The “Udta Punjab” Review

Amidst weeks of outrage and an all encompassing social media “civil war” between the film’s producer Anurag Kashyap and the Central Board of Film Certification’s head honcho Pahlaj Nihalani, Udta Punjab has finally been allowed to fly. Of the initial 89 cuts suggested by CBFC for the U/A certificate which also included removing the word “Punjab” from the title, it has been allowed release with just one cut albeit with an A certificate.

Kashyap leaves no stone unturned to turn the debate into a national issue.

The various comments and observations of the general audience has been very interesting and somehow gave an insight into our idea of creative independence. Although most of the outrage was centred around “Freedom of Speech” and “Article 19(1)(a)” which of course made a valid point, there was something quite off in the whole hullabaloo. Some protested saying, “So what if the language is crude and controversial ! He has every right to exercise his freedom of expression !” This reasoning kinda misses the point. It tends to accept, unintentionally, that Kashyap is indeed flamboyant and exaggerates his work to an extent just so that he can leave his signature (through Abhishek Chaubey, in this case).

Well, here’s the thing – Anurag Kashyap is not associated with Directors who purposely put in rough dialogues to grab eyeballs or to spark controversy. They do it ‘cause thats the language that is actually used in those regions and societies depicted. Kashyap and his band of merry-men are staunch realists. They love realism to a fault and thats the reason they stand up for their work. Its that simple !

Kashyap and his band of merry-men are staunch realists. They love realism to a fault and thats the reason they stand up for their work. Its that simple !

Udta Punjab is the unapologetic truth painted with a palette made of the ruins of entire generations. Director Abhishek Chaubey made sure that a message is conveyed from the very first shot wherein we see a vigorous young man wearing a “Pakistan” t-shirt pull an Olympic style discus throw over the border into a field in Punjab. As the oval dough-shaped package flies high through the air into India, the frame pauses as the “Udta Punjab” marquee flashes on the package. Through this unassumingly simple shot, Chaubey depicts the very genesis of the whole business and it’s distribution, the deep-rooted trust among the senders and the receivers who are impossible to track thanks to an all cash cross-border transaction having no digital footprint. Needless to say, we were hooked !

The story is told through three parallel arcs which starkly depict how the culture of addiction is propagated and how it permeates every faction of the society right from the celebrity to the lowly commoner. Tommy Singh aka Gabru, played by Shahid Kapoor, is a self-proclaimed popstar who is the quintessential idol of youngsters capturing their imagination through explicit songs about coke (cocaine) and how it makes you a gabru or “fearless young man” or cool, basically. Tommy’s drug addiction grows to such an extent that it starts affecting his creativity and results in him losing gigs. Shahid’s portrayal of the wide-eyed madness of an infuriated addict whose only source of inspiration is a pinch, is flawless ! Reminiscent of his equally phenomenal performance in Vishal Bharadwaj’s Haider, Shahid has once again proved that he is one of the most underrated actors in Bollywood.

The second arc of Sartaj, played by Diljit Dosanjh, is a corrupt cop who along with a few of his cop-partners let drug-distributors smoothly cross state-borders in exchange for a generous “cut” from the dealings to keep their mouths shut. Coming from a small family, he is happy to earn something extra over his meagre salary. That is until, his younger brother Balli is admitted in the hospital. As he rushes in concern to see his brother and is told about his addiction, he realises that he had brought the darkness home. He was responsible for what had become of his brother. Diljit brings effortless authenticity into Sartaj. His transformation from an uncaring cop to a man with a mission to end the rampant disease, is one of the best parts of the film immediately making us root for him. Kareena, who is an activist/doctor who had treated Sartaj’s brother becomes his partner in crime in a crusade to uncover the underbelly of the whole racket. 

Sartaj with his brother Balli, who symbolises every young man who has fallen prey to the drug monster

The third and the most gut-wrenching arc is that of Alia Bhatt, who plays a labourer from Bihar working in one of the fields near the Pakistan Border. One fateful night she stumbles upon one of the packages thrown from the other side, inadvertently becoming a part of a black market she never even understood. As she gradually learns about the value of the product she had, she becomes consumed by the chance of a better life by selling it off for a fortune. However, things take an unexpected turn and she gets sucked into the dark belly of the drug lords. Alia Bhatt has been a revelation ! She is brazenly bold, effortlessly wears the Bihari tongue and quivers with the insecurity of a struggling outsider in a foreign land. She refuses to die in the muck and fights back every chance she gets. Alia spells it out loud and clear – “You can’t keep joking about my work. Its time to take me seriously.”

Sudip Sharma and Abhishek Chaubey’s screenplay is dynamically attuned with each arc and keeps you unsettled with its cut-throat clarity and pace. Rajeev Ravi’s treatment of every shot is crafted to perfection fleeting into first-person perspective in the right moments, making you a part of the story rather than a mere inanimate spectator.

Udta Punjab paints a disturbingly vivid picture of the menace that has swept across the agriculturally prosperous state through generations. From the hushed political involvements at the top to the young teenager lying in some decrepit building with a needle in his arm, this has become a society where at least one member in every family has been exposed to some kind of a drug.Chaubey’s insight into this hidden faction of our times is a story that needs to be faced without inhibition or suppression. It is somehow more real than even Requiem for a Dream and Dallas Buyer’s Club to be honest. We aren’t talking about a handful of wayward youngsters or an incurable disease here. Generations have been wiped out, thousands of families have been destroyed. And this is happening as we speak ! Punjab has been rotting away for years and we are letting it happen, the government is letting it happen. This can be controlled and amended. All it needs is a strong will for change.

It is somehow more real than Requiem for a Dream and Dallas Buyer’s Club. We aren’t talking about a handful of wayward youngsters here or an incurable disease here. Generations have been wiped out, hundreds of families have been destroyed. And this is happening as we speak !

As conveyed aptly in a dialogue {not sic} – “This is not a fight against the perpetrators. This is a fight of the youth of Punjab with themselves. If they win, we win.” [translated from Hindi]

gobblscore: 8/10

gobblpoint: Watch it for the truth that has been hidden from us until now and for some fantastic performances from all the three arc-leads.

Disclaimer: The images used in this post are the sole property of the makers of this film and are not owned by us in any form whatsoever.

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