Udta Punjab begins at night, in the lush green fields swaying merrily in the winter breeze. A disc that lands flying on the crops costs millions and is picked up by a young immigrant contract labourer from Bihar. And the mayhem commences.
With all the controversy that the film has garnered over the past months, might I say that it is worth almost every minute of watch. The scenario it reveals about Punjab is astounding. Despite the motley of disclaimers that label the film as a work of fiction, it seems shockingly real. I have never been to Punjab but had doses of the silky yellow mustard fields – courtesy Bollywood. I know that romance in those fields is not what Punjab is only about; just like Calcutta that is not entirely resting on Howrah Bridge and roshogolla. The innocence of that romance has long been veiled by the white powder that rules. It seems, the penetration of powder (and liquid) in Punjab is an issue that has been carefully concealed from the rest of the country. In a humongous nation like ours, keeping track of the maladies in each state is something that even Governments haven’t managed to accomplish. It is not an excuse to be oblivious of that scenario in Punjab, it’s a shame that a state is gradually crumbling into ruins.
‘Khet banjar te aulaad kanjar’ – probably sums up the film’s true essence.
At the end of the (fri)day, Udta Punjab is a film. It will be judged based on the content but the manner in which our Censor Board wanted to shred it into pieces gives an inkling of the powers behind a lot of happenings. It isn’t unusual in India to suppress forms of art that provide a mirror to the society. This is a film with a message that is crystal clear and even glows from the poster. There’s no pretence about the anti-drug stance and that is how it should be in this case. Rest aside the controversies, let’s get back to the film and its nuances.
I am particularly impressed in the way the characters are built slowly and steadily. From Tommy Singh the Gabru pop star (‘Birmingham returned’) to the middle class Assistant Inspector Sartaj Singh and finally the immigrant labourer from Bihar (unnamed till the end of the film), Alia Bhatt. The drug menace seeps in through the creme of the society (Tommy and the politicians) to the naive sibling of the Inspector to a labourer badly trapped in the maze. The involvement of police, cuts, commissions, letting away the trucks filled with deadly drugs is close to the truth as we have witnessed in every state. Diljit Dosanjh plays a guileless policeman (if there’s ever such a character), clueless in the first half, satiated with being associated in the arrest of Tommy Singh, but his character grows with each subsequent scene and the dewy-eyed sardar is a delight to watch. Shahid Kapoor as Tommy Singh sets the big screen on fire with nuances of his crazy role. His scenes with Alia and those in the jail are heart-wrenching. Alia Bhatt steps out of her cutesy self and is very much the hockey player from Bihar with a khunnas that’s well in display in the latter half. Honestly, she has outdone herself post Highway in this film and I’m convinced she can do better. Kareena Kapoor plays a doc (Preet Sahni) who is a cog in the whole system that is displayed in the film. I felt her character is the most weakly etched with a few flaws. I’d particularly like to know more about the doc she plays, especially because she says ‘Tera Punjab’ to the Inspector, despite being a Punjabi in the film. The peripheral roles are well essayed by the likes of Satish Kaushik.
Udta Punjab is an effort worth a lot more than just the controversies and mud slinging on social media. It’s a bold step towards #DrugsDiMaaDi and needs to be watched in a theatre. Please don’t watch the leaked pirated version. #PiracyDiMaaDi