Since our esteemed censor board had recommended no fewer than 94 cuts for Udta Punjab, my decision to watch the film had turned into an immovable object. If a film has ruffled so many of the censor board feathers, chances usually are it would be good. 

 

Any film Kashyap is associated with, I'm, more often than not, the first in the queue at the theatres. The film's opening scenes fully vindicated my rule of thumb.

 

Another reason was Anurag Kashyap who happens to be one of Udta Punjab's producers. Any film Kashyap is associated with, I'm, more often than not, the first in the queue at the theatres. 

 

The film's opening scenes fully vindicated my rule of thumb.

 

Pinky is a hockey player from Bihar. Poverty pushes her upland to Punjab to work as a farm labourer. A stash of heroin, worth a crore, accidentally lands in her lap. It took me a while to recognise that it was Alia Bhatt playing Pinky. Her makeup (or the complete lack of it) that made her look every bit like a village girl was utterly authentic. Pinky thinks she could sell the contents of the accidentally -gotten bag for a few thousand rupees. There begins her misery. The owners of the heroin package start a hunt for Pinky. She throws it in a well. 

 

Captured, she is raped, repeatedly. 

 

Addicted-to-drugs rockstar Tommy a.k.a Gabru's (Shahid Kapoor) young fans too are in the habit of substance abuse. Among them is a schoolboy called Balli. His elder brother is assistant sub-inspector of police Sartaj (Diljit Dosanjh).  

 

Preet (Kareena Kapoor) works as a doctor at a drug rehab centre in Punjab. The story of these characters in braided as one by directed by Abhishek Chaubey to tell a tale of drug-infested Punjab. 

 

Generally, films that try desperately to carry a social message end up being more messed up that even hardcore masala entertainers. In Tamil, directors Bala and Vasantha Balan manage to give me this experience unfailingly. Since they are worshipped as demi-gods in the state, I have earned a million enemies for being critical of their work. But we digress. 

 

However, the alternative cinema produced by Bollywood can often hold a candle world cinema. Therefore, I had high hopes of Udta Punjab.  

 

There is so much sermonising that after 30 minutes of the runtime, the film resembled a DAVP anti-drug abuse campaign. It felt like being thrust into a moral science lecture at high school. 

 

There is so much sermonising that after 30 minutes of the runtime, the film resembled a DAVP anti-drug abuse campaign. It felt like being thrust into a moral science lecture at high school. 

 

Between 1978 and 1990, when I worked for the central civil supplies department, I was posted in Delhi. By and large, Madarassi central government employees in Delhi would find a way to end up in South Block. They would find residence in the south Indian ghettos of RK Puram or Munirka. My office happened to be in North Delhi. I lived in Punjabi Bagh. Both pretty large Punjabi settlements. During that period, I had also travelled extensively across Punjab. Coming from a state where vivacity was alien and scoffed at, those 12 years were spent in a bit of a culture shock. No matter the magnitude of the problem facing them, the Punjabis I knew were an irrepressible lot who epitomised the khao, piyo, aish karo (eat, drink and be merry) zeitgeist.  

 

How the youth from a such a land came in the evil embrace of narcotics, is something Udta Punjab stubbornly refuses to probe. The director deals with the origins of the malaise in the most superficial manner. 

 

How the youth from a such a land came in the evil embrace of narcotics, is something Udta Punjab stubbornly refuses to probe. The director deals with the origins of the malaise in the most superficial manner. 

 

Moreover, every 10 minutes or so there comes a heavy dose of anti-drug sermon, giving one the unmistakable feeling of sitting through a documentary. If an unsparing editor had pruned the film shorter by 45 minutes, Udta Punjab would be more gripping. 

 

Read More: 'Kammattipaadam': Welcome to Dalit Noir. And It is brilliant

 

In the last 60 minutes, the film suddenly takes a turn towards the mundane-masala territory.  Shahid Kapoor embarks on a mission to save the heroine on a bicycle. A close-up of the milestone shows the destination to be 108 kilometres away. Forget a drug-addict, even those who train diligently every morning for months to participate in their city's half-marathon would find it difficult to pedal 108 kilometres overnight, non-stop, at a steady pace of 10 km/hour. 

 

In every commercial film, at the apex of any cross-border drug racket, there has to be a politician. Udta Punjab faithfully follows that template. 

 

Despite the overall flatness, the film manages a few highs. Chief among them is Amit Trivedi's music. In the first song Chitta ve, Trivedi fuses Punjabi words with electronica in fabulous fashion.

 

Despite the overall flatness, the film manages a few highs. Chief among them is Amit Trivedi's music. In the first song Chitta ve, Trivedi fuses Punjabi words with electronica in fabulous fashion.  The Diljit Dosanjh version of Ik kudi is soul-stirring. The background music, in keeping with the theme, is suitably psychedelic. I was sold on Trivedi's music since Dev D. But the film hardly does justice to the magnificence of his music. I came home and listening to the songs on YouTube, and found myself in a state of trance. 


The other massive plus for the film is Alia Bhatt's acting. I can't find the words to praise her enough, nor any other performance in recent times to match it. 

 

The dialogues throughout the film are dazzling. In every scene, Sudip Sharma the writer, brings the essence of rural Punjab. When the rockstar introduces himself to Pinky as Tommy, are you a dog, she asks him! 

 

The key shortcoming of this film compared to Dev D or Queen is the lack of intensity. The storyline too is not quite strong. It starts with the grave societal problem of drug-abuse, and ends with the hero rescuing the heroine from dastardly villains. 

 

Read More: 'Iraivi' Tamil Movie Review: Making a case for casual immorality

 

The intellectuals, however, have gone all sentimental about this film, shedding copious tears in their reviews. It is probably proof that it's easier to make the intellectuals cry than common folk! 

 

Charu Nivedita is a Tamil novelist. His works include 'Zero Degree' and 'Exile'. The views expressed are his own.