Even if you’ve been living under a rock past few weeks, you still might have heard or read about Udta Punjab. This seemingly mid budget flick which itself wasn’t much sure of its fate was made the front page news by our dear Censor Board. Know about its journey through the release, how its music has affected me and how the film really is. One at a time.
No one would have thought that this film would be laced in controversy over a few months. But then, the Censor Board had to act weird. With that kind of a trailer, one was expecting an A certificate. The whole fuss started when the board had a problem with the film being based in Punjab itself. The drug nexus, as the film showcases, is very much connected with politics. With election around the corner in the real Punjab, there were some who had major problems with the reality shown in the fictional Punjab.
There was too much gung-ho about the 89 cuts ordered by the board. Mostly the cuts included every production detail, dialogue and scenes where the viewer would notice it is Punjab. Apart from that there were many cuts ordered for the language used. They were so hell bent behind reducing the film to a rubble that at one point, one could seriously doubt whether the film would see light of the day.
Enter Anurag Kashyap, whose banner is producing the film. Kashyap has gone through similar problem many a times. His directorial debut Paanch was never even allowed to be released. And Black Friday was so close to reality (same as the case here) that the film was stopped from releasing for several years. He approached the Bombay High Court to challenge the order. He also brought a big chunk of film fraternity together to make their case stronger. They finally won, as the HC gave an optimistic nod and asked for just 1 cut (of Shahid as Tommy pissing on the crowd. This can be seen in the trailer). And by then, Udta Punjab was seen on the front page of newspapers, a hot newsroom debate topic and in overheard conversations. And inspite of a low key promotion (there wasn’t even the customary visit to Kapil Sharma’s show) the film got the biggest publicity ever in recent times. The buzz, with controversy as the source, was even bigger than Aamir Khan’s PK.
Until two days before the release. On 15th, a clear print of the movie which was watermarked as “For Censor” leaked online. Many believe it was done by those who had objected the film and ordered the cuts (Pahlaj Nahlani being in the forefront). But we have had many cases of Censor copies being leaked before – Manjhi The Mountain Man and a more recent Marathi blockbuster Sairat. It is only yesterday (23rd June) that one of those responsible for the leak was arrested. But was censor really behind it? One would never know.
What we do know is why all of this is happening. Taking offence on popular Bollywood film and gaining publicity is not new now, and nor is it surprising. No one cares how whether a land/community is shown in a bad light in a film that barely reaches to a tenth of our population. But with the huge flying start that the film has got, this is that very rare case where people taking an offence has benefited the makers BIG time.
All through this, I had still doubts on whether the film would really live up to the positive publicity. Whether the film is really what we all were fighting for – one that condemns drug abuse rather than glamourize it. Whether the film would make as much of an impact to the society, as it did to the Censor Board.
And should you really watch it?
Answers to all from the next line.
Let’s face it. Not all of us can afford (time and money) to go to theaters every week. So when we do, we look forward to have a good time for the next two hours or so. It is very difficult to choose a film like Udta Punjab. Firstly, dark themed films are rarely the top choice for us. And secondly, a clear print is already available online for free. So even if the critics are raving about it, some don’t feel like watching it on the big screen. Who knows, you may find the film boring and too off from the kind of movies that you normally watch. And with the multiplex rates flying high too, you want to be dead sure.
It is to these people, who are still unsure whether to watch the film or not, that I dedicate this review. Maybe you’ll get your answer at the end.
Udta Punjab, directed by Abhishek Chaubey of the Ishqiya fame, is about the state of drug menace in Punjab. It starts off with a horrifying portrayal of drugs been supplied, received, sold, snorted. We are reminded that Punjab isn’t quite different from Mexico. Drugs isn’t part of the politics, but drugs is the politics. It is in this world that we meet Tommy Singh (Shahid Kapoor), Sartaj Singh (Diljit Dosanjh), Preet Sahani (Kareena Kapoor Khan) and a Bihari migrant (Alia Bhatt). What follows is how this fiasco affects them, and how their lives get intertwined.
The biggest takeaway from the film is this carefully weaved story. It absolutely shocks the audience in showing the reality, but soon keeps us comfortable in these 4 lives. Only after you’ve known the facts they move on to fictionalize it, never ever forgetting that their job is to revolve around the tragedy of drug addiction. I won’t talk much about the plot, but would say that the film isn’t entirely depressing and writers Sudip Sharma and Chaubey do want to leave you with a shimmer of hope that one can get over drugs.
It is this balance with fact and fiction that makes the film truly stand out. Thankfully, unlike FAN, it doesn’t dump its message and take a weird genre of its own. But then, it isn’t even taking things too seriously. There are doses of humour thrown in (well, it is after all entertaining to watch people going “high”), along with some clever editing in stitching these four storylines together.Add to that the incredibly smart placement of songs (the relevance of its lyrics to the plot almost beats the likes of Raju Hirani films) and a satisfying climax, you know why the film has been applauded so much.
Elevating this material is a pitch-perfect cast. Shahid Kapoor is utterly believable and entertaining as Gabru. Diljit has the credibility of an actor as large as his superstar status. Kareena suffers with the most non-interesting role, and hence gets show stolen by the rest of the supporting cast.
Then there is Alia Bhatt. Just few months ago, she was dancing to Chull in a house party, easily getting into the skin of this rich but orphaned girl in Kapoor and Sons. Seeing her play this village heroin-addict lad is nothing less than a treat. In those emotional outbursts that she has, Alia is unrecognizable and puts up the kind of performance that would easily put her in the league of Kangana and Deepika. I think I’ve already found my best contender for TVT’s Best Actress award.
Is this seeming like I’m going the critics route and not really answering that burning question? Okay, so let’s answer that now as we speak of the flaws. There are no tropes to the film that usually warrants a visit to the cinema hall. It has no action, it’s comedy is dark and never meant to be very funny. It doesn’t put up a beautiful spectacle, though the cinematography by Rajeev Ravi is commendable. And what many might have expected, it isn’t a thriller and takes its own time to narrate the story. Some parts of the screenplay isn’t entirely convincing. You can sum up the plot in a line or two, so it makes you feel that there isn’t much happening.
This isn’t a movie that you would watch after a tiring day at college/office. You would run out of patience and won’t appreciate the intricacies. Watch it at your own leisure, investing some thought along with money. I think the makers deserve your money for the attempt they make in showcasing reality. If not in the theaters, then by renting it some day. Because even torrents should be used responsibly. There are some movies like this which you might regret later for having watched it without being charged.
When you do watch the film, just forget about all the hullabaloo that surrounded it before release. You would know that this was meant to be a film with small ambition, not world changing that ultimately got portrayed. Yes, the film is violent and explicit but not at alarming levels. It doesn’t get you on the nerves which would make you instantly go “what a film!”. But deep down, you know you’ve watched something extra-ordinary.
Udta Punjab is a film that will be cherished by Bollywood fans who look for unique content. It trips at some points, but is overall very trippy.
Before I start with this section, why not play the soundtrack, while you read about it? Here you go –
Reading Amit Trivedi in the credits itself made me wait for the songs of Udta Punjab. If you’re a regular Bollywood song listener, you would know that Amit is quite revered in the industry. His discography is pure gold. He’s the guy who started with Iktara from Wake Up Sid, collaborated with Anurag Kashyap for one of his earliest films Dev D and gained spotlight.
Completely original and versatile, his soundtracks are not to feature in weekly chartbusters but made to cherish over the years. His 2014 album Queen stil sounds fresh and interesting today. Bombay Velvet, though met with a sorry fate, had a full Jazz soundtrack which was never tried before (in India). So when someone of this potential is given the task of composing for a film that focuses on drugs, you know there will be something epic coming up.
The two highly energetic songs – Chitta Ve and Ud da Punjab shows the substandards the mainstream (ironically mostly Punjabi) rap singers have set today. Trivedi isn’t behind the glamour of the song, or the obvious blatant objectification of women. Such songs are just like what a Tonny Singh would sing. But he made this fictional rapper have a much better taste in music than the real ones. It is also great to hear some unheard voices like Shahid Malya and Babu Haabi crooning them.
And it’s not just these two tracks that impresses. Ikk Kudi’s reprise version is the perfect song to get introduced to the singing side of Diljit Dosanjh. Though the original version is also just as good. A simple, soothing number in an album full of party songs. Remember I was talking about versatility? Yes. That.
He could have gone the same route for Da Da Dassa, but he infuses rap and brings elements of the Nucleya music which gives a completely fresh touch to the song. And finally, Kanika Kapoor who is one of the biggest singers today thanks to mostly party chartbusters, redeems herself with her rustic and raw outing. She is effortless.
The other songs – Vadiya and Hass Nach Le needs some more listening to completely groove on it. That’s trademark Amit, actually. It took quite a lot of listening to O Gujariya ( from Queen ) to completely enjoy that track and feature it for repeat listening.
These 4 songs alone are worth calling Udta Punjab as one of the best soundtracks of the year already. That’s another win for the composer this year, as Fitoor had two exceptional songs too – Yeh Fitoor Mera and Pashmina.
In an industry where retro songs are thrashfully “recreated”, originality hardly holds importance and songs are presented as products, it is thanks to composers like Amit Trivedi that holds the torch of Hindi contemporary music alive and different. With Udta Punjab, he gives an album that are no doubt party hits. But they also hold relevance to the film. And most importantly, they are genuinely good.