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Udta Punjab’, ‘Sultan’ and ‘Dangal’ show new social, political realities of Punjab and Haryana

The latest Bollywood blockbuster to speak of Punjab (Udta Punjab) is the horrific account of the youth of the state doing drugs. Meanwhile, two superstar films hitting the big screen with tales of the rural heartland of Haryana, are Sultan and Dangal. Riding on Salman Khan and Aamir Khan, the two mega-flicks bring to the fore stories of the youth of Haryana, muscling their way into sporting glory.

Desperate efforts were made to scuttle a big budget film like Udta Punjab, because it spoke the awful truth of the state. Meanwhile, the youth of Haryana, charged with the glamour of being celebrities, are rewriting their destinies.

This is the social and political reality of the two agrarian north Indian states today. Nobody expects the Punjab drug story to change anytime soon. This crisis has hugely empowered the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is now trying to bulldoze its way into the power corridors of the Punjab Secretariat in Chandigarh.

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Haryana, meanwhile, keeps its focus squarely on sports, and has consistently punched much above its weight. Following the Commonwealth Games of 2010, that if Haryana were a country, it would be fifth on the gold medal winners’ tally, after Australia, England, Canada.

Fifteen of India’s 38 gold medals at the Commonwealth Games — nearly 40 per cent of the country’s best-ever haul — were won by athletes from Haryana. The state continued its supremacy over Indian sports in the 2012 London Olympics. Out of the six medals won by India in the London Olympics, four were bagged by players associated with Haryana.

Assembly elections in Punjab are due early next year. Youth power is one of the major routes that AAP wants to take to chart its victory path in the state. Along with promises for better opportunities for education, AAP is out to storm sports turf in the northern state to wrestle political power from arch rivals Congress and SAD-BJP.

Unveiling the party’s Youth Manifesto on July 3, AAP supremo  promised the Punjab Olympic Mission to encourage and empower Punjab sportspersons to win medals for the state. The party’s ‘Youth Manifesto’ also provides for a sports university & three additional sports colleges to encourage sport among Punjab’s youth. It promises the highest prize money of all states for achievement in sports. The prize for an Olympic gold medal – Rs 5 crore!

Despite drug abuse tearing through the  Punjabi pride, physical strength and valour continues to run through the state’s DNA. The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) has failed to animate Punjab sports at grassroot level. This is where  has sensed a huge opportunity. AAP has promised to launch ‘Khedo Punjab’, a mass movement in sports, if voted to power in the 2017 Assembly elections.

Among the sports initiatives promised by AAP is the decision to identify and adopt 500 talented sportspersons, whose training, diet and fitness will be provided free by the state. There is dire need to give the youth story of Punjab a bright turn.

Last year, the Union Sports Ministry had drawn up an ambitious Target Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme for the Rio Olympics in August 2016. As part of the TOP scheme, star sportspersons from all over the country were allocated funds for enhanced fitness and training for the world’s biggest sporting extravaganza.

Here too, Haryana had emerged as India’s medal factory.

State-wise, Haryana continued its run as the sporting powerhouse of the country, with 16 athletes listed as beneficiaries under the TOP scheme in the first two lists. Most of them were wrestlers and boxers. Star grappler Sushil Kumar led the pack, which also had Yogeshwar Dutt, Bajrang Kumar, Amit Kumar and the Phogat sisters — Vinesh and Babita — in it.

Among the pugilists, Vijender Singh, Mandeep Jangra, Sumit Sangwan, Vikas Krishan and Pinki Jangra were the beneficiaries under the scheme. Later Vijender Singh, India’s most celebrated pugilist, was dropped from the list of beneficiaries under TOP because he had bid goodbye to amateur boxing and turned professional.

Discus thrower Seema Antil and marathon man Sandeep Kumar also benefitted from TOPS. Shooters Sanjeev Rajput, Shweta Chaudhary and Anisa Sayyed were the other Haryana athletes under the sports ministry’s pioneer project.

By comparison, Punjab’s tally was nearly half of what Haryana has scored among the TOP beneficiaries.
In the first two lists, Punjab had only nine Rio hopefuls under the TOP scheme. Its maximum representation was in the field of athletics. Triple jumper Arpinder Singh, shot putter Inderjeet Singh, marathon runner Khushbir Kaur, relay runner Mandeep Kaur and discus thrower Navjeet Kaur Dhillon are Punjab’s flag-bearers under the scheme.

Youth power will play a key role in the Assembly elections in Punjab in 2017. AAP plans to go ballistic with its various campaigns to draw the youth to its fold.

In the 2014 Parliamentary polls, Punjab had close to 4.7 lakh voters in the 18-19 age group. The party had emerged as the giant killer in Punjab, by wresting four of the thirteen Parliamentary seats.

In its debut foray into Punjab, AAP left the ruling SAD-BJP alliance with six seats, and pushed the Congress tally down to only three seats in the Lok Sabha elections, AAP now hopes to build a ‘Nava Punjab’ (new Punjab), energized by the youth and the aspiring middle class of the state.

That will definitely be a whole new flight, and a much-needed shift from Udta Punjab.

Udta Punjab’ review: Uneven tone reduces drug addiction to a near-farce

Once you get past the shock value of hearing those words in more than one language repeatedly on screen – yes, even more than in numerous Bollywood gangster flicks of the past 10-15 years – you will realise that all this is nothing more than what a visitor to many parts of north India will hear in casual conversations. It is hard to understand why the Central Board of Film Certification a.k.a. the Censor Board would get so antsy about invectives that are used more often than the definite article in real life; or why these abuses, which are uttered without beeps by various characters, are inexplicably asterisked out in subtitles in this primarily Punjabi, partly Hindi film.

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Here is the actual objection that Punjab’s politicians and their Censor Board allies would have had: writer-director Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab minces no words about a fact that the state’s netas have been anxious to keep under wraps for years now. Punjab is facing a serious drug epidemic; common sense suggests it is impossible for so many addictive substances to be so easily available to so many people, without the cooperation of the police and the political class.

Now that we have got that out of the way, let us focus on the real problem with Udta Punjab. Sure it is great that Chaubey has chosen to highlight a pressing social calamity, but the erratic narrative style ultimately dilutes what should have been a hard-hitting, revelatory film, in the end reducing the tragedy of drugs and drug addiction to a farce.

“Ever since I saw her, I no longer feel the need to take cocaine. After a long time, a tune has begun playing in my head after I set eyes on her. I’ve got my mojo back.” – This, in a nutshell, is how Punjab-based musician Tommy Singh describes his reaction to a Bihari field worker.

Is this some kind of joke?

A self-destructive drug addict has been ‘cured’ of substance abuse because he saw a pretty face?

There is more in this film where that came from. The first half of Udta Punjab is consistently grim, deeply disturbing and, appropriately, almost docu-feature-like. The second half though is intermittently farcical and ultimately makes a mockery of the concerns it set out to raise.

Three threads play out simultaneously in Udta Punjab. One involves the artiste formerly known as Tejender Singh, now Tommy (Shahid Kapoor), whose talent and success are fuelled by his consumption of multiple drugs. The second revolves around the young sportswoman-turned-peasant (Alia Bhatt) who gets entrenched in the drug mafia when she tries to sell a stolen cache. The third is about Dr Preet Sahni (Kareena Kapoor Khan) who encounters assistant sub-inspector Sartaj Singh (Diljit Dosanjh) when his brother becomes her patient.

At first, Udta Punjab proves to be a well-researched, sharply observed, much-needed, no-holds-barred account of the extent to which the state is mired in drugs and drug-related corruption. Even if you think you know, it is shocking to see the extent of unscrupulousness of those willing to ruin an entire population and even their own families for financial gain.

The intricate web of powerful folk and minions involved in this conscienceless trade is gasp-inducing, to say the least. It is also unnerving to see the soul-shattering effect that drugs can have on individuals who might otherwise have been humans with dignity.

So far so good. Then though, as if another director or multiple directors have taken over, the film unravels. Udta Punjab’s Achilles heel proves to be an inexplicable compulsion to assign a romance to each major mainstream star in the cast. The acting too is surprisingly patchy.

In fact, this film might be a good case study to help students understand that fine acting is rarely possible without the right chemistry between an actor, a director and a script. This can be the only explanation for why Shahid – whose stupendous performance in Haider (2014) remains fresh in the memory – is convincing in the first half but goes all goggle-eyed and almost comical once he apparently gets over his love for coke and sets out to help a stranger; or why the usually dependable Kareena here seems not to know when to wipe the twinkle out of her eyes.

Besides, there is no spark at all between her and the man in whom she appears to develop a romantic interest. As a result, that entire blossoming ‘relationship’ is awkwardly handled and appears contrived. Their younger co-star, Alia Bhatt, comes off better for the most part.

Likewise, Amit Trivedi’s music is as pleasing to the ear as always – especially the foot-stomping title track – but every good song is not good enough to be stuffed into a film. Ikk kudi, for instance, is well sung by Shahid Mallya, nice as a standalone number but maudlin in this context and completely out of sync with Udta Punjab’s initial tone.

It is a mystery why this film was allowed to come undone despite the tremendously gifted individuals involved and the extreme poignancy plus conviction of the first half. To watch a woman drugged into sexual submission, to hear her captors assure a potential rapist that “she is well trained” and will therefore not attack him, to witness the depths to which drug-addled brains will fall in their desperation for a fix is chilling beyond description.

After all this, then, to have a character suggest that he has recovered from his addiction because he fell for a woman is infuriatingly irresponsible; to see the film switch between heartbreak and the male protagonist’s serio-comic behaviour is confusing.

It is hard to believe that this uneven treatment of a grave issue has come to us from the director who delivered Vidya Balan to us in all her electrifying glory in the otherwise mixed bag that was Ishqiya (2010), from the man who gave us the genteel Dedh Ishqiya (2014) starring Madhuri Dixit-Nene and Huma Qureshi.

Thankful to Shahid for bringing me this role: Alia Bhatt on ‘Udta Punjab’

In Abhishek Chaubey’s next film Udta Punjab you won’t recognise Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt. Kapoor plays a rockstar named Tommy Singh, while Alia Bhatt essays the role of a Bihari migrant.

Bhatt said that Abhishek Chaubey was sceptical about casting her as a Bihari girl in the film.

“I think our director Abhishek Chaubey was sceptical about casting me in the film. I am happy that I am a part of it. This character is completely different from what I am in real life. I felt that there would be out of box things in the film and it has,” said Alia at the trailer launch of Udta Punjab.

380“I had to learn Bihari. Though I talk less in the film, but the dialogues are powerful. For a month or so, I worked on my dialect with the help of a trainer. And for my look, I have to give credit to the costume designer and our director Abhishek Chaubey,” she added.

Alia credited her co-star Shahid Kapoor for getting her this film. “I am thankful to Shahid for bringing up this role to me. I wanted to be in this film. It’s a lifetime opportunity. It’s a great story,” she said.

Udta Punjab highlights the rampant issue of drug abuse among youth in Punjab.

Kareena Kapoor Khan essays the role of a doctor who is determined to fight the illegal transportation of drugs, including medicinal ones that are sold without prescription in Punjab. Punjabi actor-singer Diljit Dosanjh is seen as a police official in the trailer.

Meanwhile, Anurag Kashyap, whose Phantom Films has co-produced the film, has tweeted that the trailer of Udta Punjab had been cleared without any cuts or beeps.

‘Good and new stories need to be told': Shahid Kapoor on ‘Udta Punjab’

Mumbai: Actor Shahid Kapoor says his upcoming film Udta Punjab on substance abuse is not an issue of just one state and needs to be addressed on a pan-India level.

“For Haider, we used Kashmir as the backdrop but the story was human journey. An issue that is of one state can be an issue of entire country. It’s not that we are saying through this film that the issue exists only in one state, it is just that we chose Punjab as the backdrop,” Shahid told reporters last night at the film’s trailer launch.

“It is an issue that needs to be addressed… It’s a real issue for parents and children. It is courageous on part of our director Abhishek Chaubey to talk about it,” he said.

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The Jab We Met star hopes the audiences understand the context of the film. “It’s a fictional film with fictional characters but it has an important issue. I hope people will take it in the right context.” Shahid, who plays a Punjabi pop star in the film, said it was difficult for him to get  into the skin of the character as it is was a “loud” one, unlike of his real self.

“When I heard the role of Tommy Singh it had to be nothing like me. He is a Punjabi pop star who is a substance addict. He is not a regular guy. I had to work on my body and look.  The most difficult part was to get into the head of this character like why he behaves like this, why is he so eccentric and mad. Those who are addicts are often hyper and eccentric. Usually I prefer to do less loud characters,” he said.

On his on-screen rockstar look where he is seen sporting long hair and tattoos on body, Shahid said, “Abhishek Chaubey was concerned with what I was doing with my hair we had discussions over it and then things worked out. I did not want to get a body of a body builder I wanted it of someone who has abused himself. We worked a lot on that.” Given the unusual subject of the movie and his character, the 35-year-old star says telling a new story always involves a certain amount of risk.

“I think good and new stories needs to be told. If you don’t do it that way then you will never be able to discover things yourself and never be original. I feel new things are always risky,” he said. “The story of the film is honest and the intention of the film is to give message to audience.” he added. The film features Shahid Kapoor, Diljit Dosanjh, Kareena Kapoor Khan and Alia Bhatt in key roles.