***SPOILERS galore, right from the first line***
Mental hai kya is hardly a bizzare or edgy movie it promised to be. It is a pretty straight forward movie about a mentally unstable protagonist nailing a serial killer. The mental stability could have been subtly wrapped within the unreliable narrator trope, but the movie decides to wear it with a badge of honor. This makes the narrative arc a fairly simple 3 act structure. Bobby (Kangana Ranaut) suspects Keshav (Rajkumar Rao) is a killer, Bobby is proved to be totally unreliable and diagnosed with acute psychosis, but finally she accepts her inner voices and manages to unmask Keshav.
This 3 act structure could have been a visceral emotional roller coaster, if the movie had decided to keep the audience inside Bobby’s head, seeing the proceedings from her perspective, but it decides to switch the perspective regularly to a third person’s viewpoint, maybe to deliver whodunit thrills. But this decision is an utter failure, because we as audience never really fully empathize with Bobby, and always see her has a crackpot doubting her theories. So the rug pull at the interval where Bobby is proven to be a completely unreliable character, feels alienating. No real sympathy is generated for Bobby. We are no more invested in the story. It feels like a short film ending.
The 2nd half is a tedious recreation of the first half. We see the characters going through the same motions, and few minutes into it, we are sure where the film is heading, because that’s the only alternative for the writer to carve out some dramatic impact at the end. It’s an absolutely terrible screenplay by Kanika Dhillon (Manmarziyan, Kedarnath) . It aspires to be about ‘gaslighting’, and simplifies it by making the movie completely literal. Right from introducing a cockroach to symbolize psychosis to adding the clichéd Ramayana-from-Sita’s-pov motif throughout the 2nd half. It is a terrible attempt at symbolism. The overall arc of fall and rise that she attempts with Bobby’s character fails miserably, because her fall alienates us from her completely. We see her from other characters POV, rather than the other way round. At the end when she embraces her inner voices, we are supposed to feel a sense of elation for Bobby, but there too the movie decides to cut to shots of Bobby talking to thin air like a mad person. It makes us impossible for us to root for Bobby.
The film is shot with the usual Indian indie artistic flourishes of hand-held, sunlight spraying across the frames, short focal length cameras, elaborate expressionistic production design. Compare this to an inferiorly acted and produced movie like Game Over, where too there is a mental stability angle. It is more classically shot. Only pov shots are handheld, rest is all long lens. Still it ends to be way more effective. Maybe because it sticks to a genre and makes sure audience is firmly rooted with the protagonist’s pov.