“The land is dry, but the youth is high”
“One person consumes drugs, but it affects the whole family.” Such are the sentiments of Udta Punjab, a dark social film that uncovers a hidden side of India’s Punjab.
Considering there are an estimated 223,000 drug addicts in the state of Punjab, dialogues like: “The land is dry, but the youth is high,” find close resonance with audiences.
The multi-starrer film consists of Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Kareena Kapoor Khan and Diljit Dosanjh. It is produced by Anurag Kashyap and Ekta Kapoor.
Director Abhishek Chaubey is no stranger to black comedies. He impressed audiences with his first film, Ishqiya (2010), which was lauded by critics and became a moderate success at the box-office. The sequel Dedh Ishqiya (2014) was also praised.
His latest release, Udta Punjab, has raised eyebrows due to the high expletive language and strong drug references. However, following a lengthy conflict with the censorship board, Udta Punjab releases with only a single cut.
The film narrates the story of four lives: Tommy Singh (played by Shahid Kapoor), Kumari Pinky (played by Alia Bhatt), Dr. Preet Sahni (played by Kareena Kapoor Khan) and Sartaj Singh (played by Diljit Dosanjh).
Mutually, they all face one problem… Drugs. The idiosyncratic Tommy Singh (Shahid) is a rock sensation who has been raised by his uncle (played by Satish Kaushik). He is later arrested for substance abuse.
Kumari Pinky (Alia) is a Bihari migrant who works as a laborer. One night, she comes across three kilos of heroin and decides to sell the package. However, the drug-mafia catch her as she runs away with their stash. Does she escape from their clutches?
Sartaj Singh (Diljit) is a sincere policeman who is adamant on tracking down the drug cartel. This motive becomes even more personal when he sees his own brother, Balli (played by Prabhjyot Singh) suffering due to his addiction.
Dr. Preet Sahni (Kareena) runs a rehabilitation clinic for those addicted. She joins forces with Sartaj in exposing those responsible for mass distribution of drugs in the area. But she and Sartaj discover a shocking truth.
Udta Punjab is undoubtedly gripping, dark and hard-hitting. The movie could have easily been quite slow and morbid, but thankfully, this is not the case. The narrative progresses quickly.
Having said that, Abhishek Chaubey balances light-humour with the serious content of the film. He handles the three narratives very well. As such, this balance of seriousness with comedy reminds one of Almodovar’s style in Spanish cinema. However, what impresses is the allegorical significance of objects which emphasise a character’s emotions.
An example of this is when Alia undergoes a brutal attack. She looks through the window and sees a billboard about a holiday in Goa, reinforcing her desire to escape the gritty milieu. This idea is somewhat similar to the ‘godlike’ Dr. T. J. Eckleburg billboard in The Great Gatsby, which implies how all the characters were being watched every time.
The very next scene, we see Alia falling into water from a height. She swims through deep water until she sees a reflection of the sunlight. This was a beautiful montage which once again reflects Alia’s escapism. One must applaud the director’s vision and Rajeev Ravi’s cinematography, which is truly remarkable.
Another strong point of Udta Punjab are the performances. Shahid Kapoor’s portrayal of the quirky yet swag rockstar, is brilliant. Like his previous role in Haider, this too was quite obscure yet likeable. He demonstrates the transition from an addict to a sensible guy smoothly. Moreover, his chemistry with Alia (this time) is definitely Shaandaar.
Alia Bhatt essays a naïve girl who forcefully becomes a drug-addict. Her Bihari accent is perfect, and one cannot recognise her in the get-up she is in. Post her performance in this film and Highway, she has shown growth as an actress. In fact, she is the ‘Patakha Guddi’ of the movie!
Udta Punjab also marks the debut of Punjabi-superstar Diljit Dosanjh, in a full-fledged Bollywood role. He leaves a strong impact on the audience.
Whether it’s the angry cop avatar or the scenes when he becomes an admirer of Kareena, Diljit moulds well into his role. A dialogue, which sticks with the audience is:
“All the men in Punjab are drugged. Only the ladies can do something now.”
Kudos to Sudip Sharma for penning such thought-provoking lines. Kareena Kapoor Khan performs decently in her part as the doctor and therapist. At certain points in the film, she would say a dialogue and we would see how that affects the main characters, this was very nicely edited.
Satish Kaushik also performs nicely as Shahid’s funny uncle. His comic-timing is apt as always. Prabhjyot Singh as Diljit’s addict brother, Balli, shines in a mostly silent role. He emotes through his expressions and body-language perfectly. Watch out for him in this!
Moving onto the music of the film, audiences are not disappointed. Having received a largely positive response to Bombay Velvet, Shaandaar and Fitoor’s songs, Amit Trivedi sparkles with another chartbuster album.
Songs like ‘Ud-Daa Punjab’, ‘Da Da Dasse’ and ‘Chitta Ve’ focus on the life-threatening consequences of drugs, while ‘Ikk Kudi’ and ‘Hass Nach Le’ encompass a philosophical ambience. Therefore, there is a clear distinction of what life can be like with and without consuming drugs.
Equally, Benedict Taylor’s background score is marvelous in maintaining the rural-feel to the film, as he used natural sounds to build-up the drama. The constant truck horn significantly acted like a wake-up call for Punjab, to stop substance abuse.
Any negatives? The second-half could have maintained the same intensity as the first-half. But perhaps this is to highlight the harmful consequences of drug abuse.
Despite this, the audience does not get bored. Also, there is a great deal of foul-language and adult content, which may not be appropriate for the faint-hearted, as such.
Overall, Udta Punjab is a daring and thought-provoking endeavour by Abhishek Chaubey. With the perfect amalgamation of realism and dark-humour, Udta Punjab proves that films can be serious yet entertain. It deserves a standing ovation!