There was a time when it seemed as through the controversies around Udta Punjab would smother the film even before its release.
A protracted and highly public battle with the Central Board of Film Certification that saw several political parties jump onto the bandwagon and an online leak of the complete film, the night before its release made Udta Punjab's trip to the theatres a beleaguered one. Ultimately, Udta Punjab was deemed a triumph for all those involved in the making of it — its phenomenal cast of actors (Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Diljit Dosanjh and Kareena Kapoor), its director (Abhishek Chaubey) and its producers (Anurag Kashyap and Phantom Films).
But months after the film's release, a fresh controversy has raised its head.
Udta Punjab — which had been commended for its exposé on the problem of widespread drub abuse in the state of Punjab — now finds itself in the dock with allegations of plagiarism.
A report in the Times of India dated 23 September stated that several aspects of Udta Punjab's script were copied from a 2002 British novel High Society.
While the report itself didn't garner much attention, a few days later, several other publications also examined the charges. On comparing the novel, written by Ben Elton, and Udta Punjab (scripted by Sudip Sharma and Abhishek Chaubey), Scroll found several similarities.
Among these were the names of the protagonists of High Society and Udta Punjab (one is a pop star named Tommy, the other is a rock star with the same name), the circumstances of the meeting between Tommy and the female characters Jessie/Mary Jane (Alia Bhatt), Jessie/Mary Jane's back story (both run away from home after their dreams of becoming sports stars are quashed) and several other specific instances, such as the tattoo Tommy (in both stories) has inked.
However, there are obvious differences as well: The setting is the obvious one. And the second is the tone Elton and Sharma/Chaubey have taken towards their works. High Society is described as a dark comedy, and the writer's overarching point of view was that all drugs — be it heroine or marijuana — should be legalised. Sharma/Chaubey in Udta Punjab, however, have offered more of an indictment of how the drug problem was allowed to grow unchecked in the state of Punjab. It has a message of rehabilitation.
In an interview with Scroll, Sharma said that if anything, Udta Punjab was inspired by Traffic (2000), although he added that he had read Elton's novel "a long time ago" and "didn't remember most of it".
Anurag Kashyap, one of the producers on the film, has now clarified about this row to The Hindu, "I know for a fact that my director and writer went and spent a lot of time in Punjab researching the film, and have seen the research. If they were in any way inspired by the book, which only they know, they have done a damn good job in the writing of the script. Because the film that I read and I saw, seemed very very rooted in the land."