Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Diljit Dosanjh
Director: Abhishek Chaubey
After much controversy, Udta Punjab opened to audience on Friday morning, and unlike the censor board’s earlier claims, the film doesn’t glorify substance abuse. Instead, the film has its heart in the right place: Punjab is in the grip of drugs, and only its youth can unchain it.
What may look like an indigenous version of the hugely popular American series Breaking Bad, it circles around a group of people who operate on both sides of the India-Pakistan border. They are the ones ensuring a constant drug supply in the wheat bowl of India. Protected by the high and mighty in politics, it’s hard to pinpoint anyone. At its current scale, the onus is on nobody to contain the menace.
Enter fading rockstar, Tommy Singh (Shahid Kapoor), who is cussing and sleepwalking through his career. As we try to understand his circumstances and what’s driven him to this point, there are others like him, and all these characters keep crossing each other’s path. But can they stick together to put up a fight against the mafia?
Director Abhishek Chaubey unfolds his story with a lot of promise and takes the audience through the lush green fields only to give a shocker. What lies on the other side of the paddy fields is raw and appalling.
Then there’s a Bihari migrant (Alia Bhatt) whose zeal for a better life captures you. But just as you begin to empathise with her, you realise the futility of her efforts. It’s not a world she can control.
Similarly Sartaj (Diljit Dosanjh), a junior officer in Punjab Police, has questionable morality. He doesn’t get a hang of the reality until Dr Preet (Kareena Kapoor) shows him the bigger picture. But again, he is not on top of the food chain, and decision making is not his prerogative.
What begins as a satirical retort to Punjab’s social situation slowly turns into a thriller. Tommy and his gang’s antics amuse and ease us into this darker zone. He can’t control his actions. In fact, he is long past that now. He is only a mocking representation of our transformed musical sensibilities. You hesitate to laugh when he blames his fans for taking his verbal diarrhea as creativity. Every bit of a cynical singing sensation, Shahid Kapoor is a treat to watch.
Alia Bhatt, the show stealer, carries no baggage and delivers the performance of a life time. From accent to body language, she has got almost all of it right.
Diljit Dosanjh is nuanced and likeable and carries his ambiguous morality with ease.
Satish Kaushik deserves a special mention here. As Tommy’s manager, he knows how to ace the game.
Witty and humorous, Udta Punjab works mostly because of its tone and stand against drugs, though the second half is no match for the first. Sometimes though, it appears like an opportunity lost as the narrative keeps dragging in search of closure.
The film is entirely Chaubey’s. Bringing in inspiration from Quentin Tarantino, the Coen Brothers and Vishal Bhardwaj, he showcases the paradox of Punjab in Bollywood films. The land of lassi and mustard fields isn’t about a romantic duet anymore, and if you don’t act fast… well, watch the movie to find out. There are no reasons not to.