Monday, June 27, 2016

Udta Punjab - flying high!

Thanks to all the controversy surrounding it, Udta Punjab was assured of above average viewership ratings. Indeed I can barely type the name of the movie without feeling like I need to put a hashtag before it! However, I did wonder whether it would also manage to live up to the hype.Whether it would also be a decent watch once all the expletives were laid aside.

Short answer: it is a great watch.

Long answer follows...

Udta Punjab is not the Punjab that Bollywood has so far instilled in our collective consciousness. It is a Punjab where substance abuse is all pervasive. Where truant schoolboys are injecting deadly chemical cocktails into their veins, where genial old men who call people "puttar" deal in drugs as a family business, where the local policemen are turning a blind eye to the drug transportation for a bribe, where the politicians exchange drugs for votes. It is a truly horrific tale that shows just how deep the problem runs. And how 'say NO to drugs'was not just a slogan for the late 80's.

We are plunged right into the middle of this crisis through the four lead characters: Tommy (Shahid Kapoor) is a party-loving, coke snorting maniac of a rockstar who has lost his "mojo". His life takes a turn when he meets Alia Bhatt, a Bihari labourer who chances upon a packet of drugs in the fields where she works, setting in motion a heartbreaking chain of events for her. Sartaj (Diljit Dosanjh) is a corrupt cop who gets a wakeup call when his own brother overdoses. He then teams up with the feisty activist Doctor Preet (Kareena Kapoor Khan) in an investigation to expose the kingpins of the drug trade.

The hard-hitting and gritty nature of the movie never glamourises either drugs or the expletive laden language. The anti-drug message is loud and clear and the language is as expected from the characters. It's hard to see why this movie was about to be banned. If the situation in Punjab is not as dire, then that's great news. And if it is, then surely, highlighting it can only bring more help to eliminate the problem.

The Sartaj and Preet angle is a bit weak and the Tommy and Alia connection feels a bit forced but overall, these work well in giving a breather from the otherwise suffocating grimness. Despite the subject matter, the movie is gripping and ends on a note of strength. After a long time, I felt I saw a movie, where I didn't get bored at all and didn't now what to expect.

The acting was top notch, especially from Shahid and Alia, who have put their heart and soul into every scene. Diljit Dosanjh was refreshing and charming. His rendition of "Ïk Kudi" (sung by Tommy in the movie), was beautiful. Kareena, rather surprisingly, was a bit weak - her performance seemed inconsistent to me. One moment she is cool to the point of being smug, the next she is all excited and channelling her inner Geet (from Jab We Met). Perhaps one could have done with a little more fleshing out of the characters - a little more of Alia's backstory, a little more on Preet might have been interesting. But then again, perhaps its just as well the characters don't overshadow the real protagonist - Udta Punjab.


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