Thursday, June 23, 2016

‘Udta Punjab’ review: Controversial film takes uneven flight

Alia Bhat shines in a film that suffers from an inconsistent tone and is in many ways, a missed opportunity.

-Rutwij Nakhwa


Poetic justice seems to be at effect as a film that the CBFC sought to unjustly butcher, has gained crores worth of free media coverage thanks to them. Despite the leak of the censor copy of the film online, it’s minted good numbers at the box office. If only, it had also lived up to the excitement it had generated.

The film opens to two men in a dark field; one of them wearing a track jacket with a Pakistan logo on it (because location subtitles are clearly out-of-fashion). He proceeds to shot-put a bag of drugs across the border and we are propelled into the film.

A montage depicts how far down the drug culture has seeped into the trenches of Punjabi society; it’s done well, but typical of every drug-crime-thriller movie, at times done much better. The film goes on to establish the complicity of the authorities, including the police and we meet the pop-culture flag bearer of this decadence in Tommy Singh a.k.a. ‘The Gabru’ played by Shahid Kapoor.

Declining taste in music seems to be a side-effect of drug use, as we see Tommy record a song with just variations of two words: ‘Coke-Cock-Cock-Coke’. This being one of his simpler compositions, all of which the state’s high-flying youth lap up. But this exaggeration is not without purpose; later in the film, in prison, two young boys who hero-worship him, start singing one of his songs and confess to seeing his face the first time they got high. An older, disgruntled inmate calls them out for having the audacity of singing songs after just having murdered their mother. They are unfazed by his retort, their justification: she refused to give us money for drugs; we had to kill her. In their heads it makes complete sense; it is reflective of the moral bankruptcy that all drug addicts, including Tommy are complicit in. 

We also get introduced to the four main characters we are supposed to care about. Tommy is one; Alia plays the other and is referred to as ‘Pagli’ (birdbrain). She is a school level hockey player who was forced into agricultural labour after her father’s death. It is she who finds the shot-putted pack of drugs and decides to sell it in a bid to change her fortunes. Obviously nothing goes according to plan in this drug infested cinema-scape and she finds herself in a lot more trouble than she had bargained for, especially with the 3 crore worth drug bag in her hand. Next up is Sartaj, a corrupt cop who has a change of heart after his own brother ODs and he meets his exceptionally pretty doctor-activist saviour. Diljit Dosanjh plays Sartaj and is reason enough for all of Punjab to come watch the film, while Kareena plays the doctor.  


All are actors with great commercial value, but sadly, that is all they bring to the film. Except for Alia, who seems to have delivered a career best. For the first time she transcends herself and all we see is the scrawny Bihar girl, accent and all — a welcome relief from hearing her peculiar baby-voice on screen. But an even greater relief is the ease with which she steps into this very difficult character and essays it with a melancholic authenticity.
Shahid plays a shade of the deranged character he played in ‘Haider’, but this time bears only a facsimile of the brilliance of that performance. Heartthrob Dosanjh’s emotional range fluctuates between dumfounded cuteness to unabashed anger; nothing in between. Kareena sticks out like a sore thumb, especially with Alia there to call out the inadequacies in her acting.

The first half is dark and gritty, exposing the decadent landscape of Punjab; summed up best by an old tea-vendor in the film “Dharti banjar, log kanjar” (The land is arid and people degenerate). The film shifts between parallel storylines of the four characters with a foreboding sense that they will merge. But it doesn’t focus long enough on any and character development suffers. Especially for Tommy’s, which Shahid is expected to drive entirely on his charm; a big ask even for the likes of him.
Editing through visual bridges in certain scenes is stylishly done, especially in one where Alia, in a psychedelic vision, falls through the sky into the sea and swims towards a light, which dissolves into a torchlight in Shahid’s hand.

But the direction feels uneven and all over the place and it reflects in the cinematography and soundscape. A story of this magnitude needs a strong, guiding hand to see it through and its absence here is glaring, especially considering Abhishek Chaubey’s previous successful turns in ‘Ishqiya’ and ‘Dedh Ishqia’. It shows more in the second half of the film, when the tonal inconsistencies are even more apparent as you find yourself laughing at scenes that are in fact tragic and ill-timed, ill-placed jokes fall flat.

Dosanjh and Kareena embark on a contrived investigation to expose the drug cartel. As we near the end, Tommy’s character almost parodies himself as he is cured of drug addiction by his infatuation with ‘Pagli’ and an obsession of single-handedly rescuing her. It almost feels like the film goes out of it’s way to make itself commercial, as we sit through a beautiful but misfitting, romantic song that comes out of nowhere. Last month’s Marathi blockbuster ‘Sairat’ went from commercial to artsy between the halves, this one does the exact opposite. 

Before we ultimately collapse into a Tarantino style shootout which plays out to an odd cheery music, followed up with a regular Bollywood style happy ending, the film reaches its high point when Bhat’s character murders one of her captors. We see her in a mid-close up, repeatedly stabbing the man. Her face bears no marks of the desolation inside, as her arm frantically moves up and down in a motion symbolic of the barbarous treatment she has been subjected to, mentioned otherwise only in dialogue.

Despite its shortcomings, one thing the film does successfully, is bring out a strong anti-drug sentiment, so the claims of the CBFC of it promoting drugs are quite ridiculous. We witness the horrors drugs can wreak on the human condition, as the film almost channels the soul-crushing brilliance of Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Requiem for a dream’; the key-word here, sadly, being “almost”.

‘Udta Punjab’ just about falls short of soaring.

 Rutwij Nakhwa, studying for his Bachelor's in Mass Media at St Xavier's College, Mumbai, is working as an                                    intern with Uma da Cunha and her quarterly magazine 'Film India Worldwide'

Monday, June 20, 2016

Call for Entries: Jio MAMI 18th Mumbai Film Festival with Star

Call for Entries: Jio MAMI 2015
Click here to Submit Now !
For any queries regarding submission of Indian films for selection, please write

Please visit for Rules and Regulations & Entry form

All submissions (duly subtitled in English) should be sent to the contact details given below.

Jio MAMI 18th Mumbai Film Festival With Star
301,3rd floor, Swati Building,
North Avenue Road, Santacruz (W)
Mumbai 400 054

Add us to your address book

Contact Number: 
+91 22 26008300

Friday, June 17, 2016

Nagraj Manjule's 'Sairat'

As Large as Life 

by Rutwij Nakhwa

This once obscure film, with a shoestring budget and young unknown actors has gone on tear hearts and is now the highest grossing Marathi film of all time.

The nervous stares, the excitement, the butterflies, the rush of blood, never again feel as exciting as the very first time. And ‘Sairat’ takes you right back there. Bollywood has made hundreds of Romeo-Juliet-esque movies, from ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’ (1998) to ‘Ishaqzaade’ (2012); but never with the confidence and flair of ‘Sairat’. The fact that this once obscure film, with a shoestring budget and young unknown actors has gone on tear hearts and box office charts is telling. It is now the highest grossing Marathi film of all time. 

In a small village in interior Maharashtra Parshya, a low caste fisherman’s boy falls in love with his college classmate Archie, the daughter of a powerful local politician. Archie is rich, upper caste but also armed with a resolute self-confidence and sense of humanity. It is she who takes strong steps to initiate and protect their relationship. Director Nagraj Manjule shrewdly draws heavily on the nostalgia of cheesy Bollywood romances, complete with hair-flips and ample slo-mo, which the characters, like majority of Indian audiences have internalised. But he doesn’t get carried away as we are left spell bound by the stunning visuals, replete with wonderful romantic landscape shots, the rich sound design, some good performances and up-tempo editing that ensures that the close to three hour film doesn’t weigh you down. It is a worthy follow up to Manjule’s acclaimed debut ‘Fandry’ (2013).

But haven’t we seen this film many times before? As expected things go wrong and the couple flees. As lights come on suddenly at the interval after almost two hours, doubts about the film creep into our minds; we ask “What now?”, ‘Sairat’ comes back with a masterstroke. Gone is the campy romantic style. As the narrative gets darker, so does Manjule’s filmmaking; now a lot more bleak and realistic. Just like the couple, we are hit hard in the face with reality. As they realise that living by themselves and staying in love is a lot more difficult that falling in it; even suggestions of horrors that could befall them are too much for our deeply invested hearts to handle. 

The film gives you so much that giving three hours of your time seems fair. In its unapologetic confidence it does not shy away from making obvious commentary on the caste and economic divide between the lovers’ families. Something that you don’t get however, is an ending that you can easily digest. Like the rest of the film, it ensures that it rips your heart and  grips your mind till much after you have left the cinema hall. It is a perfect balance style and substance, of romanticism with realism and of an age old story with a very real setting. 

                           Rutwij Nakhwa, studying for his Bachelors in Mass Media at St Xaviers College, Mumbai, is working as an                                    intern with Uma da Cunha and her quarterly magazine 'Film India Worldwide'


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Call For Entries

For over 51 years, the Chicago International Film Festival has been committed to discovering some of the most exciting films the world has to offer. In 2015, we presented over 200 films from 60 different countries. For our 52nd year, we want to discover something new, and that all starts with you!
Don't miss the regular deadline! 
Submit by Friday, June 17 in the following competitions and categories:

International Feature Film Competition
New Directors Competition (feature films)
Documentary Competition
Short Film Competition
Out-Look Competition
Black Perspectives
World Cinema
After Dark
City & State
Click here for more information and submit your film today!
Festival dates: October 13-27, 2016
Regular deadline: June 17, 2016
Late Deadline: July 8, 2016
30 E. Adams St. Suite 800, Chicago, IL 60603
P: 312.683.0121 | F: 312.683.0122 | E:
Looking for an internship?
Click here for sponsorship opportunities.