ALT Entertainment and Phantom Films’ Udta Punjab (A) is about the drug menace in the state of Punjab. The problem of how the youth are falling prey to the evil of drugs has been narrated through four characters – Tommy Singh (Shahid Kapoor), Mary Jane (Alia Bhatt; that’s not her real name), Sartaj Singh (Diljit Dosanjh) and Dr. Preeti Sahni (Kareena Kapoor Khan).
Tommy Singh is a hugely popular rock star of Punjab, whom the youth of Punjab simply loves, adores and emulates. He is on drugs and it would not be wrong to say that he has, in his own way, made taking drugs appear cool. A police raid on Tommy Singh’s house on his birthday leads to the arrest of the rock star who has consumed drugs. Tommy gets bail after cooling his heels in jail for some days and is now unable to make music due to withdrawal symptoms following his decision to give up drugs. His cousin keeps prodding him to consume drugs to get back into form but Tommy’s uncle (Satish Kaushik) prevents him from going back to drugs.
Mary Jane is from Bihar. She lands in Punjab and starts working in the fields. One day, quite by accident, she finds a packet of heroin weighing three kilograms. She decides to sell the drug to drug dealers and make a lot of money. But her conscience awakens at the last moment and she throws away the entire three kilograms of the heroin. This infuriates the drug mafia which holds her captive. In their custody, Mary Jane is raped regularly and is also injected with drugs. Mary Jane escapes one day and, by sheer chance, meets Tommy Singh while he is on the run to avoid arrest, this time for causing nuisance in public. Even as Tommy and Mary are getting to know one another, Mary’s captors catch her and take her back to where she had escaped from, to the life of drugs and debauchery.
Sartaj Singh is a police officer who, like the others of his ilk, does not bat an eyelid before accepting bribes. It is not rare that his corrupt ways and those of the other police officers ensure the safe passage of raw materials and chemicals for the manufacture of drugs which are then so easily available to the youth of Punjab. But Sartaj’s life comes crashing down when his own younger brother, Balli (Prabhjyot Singh), becomes a drug addict. Sartaj now decides to fight the drug menace but finds himself quite helpless. That’s when Dr. Preeti Sahni comes to his help. In fact, it is Dr. Preeti who has made Sartaj Singh feel guilty for contributing to the same drug menace – by overlooking crime, for the lure of bribes – of which his brother has now become a victim. Dr. Preeti Sahni treats drug addicts and she has saved Balli’s life too. Balli is now at her rehabilitation centre. Dr. Preeti Sahni begins to help Sartaj Singh in getting to the root of the drug problem so as to expose the manufacturers. It’s not an easy task but the two manage to unearth shocking details which reveal the involvement of an MP, Maninder Brar (Kamal Tewari). The duo prepares a complete file with proof and documentary evidence to nail the culprits, which they decide to hand over to the Election Commission since elections in Punjab are around the corner.
Here, Tommy Singh, still on the run, is so smitten by Mary Jane that he wants to save her from her captors.
Does Tommy Singh manage to save Mary? Do the police nab him or does he surrender? Do Sartaj Singh and Dr. Preeti Sahni succeed in their mission to expose MP Maninder Brar? Or do they fail?
The film is a very hard-hitting and bold account of the drug menace. The story and screenplay are written by Sudip Sharma and Abhishek Chaubey and are raw and realistic. Of course, the scenes and the language spoken by the characters are of the kind which would disturb the viewers and may hurt the sensibilities of a section of the audience but for those who can stomach all this, the story and screenplay are an eye-opener. The drama is so tight that it doesn’t let the audience’s thoughts stray for even a minute. Yes, the manner in which Sartaj Singh and Dr. Preeti Sahni investigate the drug scam may be a bit too simplistic but it doesn’t really take away from the interesting drama. The portions of Mary Jane are depressing but the full-of-life girl, her never-say-die attitude and her fighting spirit are all like antidotes to the depressing parts of the film. The inherent humour, whether in the language or the scenes, also serves to provide entertainment in the realistic drama. The heart-touching moments between Sartaj Singh and Dr. Preeti Sahni and a couple of them between Tommy Singh and Mary Jane are very appealing.
On the ‘negative’, side, if one may use the word, the drama is devoid of the usual frills of romance and romantic songs and the other elements of a commercial entertainer, like comedy and the regular family drama. Also, the lavish use of swear words, spoken with great relish, can put off the orthodox audience, probably completely, but it is also this very language and these very dialogues which are the mainstay of the film and which will greatly appeal to connoisseurs of realistic cinema because the language goes well with the bold theme of the film.
Dialogues, penned by Sudip Sharma, are very bold and, as mentioned above, very colourful too. A lot of the dialogues are in Punjabi.
Shahid Kapoor does a superb job as Tommy Singh. He plays the rock star to the hilt, with all his eccentricities. As a drug addict too, he is excellent. His performance in the film would be counted as one of his best so far. His facial expressions and body language are a treat to watch. Alia Bhatt, completely deglamorised, is outstanding in the role of the Bihari girl who gets sucked into the world of drugs and prostitution. Her performance is so natural that one can’t help but heap praises on her. She makes her character cent per cent believable. Her make-up deserves special mention. Kareena Kapoor Khan lives the role of the doctor on a mission. She looks glamorous and acts with effortless ease. Her romantic moments with Sartaj Singh are very cute. Diljit Dosanjh is another powerhouse of talent. He plays the unscrupulous police officer whose conscience is suddenly awakened, with aplomb. In North India in general and in Punjab in particular, Diljit will be a major draw for the audience because of his superstardom in Punjabi cinema. Satish Kaushik is endearing as Tommy Singh’s uncle. Manav Vij makes his presence felt as the spineless police inspector, Jujhar Singh. Suhail Nayyar is lovely as Jassi. Vansh Bhardwaj has his moments as Sonu. Prabhjyot Singh is effective as Balli. Kamal Tewari leaves a mark in the role of MP Maninder Brar. Rajesh Kumar Sharma (as Kaka), Mahabir Bhullar (as Veerji), Suvinder Vicky (as Kuku) and Dilawar Sidhu (as Bhandi) lend admirable support. Kaizad Kotwal, Vishal Handa, Pawan Singh, Satwant Kaur, Anita Sab- dheesh, Satpal Singh, Nina Tiwana, Swairaj Sandhu and the rest are adequate.
Abhishek Chaubey’s direction is praiseworthy. He has adopted a narrative style which goes perfectly well with the rawness of the drama, keeping the target audience (youth) in mind. He has extracted great performances from out of the actors. Amit Trivedi’s music is a big plus point. ‘Chitave’, ‘Udd da Punjab’ and ‘Ikk kudi’ are superbly tuned songs. The other songs are also very nice. Lyrics (late Shiv Kumar Batalvi, Shellee and Varun Grover) are wonderful. Sudeesh Adhana’s choreography is in synch with the mood of the film and the characters on whom the songs are picturised. Naren Chandavarkar and Benedict Taylor’s background music is extraordinary. Rajeev Ravi’s cinematography deserves distinction marks. Action scenes, choreographed by Harpal Singh and Ravi Kumar, are raw. Subrata Chakraborty and Amit Ray’s production designing is lovely. Meghna Sen has done a swell job of the film’s editing.
On the whole, Udta Punjab is a dark film but yet, it is an entertaining fare. It may be for a limited audience only, but the size of the target audience is big enough to see the film cross the average mark and generate profits. This, despite the fact that revenues from sale of satellite rights will be very limited. Business in Punjab will be excellent for obvious reasons.