Movie review – Udta Punjab – Unique blend of dark drama, black comedy and thrills
By Joginder Tuteja
For a change, the hype generated due to controversies has been worth it. Also, after watching the film you do realize why there was a call for ruthless editing of the film and why makers too were justified in not going for a single cut. Fortunately, the film is being seen in its original avtar, something that allows Udta Punjab to indeed fly high. Frankly, the censored version would have truly destroyed the core narrative of the film, something that director Abhishek Chaubey so skillfully weaves here.
For starters, Abhishek does well in not allowing this to be a hero-heroine affair. In fact his biggest star of the show, Shahid Kapoor, is as far away from being a hero as Bollywood would not quite imagine. He is a drug addict, doesn’t really have great skills as an artist, is not at all a role model for the youth, is self-confessedly self-centered, gets scared in light of the smallest of the problems and can’t quite stand up to bash even 2-3 goons at a time. Still, it is this very humane element of Shahid that makes this not just a remarkable performance but also clearly his best in a career that has spanned over a decade now.
That said, it isn’t quite entirely a Shahid Kapoor show. Instead, it is Diljit Dosanjh, Punjab’s biggest superstar, who leads the show. Well, at least for most of the first half of the film. As a cop whose conscience arises after his younger brother turns out to be a drug addict, he is natural to the core while being absolutely endearing. In fact it is wonderful to see the chemistry between Kareena Kapoor Khan and him as the duo goes about unearthing the nexus between drug cartel, politicians, cops, goons and the middlemen. It all makes for an engaging watch as Abhishek exposed this entire episode in a style which is quite different from a similar premise that Nishikant Kamat had picked for his Force and Rocky Handsome. Here, the focus is more on content rather than style, and while that also means that the storytelling takes a much darker route, you do not mind that.
That said, the whole episode of Alia Bhatt turns out to be a lot depressing, especially in the first half. Whike you do care for her migrant character that gets captured by the drug gang and is held in captivity, somehow one wants to keep eyes away from screen for a while since the visuals turn out to be truly disturbing. However, the same Alia towers in the second half when she refuses to succumb to the atrocities and fights back instead of playing the victim card. Especially her first scene with Shahid Kapoor is worth the price of the ticket as black comedy comes into play.
Any loose ends? Well, at times the normally engaging and entertaining film picks an art house cinema route, what with a couple of extended underwater shots as well as a monologue or two which could well have been chopped off the editing table. Also, way too much footage is given to the boy playing Diljit’s brother. His track could have been curtailed as your heart doesn’t go out to him at all. The film is almost entirely in Punjabi and thankfully the cinema where I saw the film had English subtitles. Yes, there are cuss words galore but they do get seamlessly integrated with the film, due to which you do not mind that.
Moreover, other than the credible act that each of the four protagonists comes up with, the ones who stand out are Satish Kaushik (wonderful, wish there was more of him), the youngster playing his son, the senior cop, Alia’s abductor and that truck driver who gets badly beaten up. Truly, an ensemble affair. Also, Amit Trivedi’s music was made just for the narrative. Well done here!
Overall, Udta Punjab is a unique blend of ‘dark drama’ meet ‘black comedy’ meet ‘thriller’. A new story indeed, glad it has not been censored.