By AYESHA BABAR
Before I go on to the film itself, a small note: Udta Punjab has had more than its share of controversy. First, the censor board refused to pass it without substantial cuts and even a name change (they insisted on ‘Punjab’ being dropped from the title – the producers, thankfully, held their ground). Eventually the Mumbai High Court ruled in favour of the film’s release with only minor changes. Just as the makers breathed a sigh of relief, and resumed promotions in full swing, it emerged that the full movie had been leaked online. While it remains to be seen who was behind the leak, the pirated downloads will definitely affect the film’s business – both in India and abroad. I would urge readers to see the film at the cinema – you will not be disappointed!
Udta Punjab is not your typical Bollywood family entertainer. That, however, doesn’t mean that Abhishek Chaubey’s film isn’t a great piece of cinema. Abhishek takes the audience on an emotional journey, which offers scenes of stark realism. There is no sugar-coating and no fluff – just good, dark raw cinema.
The story revolves around the separate yet entwined lives of a Punjabi rockstar, Tommy Singh (Shahid Kapoor), a migrant worker, Kumari (Alia Bhatt), a doctor, Preet (Kareena Kapoor) and a police officer played by Diljit Dosanjh. The four characters live seemingly separate, imperfect lives that are impacted in one way or another by drugs.
Udta Punjab shows you another side of the state of Indian Punjab, a place that is best known for its rich food and strong sense of joie de vivre. The drug menace is eating away at the heart of the land which was once the agrarian centre of India, brimming with optimism. What makes the film such a success is that director, Abhishek Chaubey, doesn’t shy away from the hard-hitting reality and sheds light and makes great effort to elaborate on the nexus between the different forces at play without preaching.
While the director paces the movie well overall, there are a few sequences in the second half that could be edited shorter. Even these do not take away from the bigger picture that makes Udta Punjab some of the most heart-felt cinema I have seen in a while.
Punjabi superstar Diljit Dosanjh makes his Hindi movie debut playing a Sikh cop. Kareena Kapoor is her usual A-list self as a doctor who looks after addicts and is working on a report to lend awareness to the cause. The two standout performances for me, however, belong to Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt. Shahid, has emerged as an acting powerhouse, glimpses of which we have seen in a slew of films that the actor has done. If you thought his phenomenal portrayal in Haider set a benchmark then Udta Punjab will leave you floored. There is not one flawed frame where Shahid’s acting is concerned.
Alia Bhatt might not be the first name that comes to mind when one says ‘Bihari migrant worker’ but the actress takes the character and makes it her own. Alia might be one of the youngest in her generation of
Bollywood actresses but is fast cementing her place as the finest. Abhishek Chaubey once again extracts a performance to remember from Alia. Many scenes, Alia reminded me of a young Kareena in ‘Chameli’ with her earnestness and honesty playing the role of Kumari.
By the end of the film, I was shaken and stirred. Somewhere in my mind, I am still thinking about the characters whose journey I felt I was a part of. And of the countless others who have become mired with the menace of drugs. For me, this is what cinema should be.