UDTA PUNJAB GIVES YOU A 'SUBSTANTIAL' HIGH
Four parallel tracks, that of a Punjabi rockstar, Tommy Singh (Shahid) a Bihari migrant, Kumari Pinky (Alia); a Sikh cop, Sartaj (Diljit) and a doctor, Preet (Kareena) address the insurgence of the drug menace in Punjab. Their lives are sometimes linked to one another but usually not.
Welcome to Chaubey’s Punjab; a world you may not inhabit, but cannot ignore. As notorious as Mexico in the current context, the state that is known for wrestlers and wheat, serves up heroin, opium, cocaine faster than parathas and lassis. Yes, Punjab the land of the five rivers, is a description only reserved for the text-books. In reality, it’s a place besieged by cartels, cocaine and corrupt cops.
The films opens with a discus thrower from across the border flinging a packet into a jungle in Punjab in the dead of the night. The pink powder lands in the lap of the Bihari hockey player who works in the fields. And so begins her tryst with the contraband.
Cut to the tattooed-gun-toting world of Tommy. He’s a role model for the youth. Unfortunately he’s also a junkie masquerading as an Alpha male, who can only make music when he is 'coked up’ to his eyeballs.
Then there is Inspector Sartaj and his superior (Manav Vij) who have no qualms about taking blood money. Sartaj’s conscience only stirs when he realises his younger brother, Prabhjyot Singh (Balli) is a victim.
Completing the quartet is the Florence Nightingale doctor who rehabilitates addicts and moonlights as a reporter, hoping her report on narcotics will save the day.
Chaubey uses a part-documentary-part-mainstream approach here. Post interval, the film is sometimes too indulgent and sluggish. Also this is not your sunny-side up cinema. It is stark and makes you cringe. However, its victory lies in making you empathise with its characters. As Alia and Shahid, both victims of drug and physical abuse fight their demons and destinies, you shed a silent tear. Shahid has got his act pat but Alia beats everyone hollow. Kareena and Diljit are adept. This review also doffs a hat to the nuanced performances of Satish Kaushik, Prabhjyot Singh and Manav Vij.
Important: A lot of the dialogues are in Punjabi but the subtitles help.