Director Abhishek Chaubey and producer Anurag Kashyap’s Udta Punjab opened in theatres on Friday after a protracted fight in and out of court to unprecedented hype and scrutiny.
Hardly any film can live up to this sort of super-enhanced expectations. And yet, barely 10 minutes into Udta Punjab, and you know what it is.
Writer-director Abhishek Chaubey and his co-conspirator Sudip Sharma’s Udta Punjab is an udta tight slap to the zealous mediocrity of the Censor Board and its pappus.
The Censor Board’s current dispensation can ask for 89 cuts, use delay tactics, resort to cheap, third-rate and now even criminal acts of sabotage. But what they can’t take away despite their thinly veiled morality talk — which is nothing more than toadying to certain politicians — is the talent of the truly talented.
Udta Punjab is just the sort of rebuttal talentless sycophants deserve. It is the best kind of revenge.
Shabash, I say. Well done! It was a film worth fighting for.
So much has been said and written about the film that recounting its story would be a waste of time and space. So I’m going to keep it to the basics.
Udta Punjab tells the story of two Punjabs — one Punjab that’s flourishing on generous returns from the drug business, and the other that’s trying to rehabilitate a wasted, addicted generation.
And it tells this story through three different tracks.
One involves a commercially successful pop star, Tommy Singh The Gabru (Shahid Kapoor), who has a cult following. The other involves Sartaj Singh (Diljit Dosanjh), a corrupt cop who is on the take, his addict brother Balli and Dr Preet Sahni (Kareena Kapoor), a doctor-activist who runs a rehab clinic.
The third one involves a Biharan (Alia Bhatt) who works in a farm and one night comes upon an udta packet of heroin.
These three stories — each one with its own pace, camerawork, dialogue and cast of characters — start out at three different points but hurtle towards the same flashpoint, i.e. the climax, which is very, well, Reservoir Dogs.
Udta Punjab is a heady mix of sharp writing, brilliant acting and a very cool style of story telling. Of course its coolness is Tarantino’s, imbibed and then internalised by a generation of Bollywood’s “indie” filmmakers. But its writing — story, dialogue, screenplay — is completely rooted in its world. The film’s story and screenplay are by Chaubey and Sudip Sharma who wrote NH10.
The film’s dialogue, by Sharma, are simply crackling. I am a true blue Punjabi from Punjab, and I’m telling you that since Chann Pardesi (a 1981 Punjabi film that won the National Award) I have neither seen such sharp characters set in Punjab, nor heard dialogue in Punjabi that are completely true to the characters they’ve been handed to.
I mean, if you can get the pronunciation of “police” right — in Punjab it’s pronounced “puls” — and always say CCD-SuSuDe, lassi-shassi, follow up every instruction with “ek chapped (random Punjabi slap) lavanga”, you’ve nailed it.
Add to that the very talented Abhishek Chaubey (Ishqiya fame, full and one-and-a-half). He has extracted excellent performances from the entire cast — right from the Pakistani shot put guy to Pehalwan (Swaraj Sandhu), and of course Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt. Diljit Dosanjh, I think, is just naturally brilliant.
Shahid’s character, Tommy The Gabru, is powered by a potent dose of cocaine and the gumption of the rich and powerful Punjabi. In a performance that is tight as a whip, he plays Tommy at two different levels — high and low.
One Tommy, dazed by his own success and clout, is loud and high-strung, and when low and pulled out of his world, he is unbelievably sad and pathetic.
His drug-induced rants and gaze, stupid and wide-eyed, are fascinating. As is his shift to a puny, pitiful character.
It’s Shahid with his high jinx who gives the film its mojo — he’s the one who makes Udta Punjab a grab your c*** and show the middle-finger to the world kinda film. There is no better or fitting reply to stupid, sanskari lackeys than this.
And then there’s Alia Bhatt. Oh my god! This chit of a girl has given an uninhibited, powerhouse performance. Though the film doesn’t even give her a name, it gives her scenes that’ll be remembered for a long, long time.
Kareena Kapoor’s Preet Sahni is the only weak link. Thankfully, she’s made bearable and less diva like by the fabulous, fabulous Diljit Dosanjh. He is an actor who can be very impactful and memorable with very little. He doesn’t need sparkling dialogue and dazzling scenes to shine.
Udta Punjab draws a lot from Punjab’s reality and it’s very easy to identify who is who. Though at times it hits the Bollywood speed breaker — especially when the two cuties, Shahid and Alia, are together — yet Udta Punjab is a trippy, cocky film that is bold enough to press pause to crack a joke, laugh and then get back on track.
Udta Punjab doesn’t have the misogyny of Anurag Kashyap’s films, but it is very macho and abusive. The Bombay high court, in fact, rapped the filmmakers for this. The judges said, “Eventually, story and content is important and there is no need to use such words in every dialogue.”
But I’d like to tell the honourable judges that in Punjab all the cute “assi-tussi, Paaji pauri-pauna, hello ji, namaste ji” is reserved for family gatherings and shaadi-vaadi.
The rest of the time cuss words and abuses are used like punctuation marks. Punjab’s street talk is less about balle-balle and more about screaming MC, BC even when the intent is just to say, “Hello! Where have you been?”
CONFESSION: I downloaded and watched the Censor Board copy that was leaked online. I apologise, but there was no way I was going to let go of a chance to watch the uncut version. Whoever leaked it may have done the film a disservice commercially, but they did show up the Censor Board’s stupidity.