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‘Udta Punjab’ review: Despite great performances, the screenplay falls short


Starring: Shahid Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Alia Bhatt and Diljit Dosanjh

Directed by: Abhishek Chaubey

Thanks to the controversy surrounding it, everyone in the country probably knows by now what Udta Punjab is all about. The film, in its own way, tries to highlight the problem of drugs in Punjab, through its four lead characters and their respective stories. Tommy Singh (Shahid) is a local pop star; an addict, he also propagates drugs through his music. It leads him to self-destruction and to the doors of insanity. A young Bihari girl (Alia) stumbles upon a pack of drugs and tries to make a fast buck selling the same. In that process, she ends up becoming a sex slave to local goons and cops. Sartaj Singh (Diljit) is a corrupt policeman; he takes bribes to clear drugs in large numbers. His attitude changes when he discovers his younger brother falls prey to the menace. Preet (Kareena) is a doctor trying to help youngsters get over their addiction. As she delves deeper into the problem, she is faced with some harsh realities of the nexus between the narcotics business and local politicians.

Abhishek Chaubey brings to you the Punjab you’ve never seen before on screen. Grim, dry, dark and ravaged, it’s in absolute contrast to what every other film based in Punjab has offered so far. The tone of the film is set from its first scene where drugs are literally thrown across the border. Much of the intensity is effective mainly because of the film’s outstanding cinematography by Rajeev Ravi and Amit Trivedi’s haunting melodies. And of course, the real-life references – Tommy’s character is unapologetically based on Honey Singh; there is an obvious hint towards the reigning political system in Punjab. It’s bold of Shahid Kapoor to accept a role such as this – Tommy is flawed, weak and cowardly. The actor maintains the complexities of the character throughout. The impact is half-baked because the character has been sketched unevenly. Kareena Kapoor Khan is like a breath of fresh air in the film. She brings dignity and grace to Preet. Diljit Dosanjh is the scene-stealer of Udta Punjab. He’s unassuming and drives the film. Brilliant as the cop who changes colours, Diljit’s demeanour makes him the film’s hero.

Udta Punjab, with all the hype, could’ve been the true crossover film. It falters big time because it leaves you feeling unfulfilled with a tepid screenplay. And that is why none of the things that the director tries to shock you with (expletives, references, crudity et al) create any impact. After the first 30 minutes, the boredom sets in already. When the film’s first half ends, you expect something new coming up. But nothing happens. Like most directors of this specific genre, Chaubey also succumbs to creative indulgences at the cost of the film. The excessive use of Punjabi language will alienate those who don’t speak the language. The biggest disappointment is that the character fail to connect. Tommy Singh ends up being a caricature. Sartaj Singh and Preet remain one-dimensional. And her own performance restricts Alia Bhatt’s Bihari girl act. Despite the grimy appearance and the continuous usage of cusswords, Alia fails to breathe into her character. Even her breakdown scene (as if added for impact) cannot save the awkwardness. That’s what one can say about the entire film actually – it just tries too hard.

Udta Punjab has some great performances but the film lets you down.

RATINGS: **1/2

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