Udta Punjab: Make it tax-free already!
Udta Punjab: Make it tax-free already!
By: Sonia Chopra
Friday 17 June 2016
Shahid Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Alia Bhatt
I remember watching a film about campus drugs when I was a kid - I don’t remember the name, but it scarred me for years. My 4th grader eyes suspected all the older kids on the school campus as being drug-addicts, weak and damaged, and they didn’t even know it. As I watched Udta Punjab, I felt a similar kind of dread.
This nauseating feeling (a compliment to the film), was mixed with the pleasure of seeing a nearly-full 9 am show. Whatever injustice the CBFC has done to the film, the only good thing to have come out of it is publicity beyond the makers’ scope. People woke up early and came for the film. They even clapped when it ended. A fitting reply to those who feel cocooned only when voices speaking uncomfortable truths are stifled.
The film begins with a lengthy disclaimer where it is clarified that the drug menace is present in all of Indian “society”, instead of the particular region the film is talking about. The disclaimer smells of fear and caution (which seems completely uncalled for, even puzzling, once you’ve seen the film).
Shahid Kapoor is quite excellent as performer Tommy Singh, who mostly sings about drugs and getting high. He has you thinking of popular Bollywood singers who rarely go beyond singing about alcohol and women in high heels. Now Tommy Singh becomes an instant icon among the local Punjab youth with packed shows and doting fans that copy his style. He seems unaware that his songs validate drug-addiction, even encouraging fans towards the habit.
He’s obnoxious enough to think up of lyrics that play around the words ‘coke’ and ‘cock’, to tell his girlfriend that she’s past the expiry date (so are you, she replies), and flout deadlines leading to cancelled contracts. But then, he encounters fans in the unlikeliest of places - the jail. It is chilling for him to learn that the fans, two drug-addict brothers, killed their mother for refusing them money.
Right then, Tommy Singh, rock-star since age 22, has an epiphany. He gets connected to his higher self; his better side. What would it take for the CBFC to have such an epiphany, the mind wonders.
In the film, writer-director Abhishek Chaubey (Ishqiya) insinuates that the drug problem is so huge in Punjab, that there is barely any home without an addict. Family members have to look after the afflicted individuals, locking them up in a room, and watching horrified as the addicts violently demand their dose. In the film, cops facilitate the process in exchange for a cut, and politicians helm the business.
The consistently incredible Alia Bhatt plays a character that is at once strong and vulnerable. The character gets caught up with the local drug mafia that leads to her being abused brutally. But she scoffs when suicide is suggested as the way out. She’s made of sterner stuff, and derives hope from a promotional Goa hoarding that hangs opposite the room that serves as her human-cage.
Corrupt cop Sartaj (Diljit Dosanjh) is shaken up when he realizes his Tommy-worshipping brother is now a drug-addict. He rushes his brother, dying from an overdose, to a doctor (Kareena Kapoor Khan). The doctor and cop team up then, in their shared passion for a drug-free Punjab.
Since the film essentially showcases how subtly and effectively drugs destruct people and families, you wonder what was making the CBFC so antsy and uncomfortable. I’ve yet to see a better film about the topic.
Yes, it’s gritty, but it is the other leave-your-brains-at-home “family entertainers” that one should be more careful of. This is a film to be encouraged, not silenced. Not only do I recommend Udta Punjab as mandatory viewing, I also urge that the film be made tax-free. Very few films touch a cord such that they can actually make a difference. The question is, do we want a difference?