First off, is Udta Punjab worth all the fuss? I’d say, absolutely.
Not because it is a perfect film. It has flaws. But this is the kind of film that has something to say, and it says it with both flair and conviction.
Flying is both a metaphor and reality of drugs. Anyone who’s done a line, or snorted some stuff, or shot up, knows what it feels like — you are untethered, you are afloat. It’s another matter that you come down with a thud, and it feels so awful that you are shooting up again, and that’s your vicious cycle.
Udta Punjab is a cracker of a title, and the way it opens tells us that it will go on the way it means to: with rolled-up sleeves ready for action, with characters who look as if they belong to Punjab, and speak the lingo right (mostly). Most importantly, it reveals a willingness to go over to the dark side and show what drugs can do. They can ruin. They can kill. They can wish you were not alive.
WATCH VIDEO | Udta Punjab Mashup
Tommy Singh (Shahid Kapoor) is an accidental rock star and a full-time user. He rhymes coke and cock, making a song out of it, and the high-on-the-white-stuff youngsters at his raves love it. He loves it too, till the one day all the jollies — the money, the endless supply of the ‘chitta’ powder, the adulation — curdle. And his eyes light upon a battered-yet-not-beaten Bihari labourer (Alia Bhatt), who has become an unwitting victim in this vicious game, and he stutters, stops and starts to see.
Sartaj Singh (Diljit Dosanjh) is a corrupt cop, who is quite happy to turn a blind eye to the drug traffic, till one day it comes too close home. The feisty Dr Preet Sahni (Kareena Kapoor Khan), who runs a rehab clinic, becomes the other strong salutary influence on Sartaj, and the film takes an about-turn.
Anyone with half an eye open can see that this is not a film that glorifies drugs. The degradation of Alia’s character, both physical and mental, is horrifying. An addicted teenager’s spiralling down the primrose path is another of the plot’s see-see-this-is-what-drugs-can-do-to-you thread. It gets to the point where you want to say right, we get it, move on.
The problem is the plot contrivances. In order to put Kareena’s star power to some use, she is turned into a sleuth, and the scenes in which she and her cop companion career around in dark godown, tracking down the bad guys, are the film’s weakest. It’s also clear that despite the dirt on display, the film has its Don’t Do Drugs approach emblazoned right across. What was the CBFC objecting to, really?
A bit of laxness comes from Shahid’s Tommy, who looks just perfect for his part — the strutting and the thrusting on stage, the tangled hair, the constant flashing of the V sign, the self-absorption are done just right. It’s what goes on inside of him that we don’t really see enough of, and what there is, is more tell than show — he should have been written better. He does have a few terrific scenes, though, and proves that he has a great line in swearing.
But the two actors who make this thing sing are Diljit and Alia. The former, a huge star in Punjab making his Bollywood debut here, is very good. He adds enormously to the authenticity and heft of the film. The latter falters a little with her Bihari accent, but the way she channels the pain and the incredible strength of a young woman stuck in a terrible place, is searing. She soars.
Director: Abhishek Chaubey
Udta Punjab star cast: Shahid Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Alia Bhatt, Diljit Dosanjh, Satish Kaushik