Udta Punjab: What was Pahlaj Nihalani smoking when he wanted it chopped?

Sandipan Sharma

Jun 17, 2016 10:16:26 IST

Udta Punjab is best watched with the family. Oh, wait, this is meant to be a joke.

The film has so many cuss words that you would be tempted to believe you are sitting through a recital of the rants of sanskari Indian trolls. I started counting at the beginning and then quickly realised counting stars on a clear night would be easier!

There is every variety of them in the film, giving us a glimpse of the lingua franca of Indian streets. There are the inevitable ones about mothers, sisters, delivered in trademark Punjabi style where the ''d" becomes silent. Almost every part of human anatomy gets an honourable mention, especially when Satish Kaushik, who comes up with a lively, colorful performance, is talking.

If you can tolerate the film's language — and I see no reason why you can't, since it is an honest replication of how India talks these days — Udta Punjab will grow on you. And you would come out thinking, what the hell was Pahlaj Nihalani smoking when he wanted it mercilessly butchered.

It is the job of professional critics to dissect the film. But, I can tell you two things about Udta Punjab that put it at the vanguard of brave new cinema. One, it takes creative liberties with almost every filmy stereotype — characters, the use of music, language and idiom of the narrative. And two, it mixes the dark and the comical with effortless ease. Even in tense, violent situations where blood and vomit are splattered all across the screen, the film's director and writer come up with something so absurd and comical that you can't help applauding their genius.

 Udta Punjab: What was Pahlaj Nihalani smoking when he wanted it chopped?

Screenshot from YouTube.

So, was Nihalani justified in blocking the film's release with his insistence on cuts? Does it show Punjab in bad light?

It is beyond understanding why Punjab's image should have become the censor board's concern, why a film portraying an endemic social menace should have been subjected to so much scrutiny, its path lined with so many roadblocks? In the past, we have had series of films showing Bihar's ugly underbelly--its Apaharan (kidnapping) industry, malign polity (Shool) and corrupt cops (Gangajal). Most of them were released without too much brouhaha.

Udta Punjab is a grim portrayal of how Punjab's life, politics and policing have come to revolve around drugs. The film's director doesn't mince words in pointing out how a cartel of politicians, peddlers and police is inundating Punjab with cheap poison. It chronicles the journey of Punjab's youth from the famed gabru, a word that once conjured images of barrel-chested men toiling for hours in the fields after polishing off piles of paranthas with butter and lassi, to a 'fuddu' (Idiot — that is what Shahid Kapoor calls himself) sold on drugs and a vacuous life.

Udta Punjab says it the way it sees it: fields littered with syringes, amlis (addicts) lying around stoned in dilapidated structures, a mafia that has cops and politicians on its payrolls, a society that has almost every household battling with the menace and hospital beds lined with patients choking on their own blood and vomit. But isn't that the purpose of cinema--to reveal a problem in its full monstrosity, shock the viewer and provoke a reaction and corrective response?

Like Trainspotting, which is the benchmark for almost dope-crime films, Udta Punjab too doesn't glorify addiction. It is a journey into the dark, wild, dangerous lowlife in the labyrinths of Punjab and adequately warns and scares the viewer against the dreadful denouement that awaits every addict.

Several years ago, when Oliver Stone had made an eponymous film on the life of popular rock band The Doors, its biggest criticism was that it made Jim Morrison's life look like an unending party from hell. "He wanders out of the sun’s glare, a curly haired Southern California beach boy with a cute pout and a notebook full of poetry. He picks up a beer, he smokes a joint, and then life goes on fast-forward as he gobbles up drugs and booze with both hands, while betraying his friends and making life miserable for anyone who loves him. By the age of 27 he is dead. Watching the movie is like being stuck in a bar with an obnoxious drunk, when you’re not drinking," critic Roger Ebert wrote.

Udta Punjab doesn't have that problem. When you walk out of the theatre, you leave with a revulsion for drugs, love for its characters, a growing concern for Punjab, and, counting the cuss words.

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Updated Date: Jun 17, 2016 10:16:26 IST