.
Throughout, first-time director Prakash Kovelamudi lavishes colossal close-ups on his busy-as-a-bee heroine, who sees roaches on the mirror, goes yackety-yak and even lands up in London to serve as an understudy in a stage play designed as a futuristic adaptation of the Ramayana, highlighting the shakti of Sita combating her abductor Ravana. Clearly, that's meant to be a symbolic allusion.
Admittedly, the two-hour film coasts along comically and engrossingly for a couple of reels till the narrative collapses like the proverbial house of cards. The man whom the 'Judgementall' Jane is obsessed with is none other than a nattily-dressed manufacturer of industrial pesticides (now, that's a new one). Shudder, murders are on the agenda. The pesticide man may or may not be a serial killer.
For the answer, you have to endure limitless contrived situations till the end credits roll with the inevitable clubby dance number. Presumably, it wouldn't have been wise to stray too far away from the formula. Compromises, sigh, are a must.
Compared to Kangana Ranaut's at-times-inspired and at-times-far-too-overwrought performance, the pesticide man, enacted by Rajkummar Rao, is effectively restrained and subtle. A cat-and-mouse game - a la comic-strip icons Tom and Jerry - the outcome relishes in being far too bizarre for comfort. Essentially a two-hander, the supporting ensemble merely hangs around on the scene, including the criminally wasted Jimmy Sheirgill.
And I'm bringing up the film, especially since it concerns the touchy topic of mental health. In fact, the Indian Psychiatric Society had objected to the original title of the Ekta Kapoor-produced endeavour. The promotional campaigns had shouted out loud, "It's time to bring out the crazy in you. because sanity is overrated." Arguable, that.
Following the society's plea to the Central Board of Film Certification that the original title - Mental Hai Kya - trivialises mental health issues, it was altered to Judgementall, never mind its spelling.
A cosmetic change at best, because the plot bristles majorly with clichés about a mental institution supervised by a fearsome warden, the patient's ongoing bouts of neuroses and, believe this, an imagined trio of cohorts in bizarre costumes who run amok all over London, as if they were fleeing from the immigration authorities.
This year, especially, hasn't been kind to the medical community. If there was the irresponsible Kabir Singh, depicting Shahid Kapoor as a surgeon who has gone off his rocker, now there's Judgementall Hai Kya, which merely adds to the stock of Bollywood films that care two hoots about investing an iota of authenticity to their sensitive subject. Alas, edgy entertainment ke liye kucch bhi karega appears to be the mantra.
Now you may well ask, should I be surprised? Perhaps not, since Bollywood has frequently treated the theme of mental disorders excessively, conjuring up images that are scary to say the least. Be it Meenakshi Seshadri in Rajkumar Santoshi's Damini (1993) or Salman Khan in Satish Kaushik's Tere Naam (2003), their stints at mental homes were shown to be horrifying. Vidya Balan in Priyadarshan's Bhool Bhulaiyaa (2007), suffering from dissociative identity disorder, turned into a dancing demon. That old-fashioned thing called rationalism went for a toss.
Of course, many more instances of shrieking melodrama in our psyche-themed movies could be cited and may as well fill up a book. Concurrently, there have been occasional examples that have been relatively more researched and realistic, like Vijay Lalwani's Karthik Calling Karthik (2010), featuring Farhan Akhtar as a construction company employee grappling with schizophrenia, Anurag Basu's Barfi! (2012) with Priyanka Chopra dealing with autism and Gauri Shinde's Dear Zindagi (2016), which studied the patient-pyschoanalyst relationship with a fair amount of conviction.
The prejudice against dyslexia was ground-breakingly removed by Aamir Khan's Taare Zameen Par (2007), Alzheimer's disease was inspected in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black (2005) and Ajay Devgn's U Me Aur Hum (2008), the rare genetic disorder progeria in R. Balki's Paa (2009). And mental instability caused by trauma was articulated way back in Chetan Anand's Funtoosh (1956).
Unfortunately, Judgementall Hai Kya lapses into facetiousness and indigestible humour, although with just a soupcon of sympathy towards the characterisation of a woman suffering from paranoia and related symptoms, it could have been a significant step ahead for Bollywood.
Nevertheless, it did evoke its share of rave reviews. I was hopelessly disappointed, though, and to employ the title of a Bollywood film, was left quite bheja fried.

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