'Udta Punjab': A Dark, Menacing Film
Once in a long while come films that change the style and substance of public discourse. 'Udta Punjab' has been much in the news recently generating heated discussions in studios but for the wrong reasons. The stand taken by the CBFC Chief Pahlaj Nihalani who flaunts his "I am a Modi Chamcha' card as frequently as actor Anupam Kher, has at last forced the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to redefine the powers of the CBFC.
The CBFC came out with the most outlandish suggestion that the film should delete all references to Punjab and even to names like Jalandhar, Patiala etc because this, in its view, would harm the electoral prospects of the ruling SAD alliance by defaming the state which is going to polls next year.
Probably the most telling dialogue of the film comes when one of the characters says that nothing is going to change in the drug-infested state because Punjab has 'Banjar Zamin aur Kanjar aulad' (Punjab is a land of infertile land and impotent youth) which the lawyers of CBFC argued, had hurt the reputation of Punjab.
But that is precisely the intent of filmmakers Abhishek Chaubey and Anurag Kashyap.The film is not meant to eulogise the culture and martial prowess of the state which is already known the world over for its contribution in these fields.
This heavy and dark film is meant to open the eyes of everyone to see how the menace of the drug cartels had turned them impotent.Their youth icon like Gabru (Shahid Kapoor) the pop singer who thinks he owns the world, is as much a victim of this mafia of suppliers and users as the young nubile migrant from Bihar( Alia Bhatt) who accidentally gets hold of a packet of drugs which she thinks can change her destiny.
It does change her destiny of course. But not in the way she had imagined. Tired of running away carrying the three kilo gram packet she throws it in a well. After which she is captured by the drug mafia and kept in a Kothi which serves as a safe haven for drug peddlers as well as a guest house for police officers to entertain them for their patronage.
Her sufferings as she is injected doses of cocaine and raped by every member of the family and their guests as the price for providing her boarding and lodging, will remain one of the most moving performances in a Hindi film by an actress who had made her debut as a glam model in a Karan Johar film.
One word of caution.Before entering the theatre please remember that it's an adult film with a capital ADULT. After a long time I heard so many sister and mother abuses in two and a half hours and it is revolting.Even more than in Phoolan Devi by Shekhar Kapoor. But Bhojpuri competes with Punjabi as far as colourful language is concerned.
It's a dark film where the politician who gives lectures on drug de-addiction is distributing the stuff in election meetings with the police looking on. Everyone is a cog in the wheel in this system and 'nothing can change' is their escapist motto because it suits them.
However this dark film also has its moments of glory.
The day the ASI (Diljit) finds his own brother taking drugs he gets motivated to go after them with all his might even though he has only one star on his uniform.
Kareena Kapoor, as the doctor in the de-addiction centre helps and encourages the policeman to think beyond his own family, to other cities where the mafia has spread tentacles through a pharma company selling dangerous concoctions at Rs.50 per bottle.
'Udta Punjab' is only and only about the acute drug problem that has hit Punjab. Drugs are available at almost every nook and corner in the state.There is no romantic angle in the story even though it has Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt (who in her de-glamorised role beats everyone hollow).
She provides that spark which inspires 'Gabru' to become a hero by breaking out of the clutches of the syndicate that was exploiting him, extracting probably the most memorable performance from the dancing sensation of Bollywood.
'Ulta Punjab' may not be remembered by way of providing new information about the drugs problem in the state, that had been highlighted to some extent by the Congress party in the last elections. Much of the film looks like a documentary.
But this film will be remembered by film buffs for providing two shining stars to Hindi cinema-Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt. Like 'Waiting' it is a bilingual film because Punjabi abuses sound sweet only in Punjabi but that should not deter viewers because the film provides English sub-titles.