-Dev Ankur Wadhawan
In the run up to its release date, with the hype that surrounded Udta Punjab, one feared that expectations may have been set, perhaps, too high.
Having said that, to begin with, it has its heart in the right place.
It sets out to be this hard hitting, gut wrenching movie that will make some stark revelations, expose the dark underbelly and lead one to reflect and ponder glumly about the sorry state of affairs in a region known for its non chalant effervescence and youthful exuberance.
It does have flashes of cinematic brilliance. Unfortunately, the movie lacks that smooth consistency one would want to see when the director has to deal with a subject as serious as this. The director, perhaps, somewhere along the line, gives in to other considerations and dilutes the narrative of what could have been a gripping two – hour fare without beating around the bush. By the end of it, he makes a mismash of it, being neither here nor there.
For one, the use of expletives, although not uncommon in Northern parts, seem rather excessive and, at times, attention – seeking.
Shahid Kapoor has his moments but the movie clearly does not belong to him. Far from that. Being the lead rockstar of a group, a drug addict who is being chased by the police either for drug abuse or for stage brawl or for the use of obscene words in his songs. He is good and rather believable in parts of the movie but as the plot thickens, his character displays a certain lack of consistency and fails to keep the audience riveted. He does excel in certain scenes, like the one in which he is lying in a bathroom, gripped by delusional sense of grandeur and under the effect of substance abuse or the chase sequence when he hurls invectives after being rejected and gets told that he is past his expiry date.
You find him vulnerable in that moment, you find him clearly wanting to sink his teeth into the character. In its wake, he tries too hard. The character clearly fails to develop beyond a point, being almost consistently inconsistent. Like, in that scene, where he finds himself amidst young addicts who have been following him and his style, the remorse that overcomes him is sudden and perhaps not something often seen in drug addicts. The on – stage change of heart, the ‘Fuddu’ speeh, followed by the brawl required better handling. Perhaps, in – depth studying of how actual drug addicts would have behaved in similar situations would have given him a sense of how to essay the character. He is good in the scenes he has with Aliah Bhatt but its clearly she who steals the show in those scenes.
Bhatt is brilliant and stands out in her depiction of a Bihari peasant worker finding her way in the big bad fields of Punjab. Her character is fleshed out appropriately leaving out quirky, uneven notes. The fiesty bone inherent to her role is extremely well essayed. Locked inside that room, surrounded by the drug mafia, she comes into her own. The fit of rage she gets into, after overpowering her tormentor, and as he bleeds away from under the sheet, makes one clench one’s teeth, as if, being there, one felt her traumatic pain of being violated repeatedly. Also, she almost runs away with the show in that smooch scene with Shahid, followed by single handedly taking on the goons, with a hockey stick in her hand matched with raw courage and much chutzpah.
The director could have steered clear of trying his hand and failing miserably at trying to induce romance between a policeman who grapples with being the brother of a young drug addict and the doctor who saves his life. Kareena Kapoor tries her best but clearly the quirky demands of the writer / director get the better of her.
The storyline provided a lot of opportunity to the director, Abhishek Chaubey, to showcase his mettle.
Given the menace of drugs in Punjab and how it has been responsible for wasting away of its youth coupled with the controversy with the Censor Board, there was much eager anticipation about this one.
But, the movie, despite being good overall, is marred by too many convolutions and sub plots within the main narrative.