Abhishek Chaubey managed to do what only Vishal Bharadwaj had done till date- Bring out the actor in Shahid Kapoor. After the long tussle with the Censor board Udtaa Punjab finally released and one is left to wonder what the whole ruckus was about. Punjab has a drug problem, a long standing one at that. This forms the crux of the movie which progresses through three story lines. All the main characters are introduced in the initial song with little fanfare. One gets the feel that the story is going to be the star here. The picture of Punjab is painted in the initial few sequences. The drug business running like clockwork, corrupt cops, cohort politicians and addicted youth.
Shahid Kapoor plays Tommy aka Gamru, a drug addict singer who makes songs on Cocaine. He is a rage among the cocaine sniffing youth and his antics while high are amusing. Hindi swear words form part of every line. Then there is Alia Bhatt who plays a Bihari migrant worker whose life turns upside down when she gets a drug package by accident. Diljith Dosanjh plays Sartaj Singh, a corrupt cop who mends his way following a personal tragedy. Kareena Kapoor is Dr Preet Sahni , a doctor who fights against the menace of drug problem.
The three storylines- of Tommy’s troubles, Alia’s character’s endurance, Kareena & Diljit’s fight are juxtaposed to form a common narrative. The performances of Shahid and Alia are particularly striking. Alia comes off age with her performance. She is vulnerable, sad, abused and yet has a spark left in her and lends a poignant beauty to her character. Shahid Kapoor plays the spoiled singer with consummate easy and provides some genuine laughs as well.
In the second half the film gives time for the relationship between characters to flourish. The love angle between Kareena and Diljit doesn’t excite much whereas the chemistry between Shahid and Alia is electrifying and forms the most enjoyable part of the film.
The film explores the root cause of the drug problem in predictable fashion within the constraints of a commercial film. Credit must go to the makers in not trying to solve the problem all at once. It is a continuing struggle and the film does not provide any panacea.
Those who are fans of Martin Scorsese or Breaking Bad can easily relate to the world portrayed in Udtaa Punjab. We got a taste of the use of drugs, problems with withdrawal, manic behavior and so on from these works. Udtaa Punjab just rekindles our appetite for this genre. It is a thoroughly enjoyable film, even hard-hitting at times. The fact that it managed to bring a critical issue in to public discourse is a welcome bonus.