The thing about movies like Udta Punjab – which are trying to bring ‘social’ issues to the mainstream is that they mustn’t be preachy. Or take themselves seriously. Which I think Udta Punjab does really well. There’s a scene in the movie where the drug-addled rockstar Shahid Kapoor suddenly has a conscience flash and he starts telling his audience at a concert about why they shouldn’t get carried away by drugs. And the audience shuts him up, hooting him down causing him to lose it. I liked that touch, that’s exactly what’s likely to happen in real life and it showed an awareness of the films own subject matter and how it needs to be presented to be effective.
So we go to Punjab, where the utopian land of prosperity and green fields has been replaced by something more sinister. The opening montage tells us about all the characters and there intentions. So there is the problem statement : a land beset by drugs. We will look at it from 3 distinct point of views : (a) Rockstar who sends the message (b) Cop who lets the system ferment for not knowing better (c) Unwilling labourer who get’s caught up in this murky world. Add (d) Innocent young addict brother (e) Corrupt cop who intentionally lets system ferment (f) Well meaning doctor working on reform – who’re also tossed into the mix. We know that somewhere these stories will meet, that parallels will be drawn. And it’s done quite well – give an outside an ELI5 version of the problems plaguing the state.
The Shahid Kapoor track was nice, a little too caricatured to ring true, but engaging and conveying the emotion. His sudden and extemely unrealistic transformation was probably the worst part of the movie though for me – 108 kms on bicycle is a little too much. The Alia Bhatt track, although short on too much background was the strongest – pulled up by the sheer strength of performance. The Kareena-Diljeet one was the weakest, bordering on farcical with playing detective in a manner that would make Nancy Drew roll her eyes. It’s the smaller scenes pieced within that leave you though – the one with Tommy in jail with the kids who’d killed their mother, the rant that Alia’s character finally let’s rip on Tommy, some of the scenes with Balli, the reactions of the cops etc.
Udta Punjab works because its entertains first. And therefore educates best.