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There is no non-preachy way to make a film about the drug menace in Punjab. It always runs the risk of turning into a documentary. But when there is a filmmaker like Abhishek Chaubey at the helm of things, the raw data and statistics are material enough to get you high. He is riotous from the opening scene in which a discuss thrower from across the border flings a kilo of heroin towards India and drugs come flying into Punjab. When you decode it, you realize that Chaubey makes so many statements sans words. Punjab is a crucial border state that is falling prey to drugs. Can you imagine the far reaching consequences if matters aren’t taken into hands pronto?
Udta Punjab walks on a tightrope, shifting between irreverent and insightful. Profanities are hurled, songs about coke and cock are sung and yet, there are deep conversations amidst shocking revelations.The grim tone finds respite in dark humour, as the director stays true to his style of narration, laced delicately with wit. You’ll find yourself chuckling in the strangest parts, smiling to yourself at incorrigible instances. And when the drama plays out, you’ll find yourself pondering over the issue over and over again, wondering if we’ve woken up too late to save Punjab.
It is smartly crafted, in which stories of four lives run parallely. Each character holds on to his own space – a rockstar who has lost his ability to create music because drugs has taken over his soul, an aspiring hockey player who unknowingly gets trapped in a dangerous racket, a police officer who was content being a ghooskhor till his brother becomes a drug victim and a doctor who wants to change her state of affair in her state. These characters meet in bizarre situations – from haystacks to rehab centres, that’s where the friendships begin in this film.
Besides Chaubey and his writer Sudip Sharma whose crackling screenplay swells by the minute, it is the actors who make the film work. Shahid Kapoor returns after the unnerving Haider in a role that will shake you up. Consumed by success and lines of cocaine, he talks to his reflection in the water in his commode. ‘Who is the Gabru?’ – he asks and his alter ego screeches he is the Gabru. He is disturbing, his soliloquies are startling and your heart still reaches out to the man who tasted success too early on in life and lost his way. Alia Bhatt as the Bihari migrant has the support of an author-backed role and she nails it with precision. Her diction is spot on, her no-make-up look is perfect and her pain and pathos become your own. There is a scene where she and Shahid pour the secrets of their hearts and she breaks into inconsolable tears. When did the kid from Student of the Year become such a fabulous actor? Well, whatever the metamorphosis was – it surely has given the industry someone who is more than just a star, an actor who is bold enough to break boundaries. Diljit Dosanjh is effortless. His boy-next-door charm infuses earthiness to the plot and without his support, the film would have lost solid ground during its build up. Kareena Kapoor Khan in her part is adequate. Hers is the most poorly sketched role and any actor except Kareena could’ve easily botched it up.
The research driven plot never glorifies drugs. As Chaubey and Sharma familiarise us with the workings of the drug chains, you realise the amount of study that has gone into conjuring up the risky tale. The blame is directed at the government negligence but Chaubey never makes the remark aggressively. His appeal is grounded in logic, backed by data. Given the real feel of the scenario, the macabre of the story has a lasting impact on impressionable minds. Treat yourself, if the movie doesn’t leave you harrowed.
There is so much to rave about this film – its satirical tinge, crackling dialogues, the complex characters, the tendency to avoid being unidimensional, giving a message minus without being holier-than-thou. And still, the over-indulgent director can’t help being himself. The clever gun fight sequence from Dedh Ishqiya makes a repeat in this case, which makes the climax of the film unconvincing and weak.
Udta Punjab loses steam towards the end. Trimmer editing could’ve saved the story but then again how perfectly can you make a film about the imperfect situation in Punjab. This film comes the closest to it. We recommend you take a trip down this trippy road that pierces its point into you. Get a rush guys, that’s the way cinema is meant to be enjoyed. This is the real kick, minus the superstar antics.