This movie had honest trailers, so if you liked what you saw in the trailer, the weird look and the twisted plot idea and so on, then you should avoid this review and read the No Spoilers instead. The film is far more enjoyable if you don’t know the twists. But if you saw the trailers and felt like it wasn’t for you, then it probably isn’t for you and you can just read this review instead.
Whole Plot in Two Paragraphs:
Kangana as a little girl interfered in a fight between her parents, and they ended up falling off the terrace to their deaths. Now she is a strange wealthy young woman living alone in a house in Bombay and working as a dubbing artist. A producer touches her at work and she reacts by pulling a knife and slicing his nose and is sent to an asylum. Her uncle manages her property and offered up the other half of her house as a rental to the daughter of a friend and her new husband while they try to arrange another place to leave. Rajkummar is the husband. Kangana is obsessed with the couple, spies on them constantly. She stalks them on vacation and follows the husband to work. Then the wife dies in a fire in the kitchen when a bottle of pesticide explodes and covers her. Kangana suspects Rajkummar and tries to get the police to investigate him but they find no evidence or anything wrong in his past. Kangana ends up hallucinating Rajkummar threatening her and hits him with a chair in front of the police and is put back in the asylum where it is shown that she is hallucinating and during electric shock treatment, she remembers that she threw the pesticide on the wife, because she hallucinated a cockroach on her. INTERVAL
Post-interval, it is 2 years later and Kangana is staying on her meds but not leaving her house. Her uncle asks her cousin to invite her to London. Her cousin arranges for her to be an understudy in a new imagining of the Ramayana she is helping to design and which Jimmy Shergill is directing. She also finds Kangana a room to sublet somewhere else. And then Kangana meets her cousin’s new husband and learns it is Rajkummar. Rajkummar immediately warns his wife about Kangana, that she is not stable, but his wife does not believe him. Kangana starts to lose herself in the character of Sita that she is understudying. She believes Rajkummar is Raavan and it is up to her to defeat him. She searches his house and threatens him. Rajkummar panics over what she might do and reaches out to her old boyfriend/agent in Bombay, Hussain Dalal. He confirms that she obsesses over things, imagined him to be a criminal because his name was “Varun” and she would read stories about other Varuns, and he breaks into her house and finds boxes and boxes of photos with Kangana photoshopped in instead of Rajkummar’s wife. And a photo of Rajkummar’s wedding to her cousin, proving she did know they were married after all. Rajkummar goes to confront her at the room where she is staying and the next morning he tells his wife that she tried to kiss him and he left, and she tells his wife that he raped her. Kangana sees Rajkummar backstage at the theater and grabs an ax and chases him, swinging and cutting a rope which sends a light falling onstage. Afraid she has hurt someone, she goes on the run through London and gains three hallucinatory friends. They take her to a library where she researches Rajkummar and thinks she has found evidence that he is a serial killer who takes on new identities and kills his wives. She returns to the house to confront him, dressed as Sita, ties up her pregnant cousin and when Rajkummar arrives, threatens to burn him to death but she will not burn because she is pure. Rajkummar tries to reason with her that she will be killing her cousin as well and she seems to see reason, which is when Rajkummar reveals that he IS a serial killer. All of what she suspected is true, and he even killed the first wife, throwing the match on her after Kangana covered her in pesticide. Kangana fights him and defeats him and saves her cousin. At the end of the film, she strides down the street in London surrounded by her hallucinations proudly declaring that she is what she is and will not try to change.
This is a movie that accurately shows schizophrenia, and then refuses to acknowledge that it is a problem. That’s what is disturbing. The film expects me to feel sympathy and trust for our lead character, Kangana, but at the same time it shows her as what someone with that illness would be, a danger to herself and others when she is not on her meds. I don’t care if Kangana’s character feels free and strong when she is off medication, her feelings do not take precedence over the safety of other people. And the film itself shows that!!!!!
No, Kangana did not throw the match that set the first wife on fire. But her hallucinations and fixations caused her to pour incendiary liquid over a woman standing in a kitchen near multiple sources of open flames. She took an axe and cut a rope causing an accident that almost killed someone, thinking she was fighting her enemy. She tied up her pregnant cousin, and the stress of that alone could have killed both the mother and the fetus. She almost set them on fire which certainly would have killed them both and only stopped because Rajkummar talked her down. Even her first moment of violence, she cut off a man’s nose because he touched her bottom. The film seems to think I should find this funny, or triumphal somehow, but I think it is fair to say you can be against molestation and still think a person cutting off a nose in a sudden moment of anger indicates they are a danger to others.
What is strange is that we have all these moments where Kangana is not intending harm, but her instability is causing deadly danger to those around her, and at the same time we have that old familiar “treatment is pointless, mental illness is quirky” message that films love to give us. Her time in the asylum is breathing exercises that she humorously avoids. Her disinterest in the feelings of others is played as a kind of extra honesty and intelligence. Even the way her medication is treated minimizes it, she takes Zoloft like it is tic-tacs, like hallucinations are bad breath and you just medicate as needed until you run out, and then get more.
All of this is why people with this degree and this kind of mental illness need constant intense support! She should be supervised by someone, family or medical professionals. She should be on a pill regimen that is strict and to the minute. And most of all, no one should trust her to feel real things for anyone else and let those feelings guide her actions. Which, again, the film shows.
Schizophrenia affects a person’s ability to feel empathy. We see that from Kangana over and over again. Her reaction to learning her cousin is pregnant is “did you bring me here just so I would be your free nanny?” Her reaction to her boyfriend/agent pointing out that they never do anything but go to the store together is to ignore his needs. We see in flashback that she broke her cousin’s first marriage by revealing she saw the groom with another man and her focus was on being angry she wasn’t being believed and thanked rather than understanding how others around her felt.
The problem with losing empathy is that it becomes harder for a person to think about how their actions affect others. It is easy to become self-centered because you feel nothing when another person is hurt. Not impossible to think about others, if the people around you, and your therapists and doctors, help you to understand what other people might be feeling and what might be bad or good. But Kangana’s character in this film has no desire to try for empathy and no one around her is making her learn it. The film builds in an explanation, after the tragedy of her childhood obviously her uncle will indulge her. Her boyfriend desires her and so puts up with her abuse in hopes of a relationship. Everyone else generally avoids her. But what I find disturbing is that the film itself seems to validate that lack of empathy. Her cutting off a man’s nose is treated as funny, maybe even heroic. The same with her rudeness to her cousin and her ill-treatment of her boyfriend. It’s “quirky”, not potentially dangerous. Heck, even her costuming and set design encourages that! She wears strange clothing, but strange very very expensive high fashion clothing, the glamorous version of mental illness chic.
What is odd to me is that the film seems to be building a story that confronts audience assumptions. Kangana is a woman, she is “quirky”, and she is the protagonist. Naturally we will sympathize with her. But wouldn’t it be interesting if she turned out to be the villain? And the film heads in that direction, she starts out quirky, then begins to stalk her tenants in a way that is legitimately terrifying. Once Rajkummar’s wife is killed, the audience has their last little thought that her quirkiness and honesty and all those “good” qualities will let her see the truth where the police failed, only to get the reveal that much of what we saw through her eyes were hallucinations (cockroaches she hunts for and claims to find but no one else can see, imagined danger when she attacks Rajkummar with other’s watching). And finally, the reveal that she was the one who caused the wife’s death through throwing pesticide.
In the second half, when she meets up with Rajkummar again and we see her threaten him, obsess over him (including crooning over a pillow under her dress as though it is a pregnant belly), throw an ax and cause an accident, generally just be difficult and dangerous, the film sets her up as the true danger. Rajkummar is a nice man who loves his wife, he told his new wife everything about his last wife and her death, he has no secrets. He is terrified of Kangana and frustrated because he can’t seem to get anyone to believe in the danger she might cause, besides Hussain her ex-boyfriend who went through his own suffering with her. It’s a different new kind of story, a woman who imagines herself to be the avenger or the damsel in distress, and the man who is running in fear and the one truly in danger.
And then at the last second it turns into a fantasy. Kangana the schizophrenic was right all along, really was the brave heroic perfect one who should not be forced to take medications or be locked away in asylums. It’s a dangerous dangerous message, and it also just doesn’t make SENSE.
It’s established that the police looked into Rajkummar’s background, and presumably before he was able to start a new life in England he had to go through another set of background checks. None of them turned up his multiple identity changes and murders? Hussain really did find disturbing photoshopped photos in Kangana’s apartment, she was stalking Rajkummar. And she was dreaming over a fake pregnancy. How does that fit in with him being a secret serial killer? It’s really just a coincidence? And why would he tell Kangana’s cousin about his previous life if he always started fresh with a new identity, before he even knew she was Kangana’s cousin? Plus there are many sequences of him that truly must have been Kangana’s hallucinations, for instance when she believes he snuck up behind her at a club and cut her with a razor, and then in the next scene we see no sign of the face paint or clothing that she imaged him wearing.
I don’t know what happened, but somehow we ended up with 3/4ths of a movie that is telling an accurate story of how and why schizophrenics can be a danger to themselves and others when they are off their meds, and 1/4th of a movie that is about our brave non-medicated schizophrenic and the wonderful super powers that her illness gives her.
Maybe it gets back to casting? The film was written by Kanika Dhillon who also wrote Manmarziyaan, which also had a very difficult and unpleasant heroine. But Taapsee brought an essential humanity to her character that made you want her to have a happy ending, however undeserved it was. Kangana’s performance never does that. Her character does bad things and is an unpleasant person and nothing in how she is played makes me think she ever feels guilt or even awareness of what she has done to others. And yet she gets the triumphal ending.
But no, it must be more than that. The movie as it is, I find frankly disgusting. But I suspect it will get better reviews this way, with the “controversial” and “brave” message of a schizophrenic woman who should just be allowed to be schizophrenic, than if it told the legitimate message that mental illness is nothing to be treated lightly, should not be dressed up in designer wear and lighthearted musical cues. So maybe that was the plan all along, suck people in with the original idea of accurately showing mental illness, and then give them the feelgood buzz friendly ending of “ha-ha, hallucinations are great and not dangerous or problematic at all”.
Honestly, I suspect they changed the ending. It is a carefully built script until that last 1/4th. If it had ended with the reveal that much of what we saw was a hallucination, that Kangana was tucked away in a hospital and the world was safer for it, then it would have had a good message that fit with the rest of the film, and a good ending that fit with the reality of the world.