Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Diljit Dosanjh, Satish Kaushik
Direction: Abhishek Chaubey
‘Udta Punjab’ is not a family entertainer. This is a disturbing film about a very real issue – drug abuse in Punjab. And what comes as a bigger surprise is that we haven’t seen a mainstream Hindi film tackle a topic on drugs that is of such a staggering magnitude earlier.
Abhishek Chaubey takes on this daunting task and, to his credit, tries to bring to fore the complexity of this issue. His narrative is not weaved around one political party or the recreational user; he tries a more holistic approach where every stratum of society is somehow tethered to this addiction. And so rampant is the abuse that it has become an accepted lifestyle choice in most households, irrespective of their social or financial status.
Also, the film is as much about a society’s struggle to come to terms with this evil as much as it is about each of the lead character’s internal strife to fight the addiction. A popular rockstar, a migrant labourer and adolescent boys – all prescribe to a fixation of their choice and it seems impossible for them to come out of this vicious circle.
While our director manages to weave a compelling narrative against a very credible backdrop, the ride is not smooth all along. There are times when you feel that the filmmaker has been over-indulgent and some crisp editing would have lifted the pace of the film.
The film has some very strong performances and it is these portrayals that make you cringe at the visceral brutality of the situation. Of the lot, I guess Diljit Dosanjh and Kareena Kapoor Khan had the relatively easier depictions to portray and they’re almost flawless in their delivery.
Shahid Kapoor has been going through a lean patch in the recent past but in this film he has put his best foot forward. As the junkie Tommy, Shahid’s eccentric portrayal is commendable. He hasn’t really been able to internalize the part but he has done a mention-worthy task.
For me, Alia Bhatt’s part as the Bihari migrant is the most challenging. She is completely out of her comfort zone in a role like this one and yet, she shines the brightest. I am a little conflicted about my opinion on Alia’s performance – while in parts she hits just the correct notes, there are parts where the Bihari accent jars a bit. As Imtiaz Ali’s Veera in ‘Highway’ (2014), Alia was spot on; she didn’t miss a beat as she played a very unusual character. And while I really think that it takes a certain amount of brilliance to communicate so much through her eyes in a part which makes her seem so vulnerable, I didn’t think it was as seamless as her playing Veera.
‘Udta Punjab’ is definitely a must-watch, but for a film that is tackling so real an issue even the minor indulgences seem a bit much. This film is not a fun ride and for serious film buffs, the fact that the director seems to lose his grip a little is disappointing.
Abhishek Chaubey, however, deserves applause for an intense, dark and disturbing depiction of the state of Punjab.