Director Abhishek Chaubey injects Udta Punjab with a concoction so potent it’s impossible to come out of it without feeling trippy. The caveat is: it’s not an easy film to digest or absorb fully in first viewing.
Edgy, dark and risqué, laced with black humour and colourful lingo, it takes you to places unseen in Hindi cinema. The movie’s tone and pace mirrors the spiraling drug journey of its lead characters, almost caricature-like as if to numb their pain in extreme highs and lows. They descend dangerously deep before fighting their way back to the surface.
The music binds the film immaculately. The racy background music is scored by Benedict Taylor and Naren Chandavarkar. Songs by Amit Trivedi include the freaky Chitta Ve, Ud-da Punjab and Vadiya, sublime Hans Nach Le, sentimental Ek Kudi and funky Da da dasse.
Udta Punjab is not a realistic film even though it includes slices of a real issue with strong intent. It is highly stylised. I did not get what the controversy was all about. All Punjab does is provide an authentic setting to fictional characters. The publicity team owes one to Mr Nihalani.
I ended up watching both versions by chance. An unedited one online with enormous guilt (it didn’t release in Sydney first day). It wasn’t satisfying except for the crucial edited scene which aptly depicted the character’s breaking point. And then on big screen. The psychedelic effects of the high-octane music, vital to the film, are lost on small screen. So are the nuances of inventive cinematography (Rajeev Ravi), funky editing (Meghna Sen) and the fiery performances.
Right. Enter the world of flying Punjab where three parallel stories unfold and coincide in a domino effect.
Local rockstar Tommy Singh (Shahid Kapoor), addicted to drugs, has lost his ‘mojo’ and is struggling to cope with his ill-found fame. A no-name Bihari migrant (Alia Bhatt), an unwitting pawn in a drug exchange, drugged and held captive dreams of freedom. Their first encounter is a high energy, unforgettable girl-meets-boy sequence. Sartaj Singh (Diljit Dosanjh), a rogue police officer, is on a path to redemption after the drugs he helped crossover hit him closer home. His conscience keeper is Dr. Preet Sahni (Kareena Kapoor Khan), a medico dedicated to saving drugs-affected youth.
Kudos to writers Sudip Sharma and Abhishek Chaubey for creating not one but two memorable strong women. And then bravely complementing them with two memorable vulnerable men.
One signifies inherent, brutal strength. She can pick up a hockey stick and thrash four men when she has to. A no-name Bihari migrant, her life spirals into something horrific she did not ever imagine just by virtue of where she was born and a wrong choice she made. Yet she sees hope, stands strong and fights her guts out. With her spirit intact. She doesn’t break into a song. She doesn’t talk much. She finds peace in the depths of the sea.
The second woman represents tender, tough love. A doctor fighting the drug menace, she quietly tells off Diljit with “Kya bol rahe the aap, idea nahin hai” and then some more. “Aap logo ki meharbani hai ke banane wale ye cocktail bana bhi rahe hai aur bechane wale khuleaam bech bhi rahe hai.” She is not able to summon up enough physical strength in a crucial moment but her victory lies in many saved lives. A superb millisecond captures Kareena’s protective instinct when she leans over and rests an unconscious Diljit’s head on her shoulder. No words needed.
In contrast, it is refreshing to see both men wear their hearts on sleeve. Shaken by their first encounter and her story, Shahid seeks a peaceful release by saving Alia. After Diljit realises he is part of the drug problem, he convinces Kareena to help him with: Saare gabru to suyian lagake tight hai Madam, ab ladies ko hi kuch karna padega.
Finally, loved, loved the dialogue where the woman hits back at cocky Tommy who tells her, “You are way past your expiry date. It’s over!”, and she goes, “So are you Tommy, so are you!!”.
Fabulous lead and character performances mark the film.
The menacing drug patriarch and his unruly progeny. The corrupt senior police officer. Sartaj’s younger brother. Tommy’s cousin and manager uncle, Satish Kaushik, are a hoot.
Kareena lends immense grace to her short part with an understated performance, signifying ‘thehraav’. She is the pristine, sane voice in the messy world. Punjabi munda and star Diljit makes a stellar, heartwarming debut in Hindi films. The film’s lead local flavour, he is endearing to the core. The pair’s scenes are relatively mundane but they shine together.
Shahid and Alia nail their parallel journey to hell.Shahid is a revelation especially since he doesn’t touch drugs or alcohol in real life. Stoned perfect, euphoric, cranky, grungy he goes all out. The actor makes Tommy vulnerable and entertaining; his comical screaming into a police arrest, a poignant jail encounter with fans and crazed stage antics.
Just when you think Alia can’t do better, she does. Strength is her weapon and she is in to survive the savage. Her outburst shakes you to the core and you wonder, wow just 23. What a natural-born trouper she is. She owns the Bihari look, say and feel, socking a punch.
A film with a message is always a hard one. Abhishek has combined an inner journey with the perils of drug use beautifully without making it preachy. It’s entertainment at its creative peak.
cinemaspotter rating: 4.5 out of 5