How do we view Punjab? To the locals and internationals, it’s known as the garden patch of India; one of its biggest suppliers of crops and veggies and such. Owing to the internationally acclaimed Bollywood movies, Punjabis is the jolliest, most accepting, and boisterous group of people that India takes proud of. We view them as the overweight, food loving, naïve people who would whole-heartedly welcome any stranger into their homes.
“Udta Punjab” shatters that image like a million pieces of dangerous glass shards drenched in the blood of its hundreds of victims of addiction. The film showcases how the drugs are not merely tools for suspicious individuals to make some quick liquid cash. It’s the high-ups, the protectors nevertheless, who are also dabbling in such business. And it’s the innocent bystanders being underserved victims.
The film starts out very loud, very colorful and very confusing. Tejinder “Tommy” Singh (Shahid Kapoor) is your average NRI, who broke into the Indian youth scene with his “high relatable” songs about drugs, being an avid user himself. Unknowingly, he inspired a lifestyle among his fans and left him wondering where the music lover in him got lost. This forces him to rash decisions, which ends up with him being stranded in a farm with his bandmates. In comes the nameless maid (Alia Bhatt) whose dreams have been left shattered. A wrong decision by her naïveté left her assaulted mentally and physically. In this state she encounters doctor and activist Preet Sahni (Kareena Kapoor Khan) who is fighting her own battles. Her drug addled little town houses an open secret; no one talks, no one raises their voice so she decides to do it herself.
The language spoken sounds like an entirely different tongue (local Punjabi was used). There are swear words left, right and center. No wonder the censor board of India was not a happy puppy. The film is unpleasant, disturbing and unapologetic about how it shows the abuse and damage by drugs. The addicts shown are ordinary people, skinny and torn the drugs pumping in their veins. It could be anyone’s child, just once is enough to lay them on the railway to get trampled on by the train of addiction.
The absolute truth is the toughest pill to swallow. It’s bitter, it’s bigger and its effects are strong. “Udta Punjab” is a fine example of such. Like many other new age Indian films, this film and it’s director – Abhishek Chaubey – have been plagued with lawsuits, protests and blockades. It has been sued for defamation of Punjab, excessive expletives and general nastiness, and wrongful depiction of one big pharmaceutical company.
Recently, Indian films have been adopting the culture of ensemble casts. This film features four main characters and neither have more or less screen time. Although some characters feature more backstory than others (Bauria would like to tell her story perhaps) instead of showcasing a very awkward and unnecessary but brief love story between the rock star and the doctor. Typical. However, the relentless pace that followed the entire film, from chasing after bad guys to heinous torture and painful cries of its victims, the sickle sweet scenes of romance offered a much needed breath of fresh air. In film though, with the realist and authentic scenes it had showcased, the breath of fresh air had been artificial.
The musical score of the film was a background concern. Amit Trivedi yet again proved to be a good judge of atmosphere, but in this documentary/film music it was trifling. Good try though.
This film managed to be effective. It set out to make us swallow the bitter pill of reality and cure us of the ignorance of the silent killer that is eating away the youth unknowingly. Do not blame wayward individuals. Blame the powerful who turn a blind eye to such atrocities for a pretty penny. After all, it is not their children or loved ones who suffer. If it had been, they would know the struggle, the virus like attributes of addiction that sicken our youth and dissolve them. It dissolves the world’s progress and it’s chances of survival.