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Gutwrenching ode to the land of five rivers
Jun 21, 2016 01:38 PM 610 Views

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UDTA PUNJAB - Movie Review


INTRO


Bollywood has had a chequered history when it comes to films on drugs. Dev Anand's Hare Rama Hare Krishna was a huge success but it was more of a brother-sister story where drug usage was well, incidental. And about Ramanand Sagar's Dharmendra starrer Charas which paid homage to James Bond or the recent Dum Maaro Dum helmed by Rohan Sippy, less said the better. How one wished we would get to see better researched films like Darren Aronofsky's Requiem For A Dream, better written films like Danny Boyle's Trainspotting and better acted films like Terry Gilliam's Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Is Udta Punjab that proverbial game changer? Read on.


WARNING: SPOILERS GALORE Every time I draw a fresh breath, I am like a fish out of water - Narcotics Anonymous


The makers of Udta Punjab would have us believe that the state of affairs in the once prosperous Punjab is indeed this bad. No'sarson de khet'(lush fields of mustard) no uninhibited dancing of the Bhangra(a traditional folk dance) no Patiala peg even(A peg of 120 ml in quantity made famous by Punjabis who supposedly measured the peg using the distance between the index and the little finger) The same young generation which once was enamoured by the'Jat Yamla Pagla Deewana' that actor Dharmendra typified in his films now idolises the always swearing, frequently coke snorting but hardly ever singing Tommy'Gabru' Singh. And the old are all either lamenting like the shop owner at the border village, turning a blind eye like the senior cop who takes umbrage when compared to Mexico or simply cashing in like the patriarch of the house where Alia is held hostage. Which begs the question, how did things come to such a pass? A tad disappointing that Udta Punjab does not delve much into this leaving a certain lacuna in the whole narration.


The writing credits are shared by the director, Abhishek Chaubey and Sudip Sharma, whose work thus far has been a bit of a mixed bag. Where on the one hand he scripted the gritty Anushka Sharma production, NH 10, his writing in last year's Players was quite forgettable. But he and Chaubey gets it right for most part in this enterprise with even the smallest of roles leaving an indelible impact. The cousin of Tommy Singh who gives him a reality check with his emotional outburst; Diljit's drug addict younger brother whose helpless eyes haunt you long after; Sonu the addict in love with Alia's character who dies horribly, the adolescent boys who have killed their mother and are big Tommy Singh fans. Yes, the cussing is plentiful, the film is littered with scenes of drug intake and violence which comes thick and fast is not easy to watch. But none of it seems contrived which is exactly how the climax feels. The intent must have been to end with hope but it just does not come off right.


The best thing about both the background score(Benedict Taylor of'Ship of Theseus' fame) and the camerawork by Rajeev Ravi is that they blend seamlessly with the narrative without ever trying to dominate proceedings(Remember the godawfully annoying chants of'Govinda Govinda' in Ramgopal Verma's Sarkaar?) Amit Trivedi as always seems to save his best for Anurag Kashyap and is in splendid form here too with the'Ek Kudi' song well on it's way to becoming an anthem of sorts. Coming to the lead roles, one could not help but notice most reviewers singling out actress Alia Bhatt for unequivocal praise which really is terribly unfair. Yes, she chews up the scenery every time she appears but that hardly means that the others are there to simply make up the numbers. Kareena is brilliantly understated as the angelic Doctor who runs a rehab and her death breaks your heart. The film equally belongs to young Punjabi actor, Diljit Dosanjh who is a complete natural and his scenes with Kareena are quite charming.


Abhishek Chaubey who showed immense potential in his very first'Ishqiya' grows by leaps and bounds, from choosing a bold story, writing a powerful script, narrating it without any compromise and extracting great performances from one and all.


He delivers on every front leaving one wondering how he will ever better this. Shahid Kapoor delivers a hyperkinetic performance in a role made difficult by the fact that Tommy Singh is always over the top. So there is the danger of him being reduced to a mere caricature. Is this his best? Nopes, his title role in HAIDER is a difficult act to beat. Alia Bhatt in an unconventional albeit author backed role shines as the tormented migrant labourer and the scenes where she is drugged and brutalised are reminiscent of what Jennifer Connelly's character goes through in Requiem For A Dream. Watch her breath fire as she admonishes Shahid when he suggests they commit suicide. Inspiring stuff.


With Lootera(2013) Queen(2014) Masaan(2015) and Udta Punjab this year, Anurag Kashyap's Phantom Films has proven yet again that when it comes to making honest films, they have no peers.'Ph Se Phantom' Truly!


My rating: 4/5


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