Monday, June 20, 2016

Udta Punjab 

Green Revolution 2

Put aside the censor controversy—this always gives a film an unwanted notoriety—what Abhishek Chaubey has done with Udta Punjab,is broken the image of Punjab that Bollywood has so carefully built, as a state of happy-go-lucky, bhangra-dancing, family-loving people.

Of the two families fleetingly seen in the film, one consists of criminals and the other so clueless, that they are unaware when a young son gets addicted to drugs. A drug-peddling patriarch says, “Kucch nahin hona Punjab ka, zameen banjar, te aulad kanjar,” it comes as more of a shock than all the lines replete with profanity. How did India’s agrarian paradise end up as a drug addled inferno “like Mexico” as another character says, and, why?

The film’s opening disclaimer places the blame on Pakistan and the first scene has a Pakistani man throwing a tightly packed, discus-shaped stash of cocaine across the border into India.  Obviously, the cops are involved and the corruption goes right up to the highest political level, which does not come as a surprise.  It is also equally naïve to blame cocaine-snorting rap star Tommy Singh (Shahid Kapoor) for “spoiling” the youth of Punjab.  (He sings numbers like Chittave in praise of the white powder.) 

Where the malaise really lies, Chaubey is not interested in investigating—not that he is expected to, he is a filmmaker not a cop or journalist. Of his four main characters, the only one who grabs sympathy is that of Bihari farm labourer Pinky (Alia Bhatt), whose desire to get out of her wretched circumstances just makes her descend into hell— she is captured, injected with drugs and kept locked up as a sex slave. 

Sartaj (Diljit Dosanjh--charming) is a corrupt cop who realizes his mistake when his own brother almost dies of an overdose. Kareena Kapoor plays with a brisk efficiency,  a doctor who also runs a rehab centre for addicts. Sartaj and she try to expose the manufacture and supply chain—their faith in the election commission and the media is touching—if the system worked would things come to such a pass?

As Shahid Kapoor is made play him Tommy is part jester, part cautionary figure, mostly annoying to watch, even though the actors brings a demented energy and consistency to his performance.

There is a scene in which Tommy is in jail with a bunch of young men who start humming one of his songs—he is their idol. A boy with dead eyes says he is there because he killed his mother, because she wouldn’t give him money. A few more stunners like this one, andUdta Punjab would perhaps have made some kind of impact apart from becoming one more freedom of expression poster child. That boy says more about Punjab’s drug problem that all of Tommy’s show-offy jumping around.

Finally, the film belongs to Alia Bhatt who plays a character so out of her comfort zone and does not hit any false notes.


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