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Udta Punjab [2016] : Grim Realities & Hazy Truths!

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When a drug induced haze appears in front of your eyes, all you see is a ray of stark white light that seems to get you to your happy place, but never does. You not only lose your sense of reality but you also lose yourself and that draining feeling never stops.  There are times when people push themselves in order to fight the clutches of the hazy feeling that uplifts you from reality, shattering you piece by piece. Some get saved and some don’t. The grimmest consequences that occur during these episodic sedation are often poured onto innocent people who have nothing to do with being the by-products of this fake realism in the first place. Udta Punjab is an important film because it presents the grim-reality of surrounding and surrendering oneself to this fake realism in order to escape the harsh reality of waiting for the good days to come back.

Set in present day Punjab, Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab spreads through three plot lines. The first one deals with the hip & crazy Tommy Singh (Shahid Kapoor). A coke crazed pop-star who snorts lines without dismantling the difference between his intake and his functional outtake (Read: Cock). Since he has run out of steam and is literally on the verge of his expiration date, his pitfalls with music producers and political parties aren’t doing him any good.

The second one revolves around this girl from Bihar (Alia Bhatt), an ex-hockey champion who has resorted to working in Punjab as she has gone through a familial fallout. The film picks her up as she stumbles on a packet of cross-border endorsed heroine. Planning to make a quick buck out of it, she mingles herself into the dark and wretched world of heroine addiction where she isn’t just forced to favor substance abuse but is readily forced into sexual abuse too.

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The third one revolves around Sartaj (Diljit Dosanjh), a one star, corrupt police officer who suddenly has a change of sides when he finds his own little brother OD’ing on a chemically manufactured drug. He, along with Dr. Preet Sahani (Kareena Kapoor), decide to unmask the whole system that involves political parties, corrupt cops & a lot more of the drug induced youth of Punjab.

Coming to the film, Udta Punjab sets the right foot at the right time. The set condition in Punjab is desolating into one that doesn’t seem to wake up from the overdose of snippets of drugs of all kinds and creeds. From people who work at general stores to rockstars who write involuntary anthems about how cool it is to intake worthless substances has gradually increased to a wholesome number. The film commutes on this very problem that is indecently ruining the youth of a state know as the land of the five rivers. But, the film is not just about the state or even the country. It is about a general idea which doesn’t seem to help people in any way. The way Chaubey shows his vulnerable characters; some being forced to substance abuse, whilst some forcing themselves into it, makes it all the more authentic. 

In one of my favorite scenes we see our two main characters, coming from totally different leagues – laughing,  shouting and arguing about who is the bigger culprit. While they talk and break the wall of unrelated obnoxious rage, they soon realize how they are their own enemy. How they have fallen into the clutches of self-loathing and situational consistency, retorting to the intake of drugs in the first place. Chaubey’s film also sheds light on how drug abuse not only harms an individual but a family, a state and the country on a whole. 

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However, there is a very irrelevant feeling that looms over Udta Punjab, which makes it a mere exercise and not a bold statement. There are times when the film gets obnoxiously loud and rallies along unwanted scenes that don’t make or move the film forward in any way. The first half of the film specially feels off-kilter and there isn’t much that is done in the name of character development. The editing of the film gives you a feeling of latching onto half-thought set pieces that don’t form a collective strength on their own. We see Tommy suffering to continuously bring out some originality and newness to his songs. Similar to that, Chaubey’s film lacks the originality and pitch-black humor that we have seen him sprinkle in his previous films (i.e Ishqiya & Dedh Ishqiya). But thankfully, the muddled up genre that the first half of Udta Punjab falls under is soon snorted out and things start being bolder and funnier in the later half. 

The other big disappointment of Udta Punjab is its use of music. The film doesn’t really use the music in its favor and hence most of the tracks just feel out of place. The performances however are top notch. Every single person from Alia Bhatt to Shahid Kapoor to Kareena Kapoor Khan and the glowing surprise, Diljith Dosanjh all pitch in their best. Other than the occasionally loud and fake accent, the acting pretty much waters down every other technical aspect that Udta Punjab lacks.

 While Udta Punjab has great and important things to say, it never really gets the high that it wants to achieve. It’s one of those acid trips that hallucinates and instantly breaks the rhythm with a reality that should have been presented in a better light or even better dark (if such a thing existed). 

★★★

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