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Udta Punjab review: The film flies high on strong content and brave performances

Release Date: 17 Jun 2016 / Rated: A / 02hr 28min

Cinestaan Rating

Suparna Thombare

Director Abhishek Chaubey deftly tells a grim tale despite the troughs and crests in the storytelling.

Film: Udta Punjab (A)
Director: Abhishek Chaubey
Producers: Phantom Films, Balaji Motion Pictures
Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Diljit Dosanjh, Kareena Kapoor Khan
Runtime: 149 mins
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Udta Punjab begins with what can be termed one of the best opening sequences in recent times, with the title appearing on a flying packet of heroin – a perfect motif.

This sets the tone for the rest of the film as director Abhishek Chaubey explores the story of four prime characters and how their lives are affected by the raging drug menace in Punjab. Their lives mirror those of several youngsters and families in the state. Instead of delving into the politics of it all (Chaubey does touch upon it), the director decides to show the real war, in which each one affected by drugs is "fighting with themselves", as Kareena Kapoor Khan's character says in the film. But the film does not explore why the youth of Punjab are turning to drugs in such large numbers. Is it only because they are readily and cheaply available?

While they are telling a grim tale, Chaubey and dialogue writer Sudip Sharma infuse parts of the narrative with the dark humour that they were known for in their earlier films – Ishqiya and Dedh Ishqiya.

It all starts with a Bihari migrant (Bhatt), who works in the fields, finding the packet of heroin (from the opening scene). She steals it in the hope of making some quick money, as she dreams of a better life. That lands her bang in the middle of the drug nexus, where she is repeatedly molested and forced into drug addiction.

This is Bhatt's most incredible performance. In her short career, she has proved that she is truly a chameleon. While she showed tremendous promise in Highway, Bhatt takes her performance to the next level in this one. As a girl who is brave and hopeful despite being down and out, she shines in every scene, be it the breakdowns or brutal assaults. And especially in the scene where her character first bumps into pop star Tommy Singh and goes off on a rant.

Tommy Singh aka Gabru (Kapoor), on the other hand, is busy singing songs about 'cock and coke'. His drug addiction, which began as inspiration for his music, has turned him into a dumbass cokehead. His downfall begins when he is arrested for consuming drugs and is used as a soft target by politicians. It is at this point that he decides to find himself again.

Kapoor’s character is not very realistic, yet the actor reaches outstanding highs in his performance, similar to the notes he reached in his previous film, Haider (2014). He also displays great comic timing. It takes guts and conviction to play a loser, and Kapoor does it right.

Kareena Kapoor Khan's portrayal of doctor and activist Preet Sahni is the weakest link of them all. This is owing partly to the part being poorly written, but the actress also needs to share the blame for the lack of maturity in her performance. Diljit Dosanjh steals the show every time they are together in a scene.

Dosanjh plays assistant sub-inspector Sartaj, who is trying to find a balance between his conscience and the corrupt system. But when his own brother lands up in hospital, he is inspired by Preet to do the right thing and go beyond the call of duty to investigate who is at the top of the drug nexus. In his first Hindi film performance, Dosanjh is a natural. His sincerity and ease touch you.

The film starts at a dizzying pace, but falters in its narrative somewhere in the middle, as the plot and storytelling get a little messy and stretched before Chaubey picks up the pieces and pace once again, leading to a climax that escalates faster than you expect.

Chaubey uses several close-ups, and in places leaves the camera lingering on the actor's face to catch the emotions to great effect. Some scenes are gruesome, and the brutality is shot deftly. He takes liberties in setting the pace of the film at every stage though. 

Chaubey does not offer any solutions despite offering resolution to his prime characters. The reality is out there for you to perceive. He just takes you on a trip that, apart from being extremely relevant in today's times, is engaging in most parts – the troughs and crests in the storytelling notwithstanding.