Coated with black humour, writer Kanika Dhillon’s insane drama rightly condemns the prejudices towards people with mental illness.
By Mayur Lookhar
A troubled mind leads to chaos, but how wise is it to label one insane? We live in a society where a difference of opinion is sometimes met with a ‘Mental hai kya?’ [Are you mad?] reply. Now spare a thought for those diagnosed with mental disorders.
When writer Kanika Dhillon and her director husband Prakash Kovelamudi announced Mental Hai Kya, one did wonder what is the duo really up to? The film’s initial posters seemed to suggest that lead actors Rajkummar Rao and Kangana Ranaut are masquerading as mentally ill characters who are out to solve some mystery.
The film has one, but beneath its mystery, Dhillon and Kovelamudi have a poignant tale to tell.
Medical fraternity raised concerns to the earlier title and it was rightly changed to Judgementall Hai Kya. The film condemns prejudices towards people with mental illness.
A bitter childhood has left Bobby Grewal [Ranaut] scarred for life. She makes a living as a voice over artiste, but Bobby is not at peace with herself. She has a boy friend [Varun] but frets at the mere thought of any intimacy. A frustrated Varun [Hussain Dalal] chides, “it feels as though we are siblings”. That sums up this relationship.
For a woman who despises marriage, physical intimacy, Bobby though is intrigued by the intimate bond of tenant Keshav [Rajkummar Rao] and his wife Rima [Amyra Dastur]. Varun accuses Bobby of being obsessed with Keshav. A tragedy in the Grewal house though turns this obsession into suspicion. Two years later, fate brings Keshav and Bobby together in London under similar circumstances. Bobby though is determined that history doesn’t repeat itself here.
Can a woman who has been treated for acute psychosis be trusted to solve a mystery? Conventional wisdom would say no but therein lies the prejudice. Just because a person has been treated for mental illness, that doesn’t mean s/he can never be trusted again. A sociopath [Sherlock Holmes] can make for a good detective too. Bobby is no professional detective, but she’s more bizarre than Holmes. She hallucinates of creepy cockroaches; her cat is named Panoti [bad luck]. The lady is gripped by anxiety, innate fears. Bobby’s morphed pictures of Keshav and Rima and replaced the latter with her image.
The sane wouldn’t count on the insane to do a healthy man’s job. Despite her frailties, Bobby is efficient as a voice over artist. She resonates with her pulp characters. For Keshav and even her uncle [played by Lalit Behl] , the lady is trapped in her delusions [captured finely by Tumbbad (2018) cinematographer Pankaj Kumar]. Bobby is convinced these visions are signs of an impending danger.
Ranaut’s played loony characters before, notably Simran  but she goes few notches higher here. At a promotional event of Judgementall Hai Kya, the lady said that she was cool at being called mental. Ranaut’s dared to take on industry big wigs, quarrelled with stars and even journalists. “I will expose you” Bobby warns Keshav. The confrontation with Keshav springs back memories of Ranaut’s much-publicized feud with Hrithik Roshan.
The off-screen tussles perhaps put Ranaut in the right frame of mind to play Bobby. And the lady puts up a stunning, manic display of anxiety and aggression. The Queen  actress perhaps went overboard in the self-appraisal of Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi , but it’s Bobby that truly catches your imagination. Take a bow, Kangana.
While Ranaut revels in Bobby’s insanity, Rajkummar Rao shows a few different shades. Sanity ushers in normalcy. However, Rao is restricted by it. Besides, the actor is a little flat in the crucial climax scene.
Amyra Dastur, Amrita Puri are competent in their supporting roles. Screenwriter Hussain Dalal though Is hilarious as Varun, the sex starved boyfriend of Bobby. The sense of inevitability does hurt the film but it’s the insanity of Bobby and the shenanigans of Varun that keeps you entertained.
Veteran actor Satish Kaushik actor plays one of the police officers investigating the tragedy in the Grewal household. The cheap black hair dye fails to roll back the years for Kaushik. But the veteran actor’s bewildered look at the bizarre statements by Bobby , and defence by Rao, draws audiences’ guffaws. It’s a pity that a bound script limited his role.
It’s easy to be amused and lost in Bobby’s antics, but Judgementall Hai Kya tells you that’s it’s perfectly normal in being oneself.
A person may suffer from a mental illness, but it’s the prejudices that really drags one down. “Puttar, tune dawai kyun nahi khai? [My child, why have you not taken your medicine?], Bobby’s uncle gently asks her. “I’m tired of it. It puts me to sleep for long hours,” moans Bobby.
Therapy, medicine is essential but it’s the attitude of dear ones around that can either heal or destruct a person. Bobby’s uncle is a caring person, but not all our privileged.
Be it inter faith love in Kedarnath, a woman torn between tradition and heart in Manmarziyaan , as a screenwriter, Kanika Dhillon has handled these subjects with great sensitivity. Judgementall Hai Kya is the trickiest subject she’s dealt with so far. It was akin to walking on a tight rope. The dark humourous drama is layered with mythology too as Dhillon questions why should Sita [wife of Lord Ram from the epic Ramayan] be always sacrificed? Dhillon herself brings the new age Sita to life in a small cameo. The mythological reference could have played out better, but the writer succeeds in putting her message across.
As with Manmarziyaan , Kedarnath , Judgementall Hai Kya, too, sees Dhillon doing the bulk of the work [ story, screenplay and dialogues] and left her director to merely steady the ship. Kashyap sprang a surprise with Manmarziyaan, Abhishek Kapoor found a new lease of life with Kedarnath. How does Prakash Kovelamudi fair in his maiden Bollywood directorial? It would be naïve to pass a judgement on just one film.
The film thanks acclaimed noir filmmaker Sriram Raghavan in the opening credits. We don’t know the nature of his contribution but the dark humour in Judgementall Hai Kya sure would make Raghavan proud. As a genre, black comedy is perhaps the most least saleable commodity, not just to the masses, but it doesn’t cut much ice with critics who thrive on masala entertainers. The film has its flaws, most notably how the key to unravelling the mystery boils down to a simple google search, but Dhillon’s noble intentions, and Kangana Ranaut’s insanely sane act is worthy of praise. Never write off any Bobby, never be judgmental.