Udta Punjab – A Review

Abhishek Chaubey directs Shahid Kapur, Alia Bhatt, Kareena Kapoor Khan and Diljit Dosanjh in Udta Punjab a story set in Punjab and the crippling effects of drugs and the complicated narco-politics. Udta Punjab hogged the headlines for a better part of the two weeks leading up to its release with its run-ins with the chief of the Censor board in India.

Udta Punjab is a story of two halves, the privileged – a Rockstar and a doctor and the under privileged a migrant labourer and cop trying to find his conscience. A half that is putting up a valiant fight in the war on drugs and the other that is responsible for perpetuating the drug menace.

Shahid Kapur plays Tommy a Rockstar whose songs promote drug abuse and the only way he can seem to perform is by getting high. Daljit plays Sartaj a Cop who turns a blind eye to the drug trafficking and accepting bribes. Kareena plays doctor Preet who runs a rehab project and treats patients of overdose. Preet is also a campaigner for the war on drugs. Alia plays an unnamed Bihari migrant worker who falls victim to drug addiction when she is kidnapped and kept locked up as a sex slave. She fights the addiction and tries to find ways to escape her predicament.

Udta Punjab is a story of halves, in that the first half tries to establish the backstory for each of its four protagonists and the second halve sees their story to its conclusion. The second half is gritty and grim with a couple of elements of slapstick which bring a welcome relief to the tragic drama unfolding. The first half suffers in comparison with the over the top antics of Tommy which add nothing to the movie. Also because the epiphany that he feels in the second half cannot somehow be reconciled with how his character has grown. The first half grates and the second half has pacing issues. Also Kareena is less Doctor and more investigative journalist. It honestly would have worked better had she played a journalist who is the sister of a doctor who runs the rehab clinic – the story would have seemed more plausible.

The actors all put in strong performances ranking them in ascending order of merit we start with Kareena who puts in a restrained performance that is a rarity from her. Diljit shuffles between a bumbling do-gooder cop and a hot headed corrupt cop but with the amount of time he gets on screen he is immensely watchable and a welcome authentic regional casting choice as a Punjabi cop. Shahid Kapur is fantastic the opening Chitta ve number is reminiscent of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Kaminey’s Dhan Te Nan vibe. He gives himself completely to the role and the only reason why he is the top performer in this movie is because his character is not fully developed. They try to make him into a good guy towards the end and the transition is sudden, abrupt and a bit disingenuous. The best of the lot is Alia Bhatt. She as the unnamed Bihari migrant farm worker who ends up suffering the most is the only character that you are invested in from the beginning. Her vulnerability and inner resolve make you root for her from the very get go. Alia has mastered emotional outburst – she showed glimpses of brilliance in Highway but here she goes ballistic when she recounts her tale and the misery she has gone through in the second half. When Shahid suggest suicide to end this misery, she throws a shoe at him for putting such thoughts in her head. You know her strength. You know she won’t give up. Alia is a beautiful privileged star child who was launched into Bollywood with a dream launch but the path she has carved out for herself with the acting choices is worthy of appreciation. She is the stand out star of this movie despite a role that isn’t that big.

The music isn’t that great. The story telling is chaotic. The dialogues are either too run of the mill or make no sense. Especially the Jameen Banjar Aulad Kanjar makes no sense because Punjab’s land is one of the most fertile and its sons form a majority of the forces protecting our borders. Abhishek Chaubey’s direction isn’t distinctive enough but Rajeev Ravi’s work behind the camera is stunning.

The controversy that preceded the movie and the PR by its makers would lead one to believe that this was a movie that would make ground shattering statement that would hold up a mirror to the society. This movie does that in parts but it essentially bungles up a fantastic opportunity. It is neither Requiem for a Dream which shows the devastating effects of drugs nor is it Sicario which focuses on the war on drugs. But thanks to Alia Bhatt’s riveting performance this rises above the mundane.

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Satyagraha – A Review

Prakash Jha directs Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgan and Kareena Kapoor in the socio-political drama Satyagraha in an attempt to recreate the period of turmoil and pseudo revolution the country went through with the Anna Hazare movement for Jan Lokpal bill.

Considering the state of politics in the country Jha couldn’t have chosen a more apt topic for storytelling and the cast that is so on-the- nose with the figures that featured in the actual movement. Amitabh Bachchan is Anna Hazare, Ajay Devgan is Arvind Kejriwal, Kareena Kapoor is Sazia Ilmi, the police officer is presumably Kiran Bedi and the lawyer is Prashant Bhushan.

The story starts of jerkily with a grumpy old map Dwarka Anand played by Amitabh berates Manav played by Devgan for his capitalist ideology and blames him and other of his ilk for the rampant corruption that is crippling the society. While not untrue the preachy monologue feels overbearing and when you are playing to crowd of 500 who have paid an exorbitant amount of money to go see the movie it is self-defeating when you go on a diatribe about consumerism and capitalism.

The story has good intentions but it does not fill out the plot between the bullet points which form the skeleton of the story and the dialogues are so stilted and clichéd that it is hard to sit through. The first half of the movie had me throwing up my hands in exasperation so many times that it is a surprise I was able to sit for the second half at all.  The second half gets better with the actors being given a much tighter script and a more thought out screenplay.  But the reliance of the story on the actual Anna movement is so obvious that any deviation from the original sticks out like a sore thumb. The point where Arjun Rampal picks up arms makes absolutely no sense whatsoever as does the Janta Rocks song.

Amongst actors Arjun Rampal is not terrible and that is about as high a praise as he is ever going to get from me. Amrita Rao is pretty and does the simpering widow role justice but she seriously needs to work on her voice modulation because he voice grates on your nerves after a while. Manoj Bajpai is the biggest disappointment as he brings nothing new or novel to his corrupt politician role as this is the same role which he has played in almost all of Jha’s movies off late. Ajay Devgan is alright but nothing to write home about gone is the latent intensity of Gangajal. Kareena Surprises as she is at the same time very beautiful to look at and does hold her own between Devgan and Bachchan. And what can be said about Amitabh Bachchan that has not already been said – he is a genius when it comes to acting, he looks fantastic for his age here and he carries the entire weight of the movie on his very able shoulders and that baritone of his. This is one of the best Amitabh Bachchan performances of late and I wish there exists a film maker who can write a story without the need for a massive ensemble and just give me 2 hours of Amitabh Bachchan acting out a brilliantly written role. All I can say is Give it up for Bachchan and give up everything else!

My biggest problem is with the choices Jha makes, for a film maker of his reputation it is unforgivable the amateurish way the movie is made, some of the scenes feel more like story blocking scenes where in the actors are reading the scenes and not necessarily acting them out, the reliance on clichés and word for word reference to the Jan Lokpal movement.  While trying to keep it as close to the real movement Jha comes off as lazy and relying on evoking the memories by using the same phrases (the law is made by elected officials not by people on the street, dictatorial attitude and many more). The use of rock band and rock music to make it more youth-centric seems misplaced. One thing to Jha’s credit is the way he shows how the social media can be manipulated and what an important role it plays in keeping such a revolution alive.

Of the songs , “Raske Bhare Tore Naina” fails to evoke the “Mora Piya” from Rajneeti, Janta Rocks and Hum Bole The are just plain bad. Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram is actually quite well written by Prasoon Joshi.

I really wouldn’t recommend this movie outside of the brilliant turn by Amitabh and perhaps if you want to relive the Jan Lokpal movement. In terms of original content Jha fails miserably. Good intentions do not necessarily a good movie make.