Udta Punjab

udta-punjab-poster

Udta Punjab
Release date: June 17, 2016
Directed by: Abhishek Chaubey
Cast: Alia Bhatt, Shahid Kapoor, Diljit Dosanjh, Kareena Kapoor, Satish Kaushik, Manav Vij, Suhail Nayyar

On the Pakistani side of the Punjab-Pakistan border, a discus throw athlete is brought along to catapult a package of “brown powder” into a farm field in Punjab. On the Indian end, another athlete of her own merit chances upon this thrown contraband while she works as a farmer. The state of non-cricket playing athletes bares stark similarities on both sides of the Line of Control.

A heavily-tattooed pop star glorifies the use of substances, like his western and other global counterparts have done for decades now. He doesn’t have a damaged past that forced him into drug abuse, heck, he had a glorious past. But the life expectancy of all that early glory makes him obsessed with his own cock, figuratively and literally.

A young kid, from a presumably healthy household, starts using just because the drug is too accessible and all his friends are doing it. Another addict is turned into one by brute force and sheer fatality.

A junior police inspector questions his senior if they are also going to turn into powerless bystanders to the Mexican drug mafia like contagion of the Punjabi drug nexus, to which the latter throws open a public display of authority by faking to seize a large consignment of the popular poison, and let’s the carrier of the said consignment get away after grabbing more money and lashing out a few slaps.

These are the central characters of Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab. Kareena Kapoor’s public helping Dr. Preet Sahni is a collateral to the thoroughly set-in system. There is hardly any glorification, or a positive sentiment attached to the depiction of drug consumption here, and that should give away the intent of the makers. The film keeps bouncing between a dark comedy and grim introspections of the central characters.

The protagonists lead their separate lives, constantly a part of the narcotic environment, where the number of enablers is shockingly high. A political under current runs along the narrative of the film, which isn’t set as the central plot of the film, and it isn’t even treated so. The film doesn’t even finish with a grand exposé to unmask the bad guys disguised as ghosts at the hands of Scooby Doo, or Jackie Chan.

In one slightly contrived romantic moment, Dr Sahni says to Sub Inspector Sartaj (Diljit Dosanjh), there are two wars against drugs going on. The first one is the obvious one, and the second one is the one that people around us are constantly fighting. The urge to have that another hit of their choice of drug. She helps young kids and adults get out of the circle at her rehab center.

Udta Punjab, the film concentrates more on its characters to tell a story of a larger problem. Therefore it focuses more on their individual journeys and how they fall in and out of cocaine/heroin. Amit Trivedi’s powerful music is always mixed with story progression, thereby cutting off some of the most memorable work that he’s done in recent times. Da Da Dasse, Chitta Ve, Has Nach Le and Ikk Kudi are given some footage, whereas Ud Da Punjab and Vadeeya hardly get to be heard.

Chaubey and Sudip Sharma have woven Shiv Kumar Batalvi’s poetry masterfully with a track in the film. Shahid Kapoor as the erratic, and eccentric Tommy Singh, the Gabru MAN, is an eclectic mix of lunacy, and joy. He is the comic relief, and the emotional conditioner, with his one sequence with his uncle just before the halfway mark. The limp in his walk, the slow motion mic throw at one of his audience members, the trembling of his fingers with a gun in his hand, Kapoor owns his character completely.

While Kapoor is supported by Satish Kaushik and Suhail Nayyar in his performance, Diljit shows an earnest spirit with his Sartaj. Even he is supported by a pleasantly vanilla real world snow-white princess like Kareena Kapoor and Manav Vij as the vindictive senior police officer. Alia Bhatt on the other hand, has a deglamorized appearance as compared to the rest of the cast, and perhaps the most complex part of them all. Entrusted with the most heartbreaking character arc, and a particularly very disturbing sequence, Alia pulls off the Bihari accent with a twang and grounds Tommy’s hedonistic ego in the only scene that they share.

Sure, there are kinks with the slightly overlong political angle, but Udta Punjab is so relentless that there are moments where you would want to laugh like a hyena, and yet can’t get yourself to do it because the said moment is very painful at the same time. To inspire humor and sadness, and empathy in the same breath is the greatest achievement of this film.

Screw the censor board.

My rating: ***1/2 (3 & 1/2 out of 5)

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