Udta Punjab – A Movie Review

The youth of India, despite all the odds against them, politicians and mafia and what not, they are still standing, they remain a redoubtable force that can turn over an economy to the stars!

Right after the movie, one says to oneself, well why will the Censor Board of India be giving everyone a hard time to approve this movie, and why would Anurag Kashyap and friends have to call an ‘extraordinary meeting’ with the press to revalorize and reconfirm the honesty of their work.

Yes, India is a terribly messy place at times, but the point here is that this movie should have right off the bat been given free rein for all the youth of Punjab, and of course all of India and the world to see it without a purdah being threatened on anyone. And yes we agree with Anurag Kashyap, Pahlag Nihalani is a “stooge’, no actually an “oligarch” and “dictator” and that he should be living in North Korea.

Oh and I love India`s free press… because despite the Censor Board and politics, it is the public outcry that will give reason to freedom. Udta Punjab starts with a big bang which may be a bit of a put off for the first few minutes, but once the drug package is sent with an Olympic spirit over the border to Punjab from Pakistan, there and then starts the traffic à l`indienne. We then trace the fate of the gift of the red devil, this white powder called heroin, and many other white liquid concoctions of evil minds to the heart of the youth of Punjab via their easily swayed souls.

Director Abhishek Chaubey’s movie is about the extent easily ‘accessible’ heroin has invaded the youth but this demand is not only created but supported by a very diseased and corrupted system which includes the police, the local goondas, the farmers turned drug manufacturers, corporate pharma of India and the suave deep-pocket politicians, the actual real profiteers of this guaranteed tax free business.

Chaubey is very aware that the subject is dark and grim and the flick instead of teaching the youth about how they were made to fall into a ditch would actually scare them, so he weaves in two love stories in the movie to give us a short respite. The drug trade can be tackled not by pamphlets that are seen being distributed all over the place but by the will of NGO workers. Dr. Preet Sahni (Kareena Kapoor`s role) works incessantly to foil the program du jour of the drug lords and slowly falls in love with Sartaj Singh (Diljit Dosanjh) a police officer, who himself discovers that instead of ‘stoppers’, the police were the ‘feeders‘ of the corrupted system.

Sartaj Singh learns it the hard way when his brother gets mired into addiction, but as they say in the movie, it is always ‘saddemundetheek, horan de kharab (our kids are fine, it’s the others who have turned wayward)’. A very Indian problem of never accepting that the family has failed, that society has failed, that the system is totally pouri. The revelation of the story to me were the caustic dialogues which very much followed the grimness of the story. A police officer calls it the ‘green revolution part 2’ and the drug lord says ‘land cultivation is down but who cares ‘coz the youth are high’.

What has caused, or better what is causing this disease to grip India? The answer to me came through Shahid Kapoor’s character Tommy Singh/The Gabru, the quintessential Indian returnee from Europe who discovers that better than live a mediocre life, rap sells especially when you are high. He is the pop sensation of Punjab and lives in total debauchery. I thought the party scenes were very Tarantinoesque and were perfectly executed.

The Gabru soon gets caught up in his own debauchery when the government (by the way led by a head who is as much involved in the trade as anyone else) needs a scapegoat. He gets thrown into prison very much by his own stupidity but then realizes after being whacked by Sartaj Singh that ‘first learn to be a man before becoming a pop sensation’. Gabru ‘sees’ the damage he has done to the youth and finally ends up with the golden lines: “I composed a song on drugs and you turned it into your philosophy. You are even bigger losers than I am.”

A last word on Alia Bhatt. She’s the real sensation of the show. Playing a Bihari migrant who, forced by living conditions, ends up in Punjab and gets also caught in the traffic and is kidnapped. She makes a wonderful plea to the Gabru at the end. A scene so poetically charged, with her eyes raised to the sky, standing on hay, looking at eternity, destiny, fate, she says, ‘I am still standing, despite all, I am still standing.’

This is the response of the youth of India, despite all the odds against them, politicians and mafia and what not, they are still standing, they remain a redoubtable force that can turn over an economy to the stars! Glory to the Youth of India!

* Published in print edition on 24 June 2016

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