In my earlier post, I explained my problem with instant movie reviews. There is no time to think and analyse, and the entire exercise feels like a Social Studies exam where you try to write a certain length (with a handwriting for some grace marks!). Having decided to refrain from the rat race, here’s my opinion of Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab.
The film starts off like most of Chaubey’s work – two minutes and you know you’re in safe hands. While the opening scene evoked a gasp from the audience, if you’re acquainted with Chaubey’s work, you’ll find it is typical Chaubey. His films contain maverick plots, run by hedonistic characters, where the dialogue is heavy and the lives cheap.
Even as the promos came out, I was a little sceptical about the film. The plot of the angry, angsty singer is not new to Bollywood. Whether it is Amitabh Bachchan and his wife crooning songs for, and directed at each other. Or Mithunda’s iconic Jimmy shimmying on the dance floor. Or Aashiqui where Kumar Sanu tried to find his way to your heart, through his nose. Or the second installment of the franchise which made absolutely no sense to me at all. Or the poster-boy of ‘singer movies’ – Rockstar – which I always felt was a mediocre film that began the hype of Imtiaz Ali.
Bollywood has a knack of portraying singers in a particular fashion – they are all either troubled/crazy/emotional wrecks. We want Kishore Kumars and Michael Jacksons. There’s no place for Mohd. Rafi, who records his songs, buys vegetables for the family, and goes home.
And yet, Chaubey manages to keep Tommy/Gabru fresh. There is a certain craziness that he brings into the role, and yet it is not awe that we feel. It’s a bit of pity, mixed with sadness. Shahid Kapoor’s Tommy is a mix of the craziness of Christian Bale, combined with the cockiness of Zlatan Abramovic, and the IQ of Honey Singh.
And yet, he’s not the most interesting subject of the film. Carefully avoiding yet another spiral down a failed rockstar’s abyss, Udta Punjab sets a veritable trampoline, frequently jumping out of contrived situations with stellar effect.
With all the pre-release hype of the drug problem, I was curious about its depiction in the film. Watching the film after going through the suggested cuts gives you an actual idea about what a gigantic douchebag Pahlaj Nihalani really is. The scenes/lines that were suggested had nothing to do really with drugs, but with swear-words. Because honestly, who uses swear words in really life, behenchod!
The depiction of drugs in Bollywood isn’t new either, and each depiction makes me want to snort a line of coke and go on a rampage. Drugs are always shown as an ambiguous white line, a nameless syringe that infuses crazed emotions in the actor. Or makes them stoop down to unearthly lows. Like Priyanka Chopra in Fashion, who is happily leading a hippie lifestyle, and finds transformation after sleeping with a black man after a drug-filled frenzy. Trust Madhur Bhandarkar to offend both Blacks and Drugs with one scene!
The drugs in Udta Punjab are not a rich man’s pleasure, they are the routine of every strata of society. If there are dudes sniffing before a concert, there are kids looking for a fix while bunking school. Combining the tropes of Punjab with the ease of a master storyteller, Abhishek Chaubey manages to depict the drug problem for what it is – a truly grassroots movement in a state blessed with five rivers, fertile land, loads of money, and a crazy neighbour in Pakistan.
Another Thumbs Up to the lowly, unpaid intern who did the subtitling of the film. Most films spend crores in production, and yet skimp money on subtitles. Subtitles in most Indian films range from the
to the absurd…
to silli spelling mistakes…
to hirsute imaginations!
The subtitles in Udta Punjab are smartly done, and I even found a Lucy in the Sky reference. Whoever you are, dear unpaid intern, keep smoking them joints, and please show Kashyap this blog and ask for a raise!
The characters of Udta Punjab stand out from the clutter of drug-ridden films, simply because of the life pumped into them by the writers. Irrespective of who they were essayed by, each character possessed character.
Kareena Kapoor’s Preet is probably the worst-written character in the film, and yet she puts in all her experience to play. For brief moments, her eyes light up like they did in Jab We Met, but we’re cruelly brought back to the grim reality of our subject matter, and her eyes sink back into emptiness.
Diljit Dosanjh as the cop does away with regular Punjabi histrionics, and is clearly the one person set to benefit the most from this venture. Shahid Kapoor as Gabru must have had a tough time after playing Hamlet in Haider, incidentally the only Vishal Bharadwaj film that Abhishek Chaubey didn’t assist for.
The role demands not a spectacular performance, but a jittery fidgetiness of a racoon. Shahid Kapoor is predictable in a few scenes, but it is when the scenes are tightly written that he truly shines. Over the years, Chaubey has specialised in creating moments where you’re laughing along, and suddenly feel like a pig for laughing. Like Saurav Ganguly in his final years, Shahid Kapoor waits for these moments, smashing them out of the park.
Rising beyond the film, and the rest of the cast, is Alia Bhat. For someone who began with a prudent film like Prudent of The Year, she has shown great courage in her choice of roles. Udta Punjab does for Alia what Highway couldn’t. As the Bihari migrant, she holds an iron grip over her scenes, not once can you take your eyes off her.
You’ve seen the cast in similar fashion earlier. Kareena’s character looks and talks like she did in Dev, Shahid Kapoor in his Ishq Vishk – Fida days. Alia Bhat looks like she’s still in a hangover from Highway. And yet, the fact that they make the film work is testimony to razor-sharp writing.
The biggest hero of the film, however, is Abhishek Chaubey. Having followed his career for years now, it was sad to see his overshadowed by his mentor Vishal Bharadwaj at every step. Even his two earlier films, the spectacular Ishqiya and Dedh Ishqiya are often wrongly credited to Bharadwaj. With Udta Punjab, he is no more playing under the shadow of Bharadwaj and Gulzar, and truly shines on his own merit.
Udta Punjab is engaging. Is it worth going to a cinema hall when you could download all of it for free on the Internet? That’s a choice you’ll have to make, my friend!