Udta Punjab is as immediate, relevant and contemporary a movie you will see on anti-drugs. No film could be as clear with its 'Say No to Drugs' message as Udta Punjab. The censor board's 89-cut recommendation (cleared by Bombay High Court with one cut, three disclaimers prior to release) seems even more bewildering in that context. An 'A' certificate, minus cuts, would have saved a lot of people a hell lot of time and energy.
Purely on merit
On sheer merit, Udta Punjab stands on its own as a harrowing, (sometimes) humorous and (mostly) steely portrayal of Punjab's drug-tainted culture. The narrative sears through the lives of its four main characters - corrupt policeman Sartaj Singh (Diljit Dosanjh), Preet Sahani - a doctor dedicated to addiction patients (Kareena Kapoor), addiction-crazed rap star Tommy Singh (Shahid Kapoor) and a hapless migrant farm labourer (Alia Bhatt).
A gritty, balanced and well-set up first half fumbles in its converging of characters for the final act. Splendid performances especially by Alia, Diljit and Shahid (in that order), the crazy swirl of expletive-ridden (essential) dialogues, keeps this one alive and kicking.
The classic film-making irony
That director Abhishek Chaubey and writer Sudip Sharma take a strong anti-drug stance, rather than just tell the story, lessens the impact. A classic film-making irony. The starkness and reality of its theme both powers and burdens the film.
The 'change of heart' parts, especially how Tommy Singh turns over a new leaf (though gradual), is contrived as the marathon bicycle ride he embarks on. So is the film's gun-banging culmination. By the end credits, I wished the film to be more forgiving and light.
But finally, Udta Punjab is a damn sincere film, that entertains and engages with a drab conviction. It is certainly a necessary watch for cinema lovers.
The stand out moment
A sportsman flings a drug packet across the border with a matter-of-fact expertise. There is no escaping the invention and wit of this wacky opening scene.