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June 18, 2016

Why You Must Watch Udta Punjab

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena

Peppered with cuss words, violence and a theme that explores the state’s underbelly, Verve reviews the deeply anticipated ‘Udta Punjab’

Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Diljit Dosanjh, Satish Kaushik and more.

Director: Abhishek Chaubey

The recent censorship controversy about the cuts willy-nilly threw the spotlight on Udta Punjab, drawing eyeballs to the content of the movie even before it released on Friday. But, even without that brouhaha, this celluloid offering would have punched audiences hard in the gut once it hit the silver screen.

Peppered as it is with cuss words, violence and a theme that explores the state’s underbelly that has had a tragic impact on its people, Udta Punjab is not a movie for the faint-hearted, squeamish or even the diehard romantic. Despite the fact that I belong to the last category, Udta Punjab had me hooked – no pun intended.

In the world captured here, almost everyone seems to be tripping and flying, until they come down with a crash to reality. The film explores the dark and demonic world of drugs – with their side and after-effects. And although it is avowedly celluloid fiction, unfortunately, it is a tale that draws heavily from truth.

Udta Punjab makes a brave attempt to bring the drug menace centrestage and kudos to director Abhishek Chaubey for that. He showcases the effects – violence, bloodshed, apathy and more – without any rose-tinted glasses. And from the initial scene where a packet is hurled into a field and the song Chitta ve where coke is shown being snorted in high-end clubs, cutting to visuals of addicts in low-down venues, the tone and tempo are set.

Cut to the main characters. Pop star with his highs and lows – pun intended — Tommy Singh ably rendered by Shahid Kapoor put me into rewind mode – his madness and intensity taking me back to his bravura turn in Vishal Bharadwaj’s Kaminey. Here, a popular, though on-the-decline star – and also a junkie – Kapoor creates a character marked with megalomanic poses, one whose façade begins to crack as the movie moves on. The stage performance where he dramatically shows his Fuddu hairstyle, the scene where he is coming down from a high and even his moments in jail or the time he sings in the hospital (these are mentioned in random order) – all hint at the return of Shahid with a newfound intensity. Alia Bhatt shows her mettle as a migrant labourer. From her Bihari accent to her body language indicating despair, angst, frustration, anger and more, the Highway heroine indicates how far she has grown since. The fate of the girl, a hockey player, who dreams of a better life, is ripped apart by drugs and the anguish that results from rape. Much, much later – after a lot of pain – the stories of these two get intertwined. To reveal more here would be a spoiler.

Two other key players are Sartaj (Diljit Dosanjh) and Dr Preet (Kareena Kapoor), the latter a far cry from the bubbly Geet of JWM. Sartaj initially is a part of the corrupt force that turns a blind eye to the distribution of drugs but, has a drastic change of mind and heart when his brother overdoses. His path crosses Preet’s who runs a rehab facility. How they join forces to get to the root of the dark problem – that has a political nexus – offers a hope for a solution, and creates a few of the softer moments of the film.

Chaubey has woven a plot that has his characters quickly move in and out of situations. At the end it is the state of Punjab – often popularly depicted as the land of colourful dances, warm people, lassi and sarson ke khet, but here unveiled in grim colours – that has us on the edge of our seats.

At one point, Tommy shouts, ‘Maal khatam. Party khatam. Ghar jao (or something to that effect). Chaubey could have effectively said at the end, ‘Picture khatam. Ghar jao.’ And we would leave when the lights came on. But, would we really switch off from what we had seen?

And, diehard dreamer that I continue to be, I nostalgically hark back to the romance of Punjab! If only life mirrored dreams.

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