But for its gripping post-interval section, “Udta Punjab” could have been dismissed as yet another sloppy work of the noir genre with pretensions of realism. In the end, one does feel like giving its makers a round of applause not least because after grating the ears for close to three years the movie signs off with “Hass Nach Le”, the only track
worthy of being called music in a film that has half-a-dozen songs with lyrics that are obscene but thankfully incomprehensible for the most part.
One can not, however, shake off the thought that Tommy Singh’s character is the weakest link in the plot though that is not to be blamed entirely on Shahid Kapoor. The only disappointment caused by the actor is his toned physique, which seems out of place for a wayward rock-star addicted to cocaine. But the character he plays has many gaping holes. He gets inspired to give up his addiction after a brief meeting with Alia Bhatt, a migrant labourer who has been reduced to a physical and emotional wreck by those trading in narcotics who had been holding her captive since she picked up a packet of heroin from a field, and ended up throwing it inside a well when her plans to clandestinely sell it off to someone well-heeled goes awry. Bhatt’s resolve to redeem herself is convincing. Not a drug addict herself, she has been made dependent on heroin thanks to forcible injections by her tormentors who put her body, housed in an unconscious mind, to unspeakable uses. But Tommy? He succeeds in kicking cocaine, just like that, upon learning from Alia the simple fact that there are lives messier and sorrier than his own. This could have possible only if (a) Alia were a prophet with superhuman ability to alter other people’s consciousness (b) Tommy were taking something harmless, mistakenly believing that it was crack.
Characters played by Kareena Kapoor and Diljit Dosanjh are competent. There is a hint of contrivance in the way their characters have been etched out and their lives have been made to intertwine. This contrivance, mercifully, does not slacken the pace of the narrative nor does it cause any great deviation from the central theme.
Satish Kaushik, who has got rave reviews from many critics, is a disappointment. While he ends up doing what he has been doing for so many years, his character remains grossly undeveloped. As a promoter of the delinquent rockstar, “Tayaji” ought to have played some role in either the degeneration of Tommy Singh or his journey towards recovery. The screenplay writers never explored this possibility, which could have also lent some meaning to Tommy’s annoying presence in the story.
Full marks to the film for its refusal to get stuck with drugs smuggled from Pakistan, after depicting the phenomenon in the opening sequence. Allegedly prepared and sold across the world with the help of the ISI, heroin is said to be Pakistan’s chief export. But, like cocaine smuggled from Africa and Latin America, heroin is prohibitively expensive and unlikely to have many users from the lower strata of the society. As per reports, the drug problem of Punjab is not confined to its city-dwelling neo-rich class. The scourge is being considered a cause for alarm precisely because it is said to have engulfed its vastly populous lower middle class, including those living in villages and dependent on a hard agricultural labour for their living. One does not and can not know the full truth of Punjab’s drug problem. The movie shows that crude concoctions made of prescription drugs, which give the users an instant high but are potentially lethal, have become a flourishing trade in the state. This does not seem to be unlikely as such concoctions are often available for throwaway prices. The involvement of myopic politicians and rapacious policemen also does not seem to be implausible. Overall, a good film but certainly not great.