First Movie Review: Udta Punjab

City 1016's Lokesh Dharmani watched the film and had this to say
First Movie Review: Udta Punjab
Lokesh Dharmani

Shahid Kapoor

Read more about Shahid Kapoor

DIRECTOR: Abhishek Chaubey
STARRING: Shahid Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Alia Bhatt and Diljit Dosanjh
RATING:  3.5 stars

The title of the film is a smart pun on Punjab, a state that is usually high on love and spirit, is now high on substance.

Udta Punjab starts with a packet of drugs being hurled across the border. Some might think it’s an exaggeration. It’s not. The supply of drugs in our country has been as ridiculously simple as this for almost a decade now. And it’s no exaggeration that 73.5 % of Punjab’s youth is under the spell of substance. It’s no exaggeration that drugs worth INR 2000 crores finds its way to India, making it one of the busiest drug transit points in the world. It’s certainly no exaggeration that there are illegal chemist shops in Punjab, selling synthetic drugs with no prescription and the state has more number of liquor shops than government schools. To know that Punjab is in jeopardy is important to understand and appreciate Udta Punjab.

What I particularly liked is the characterisation of the film. A pseudo pop star Tommy (Shahid), a Bihari hockey player (Alia), a doctor Preet (Kareena Kapoor) and a policeman Sartaj (Diljit Dosanjh) are four lead characters that give us great insights not into the sad affairs of Punjab but the generation’s strange ideas of cool and the system’s apathy and corruption.

Tommy Singh is such a smart representation of all the Honey Singhs and Badshahs of the world, their regressive yet so popular music and how they are the youth icons. Tommy’s massive fan following reflects this generation’s idea of cool that ends up celebrating the fool. All this is beautifully rooted to the issue of the film, without ever celebrating or glamorising the pop star in name of humour or otherwise. There is brief scene where Sartaj’s young brother is locked in his room. When he opens the room, he is seen wearing fluorescent green coolers indoors. A simple scene that establishes how star-struck he is with Tommy.

If Tommy is the youth of Punjab, so are Preet and Sartaj, who despite being in the system find it difficult to fight the vice. Then there is the Bihari hockey player whose pursuit of good times lands her in a nightmare. The first half of the film scores high on the screenplay as it seamlessly shifts from one character’s story to the other, taking us through Punjab’s gorgeous houses and fields. Ah, that dining table, the flower print bed sheets, and the curtains hanging on that 1980s window that opens to beautiful green expanses.

Also, a special mention to Sudip Sharma who has penned down the dialogues of the film. Very rarely we get to see lines that are written in the film’s context. Writers either crack jokes or write to shock people. Udta Punjab is a refreshing change. Sudip has managed the small-town language rather well. He uses a lot of cuss words, rarely glamorising it, rarely trying to shock the viewers.

The performances of Udta Punjab are equally brilliant. Shahid and Alia anyway play characters with unique quirks. There is a lot to play with and they both do a decent job. It’s funny how dumb Alia jokes went viral where as she is the brightest, the smartest girl amongst the young crop of actors. Her film choices are proof enough of her intelligence. It takes a great deal of courage to pick a role like this and an equal deal of talent to pull it off. There is one particular scene where she reveals her story. I felt her pain. She is brilliant.

Kareena Kapoor Khan is efficient except strangely Geet from Jab We Met keeps popping up every now and then in an otherwise consistently good performance.

Diljit Dosanjh nails it in his debut. He gives such a balanced performance, feeling just the right amount of romance or grief, never dramatising it, never overdoing it.

The second half, however, loses its focus, like most Hindi films, and starts addressing love stories. On one hand, it’s heartwarming to see human connections that can happen at most unlikely places but alas the film derails from what it set me up for. Also, Tommy’s change of heart, despite being reasoned out, looks too hurried and unconvincing. The fact that there is no media involved as Preet and Sartaj start investigating the drug racket is also jarring.

The ending of the film also feels a bit abrupt. But how else could a film end when the battle against drugs is still on? Imagine a state with its first line of control has one third of its youth population addicted to substances. That’s more dangerous than terrorism.

I think we all must watch Udta Punjab and educate ourselves.  


5 stars: Loved it. (This could make to top ten movies you must watch before you die!)
4 stars: Liked it. Recommend it. (This will help you sound intellectual and give you stuff to add at water cooler conversations.)
3 stars: Didn’t hurt. Watch it once.
2 stars: It put me to sleep. Watch it if you are an insomniac or a newly wedded couple. Winks!
1 star: Do I even need to explain this?