Udta Punjab review: Drugs, Patriarchy and Corruption, An Awareness Film

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Punjab is one of the states that learned how to survive. In spite of being away from water sources and monsoon, Punjab produces the highest amount of wheat and has high literacy rate. Yet, there is a dark side to the state that people, probably, were not aware of. Perhaps that is what scared the censor board Chief Pahlaj Nihalani and it prompted him to demand 89 cuts in which anything and everything that mentions Punjab should be removed. After a long turmoil, Anurag Kashyap presented this dark secret, hoping that people will find retribution. Film is a medium worshiped by many, introducing healthy plot points will influence people in a better way. Udta Punjab, as a film, delivered a strong message against drugs.

Tommy “Gabru” Singh (Shahid Kapoor) is a cocaine addicted rock star, who creates songs about drugs. Thus, he influenced the youth population including police officer Sartaj Singh’s (Diljit Dosanjh) brother Balli (Prabhjyot Singh). Dr. Preet Sahni (Kareena Kapoor) runs a rehabilitation center and she has dedicated her life to spreading awareness about drugs and campaigns against it. All this while, a Bihari migrant (Alia Bhatt), whose name is not revealed, comes across a large packet of heroin which was thrown from Pakistan to India across the border. She tries to sell it but then things go wrong and she is mixed up in the heroin racket. Four lives are connected by the fluid that runs in the corrupted youth population of Punjab.

This is not the kind of film that you will enjoy. Swear words like “m***chod”, “b***chod” and the f-word are used almost after every sentence. The tone of the film is faint and sluggish and you will be looking at your watch at times, except at those instances where something happens on screen. And the climax, after a proper build-up of the story, was too disappointing. Preet and Sartaj try to nail down those who are associated with the drug racket, but the climax which turned out to be a blood bath, makes you say “they should have done that earlier itself”. So basically due to these setbacks, I should be giving it a smaller rating, but the fact that the movie addressed a major issue and for breaking several stereotypes associated with rape survivors, I will give it 4/5 rating. Udta Punjab is a must see film for the anti-drugs message. Tommy Singh faces the reality he created in jail, where two young boys confessed that they loved his songs which spoke about drugs and became addicts themselves. They killed their mother to get money in order to buy the intoxicating substances and, this is an information they reveal without even an ounce of regret. Tommy witnesses the extent to which young minds were corrupted, but then he engages himself in a battle against his own inner demons and for Tommy, who soaks his face in cocaine, removing the habit won’t be easy. He symbolizes those who shed their ego and decide to take responsibility for their actions. Shahid Kapoor was good and he has dedicated himself well enough to look like a manic cocaine addict. At times, his performance was over the top, there were instances of unintentional comedy during intense sequences. Preet is supposed to be the strongest character but then she turned out to be “Geet” from jab we met. Kareena Kapoor didn’t bring the necessary maturity while she spoke about how they could nail down the criminals. The only good acting moment from her was when she taunted Sartaj with the narcotics his brother was addicted to, saying that police did nothing to stop it. Diljit Dosanjh delivered a controlled performance and had his moments to shine. He had tangible chemistry with Kareena. The sense of guilt and remorse he had when he found out about his brother is stupendous. He has a good potential and hopefully Bollywood will recognize it as well. The person who stole the show is Alia Bhatt. As an actress, Alia Bhatt is the proof that women in cinema could mean more than just being item numbers as long as they get to play subjective figures. She is initially shown as someone who was dumb enough to make a fatal mistake. She was abducted, beaten and eventually, was subjected to a brutal treatment of sexual harassment and prostitution. In return for the favors, she was injected with heroin. The best part about Udta Punjab is, unlike those conventional films which further elucidated the intense presence of rape and victimization culture, by calling survivors “damaged”, “the one who lost her soul”, and “stained vessels”, Bhatt’s characters busts these notions and stands up for herself. Instead of blaming herself, she blamed her circumstances and called out to her rapists’s lascivious mindsets and their lack of humanity. She fights back with integrity and even refuses to budge. My favorite moment is when she barks at Tommy when he asks her if she could commit suicide with him. She bounces back and refuses to bury herself in the abyss as a victim. When Tommy was attacked by a group of goons who was searching for her, she fights them aggressively, not just to save Tommy but to put across her point about how Punjab failed her as opposed to a typical scenario where she’ll plead for her “virginity”. I admired that spirit from her as a person with no address or identity, being one, she could inspire women to stand up for themselves. She turned the routine around against her abusers, from refusing drugs to fighting back. The unnamed migrant stole the show and Bollywood should learn a thing or two before victimizing women. The disappointing factor is her involvement in the much screwed up climax. Perhaps, that’s what came across the tumultuous minds of writers while trying put forward the cacophony of bustles in the screenplay.

And, don’t try to fool a Malayali. Tune of the song “nejodu cherthu” was used in one of the songs in this movie.

Overall, Udta Punjab is just an awareness film and a must watch for those who needs lessons about ill effects of drugs and corruption. Hopefully, Punjab will heal its wounds and population will let go of all barbaric practices including gender-biased sex selection.

4/5    

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