Udta Punjab! The name brings to mind scenes straight out of a gangster movie or a Bridget Jones Diary. But, actually Udta Punjab isn’t a gangster film at all – it’s about a girl called Prem Chopra who moves to New York City. She’s fresh out of her arranged marriage with her Pakistani boyfriend when her employer suspects that she might be unfaithful, and so she heads off to join a bollywood dance bar.
Udta Punjab tells the story of how ordinary girls from a small town in India can turn the tables on their sad, evil employers and become a star in Bollywood. It’s an emotional roller coaster, and one that gets ratcheted up and ratcheted down as the plot thickens and progresses. In the beginning, the film is about normal girl going through the motions of adjusting to new surroundings and trying to meet new people. But by the end of the film, you start thinking – how did we get here? Where did all this start?
The first half of Udta Punjab, I found, was always very serious, very disturbing and almost docu Feature-style in style. Once you reach the shocking shock value of watching these words uttered over the screen once more in multiple languages, once in one Hindi movie, no less, in more than a dozen Bollywood movies, no less. But it’s when things start getting a little saucy that the whole story starts to take on a life of its own. I especially love the drug dealers. There’s a scene where the girl’s boss gives her a drugs packet which he claims is from her father and which contains “Indian crystal”.
The entire movie just spells out for us the complete horror of a girl being exposed to drugs and the gruesome consequences that such an act could have. And there’s the kicker… She’s not even old enough to drive! And we are meant to think that the only reason that she is driving is because her parents are supporting her and helping her to earn money, which is a good point in itself (and something I’ve heard repeatedly).
The second half of Udta Punjab, or the part which portrays the drug menace, takes on a completely different tone. I always thought that the drug menace in India was portrayed as a home-grown, malevolent phenomenon brought about by backward rural conditions, with a few corrupt elements augmenting the numbers to a frightening level. Udta Punjab changes all that. The entire depiction of the drug menace as something brought about by the evil machinations of corrupt politicians, and their insidious support of drugs on the poor people, has a new resonance.
Udta Punjab does try to show the bad elements of the drug menace indulged in by politicians. It’s true that there are elements within the government and police who are corrupt, and maybe even some politicians who should be kept an eye out for, but it is the little ones, the kids who start these businesses and bring in business for themselves and their friends, that are the worst. The drug lords and their goons, abhishek chaubey, are shown as vicious criminals, but what they really are (in their minds) is little more than kids who have been sheltered from the reality of life in India. And the movie tries to depict the terrible consequences that these children have to face, not in the minuscule percentages that the others have to face, but in horrifying scenes that make you want to shield your child from these cruel and viscous forces.
The main character of Udta Punjab, a boy called Diljit Dosanjh, is the typical teen today. He is hyperactive, carefree, disrespectful, arrogant, and enjoys music, movies, skateboarding and video games. While most of us are aware of what goes on in the world of drugs, and the dangers associated with them, we do not see our youth going out to parties where drugs are openly enjoyed, nor do we understand the minds of these boys and girls, and how they come to decide to join the rat race in pursuit of power, money and material possessions that will only lead to calamity.
Udta Punjab is not a film that is a’must watch’ by anyone. But if you are a fan of cinema, and especially a fan of Indian films, then you should definitely see this one. The story and acting is commendable, and the message is strong. No one tries to kid the viewer with his or her product being educational or spiritual, but instead tries to sell it. But even if one doesn’t buy into the message, the movie is still a great watch, and a must see film for all age groups, irrespective of their sensibilities.