Udta Punjab has perhaps the longest disclaimer in the history of films. The disclaimer has a long apology and stays on the screen for the longest time. The disclaimer carries the Central Board of Film Certification’s injunction: ‘We endorse the government and police’s efforts on the war against drugs. The war cannot be won without the efforts of the whole nation.’ The disclaimer also establishes that all characters and incidents portrayed in the film are fictional and have no relation with reality and any similarities are merely incidental. After this, the whole film seems to try very hard to fit into this disclaimer. The first sequence in Pakistan, next to the border with India, has a Discus thrower among a three-member group of smugglers. He throws a 3 kilogram packet of cocaine across the barbed wire into India. The packet freezes on screen and the title of the movie fades out: Udta Punjab.
This scene is an assertion made from both the disclaimers:the drugs come from Pakistan and come over the barbed wire. This sequence is imaginary but it builds the argument in favour of the Indian government and police. The reality is that there is a large gap between the barbed wire and the border. The security forces permit no buildings or residence near the border. Indian farmers in Punjab also have lands across the barbed wire where they go to farm. The only way they cross the barbed wire is under the supervision of the security forces. About 1 kilometre area near the barbed wire belongs to India. After that is the No Man’s Land between India and Pakistan and the border passes through this land. Alongside the wire are the high platforms of the Border Security Force and on both sides there are paths that surveillance parties take. The barbed wire is also aglow with lights which turn night into day. The security forces forbid farmers along the border from growing sugarcane, maize, millet and such high rising crops.
The same way, even on the Pakistan side there is no way to come close to the barbed wire in darkness, through fields or buildings. Even the world record holder in Discus throw cannot throw a packet of 3 kilogram cocaine from Pakistan to India. The world record is 74.08 meters unbroken since 1986. The weight of the Discus used in the men’s category is 2 kilograms. It is reasonable to assume that a filmmaker has creative liberty and such fact-finding is immaterial in an interrogation. Yet, on the other hand, it is also true that such creative liberty will become a reason to interrogate the reality of Punjab. The whole argument around Udta Punjab revolves around how it depicts the current reality of the state.
From the acting perspective, apart from individual preferences, no one doubts the ability of all actors including Kareena Kapoor, Daljit Dosanjh, Alia Bhatt and Kamal Tiwari. There isn’t much to discuss regarding the craft of the film. Anurag Kashyap and Ekta Kapoor are good at using technology and it shows in Udta Punjab. The issue is with the content. Anurag and Ekta have established their own unique positions in the film and television industry. Ekta’s serials set up markets inside homes and she sticks advertisements inside her stories. Her characters are incarnations of jealousy and avarice. She hates purity in any character and commodifies relationships between men and women. In their relationships, her mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws indulge in all kinds of negotiations.
On the other hand, Anurag Kashyap’s films depict small towns, claustrophobic locales, and the ugly interiority of people through rough language. His argument is that his films break the socio-political binaries and portray the truth of the dark underbelly. His characters make violence seem as casual as partaking food. These characters do not speak a sensitive and warm language.They spout cuss-words. His constant argument is that cuss-words are a reality of society and no literature or creative work can subtract them from itself. Even the writer Rahi Masoom Raza had put forth this argument in the introduction to his novel Os ki Boond. He had said that he cannot become Hitler and ban such words from the mouths of his characters. Every character of Anurag’s films uses cuss-words. These cuss-words do not stand for irritation or anger or love. Instead, they are the life-breath of his characters.His argument is: this is what we hear every day in the streets. As social beings we listen to strangers using these cuss-words but in Anurag’s films these cuss-words become a cause of interest because he endows them with an identity - of familiarity with the viewer. In society, the question of cuss-words ends with the unknown stranger. Kashyap legitimizes the abuser by making the person familiar to the viewer. His characters avoid any places, persons and institutions supposed to question unbridled violence and unfettered language in his films. Anurag's success is associated with the trauma of ruthless violence and unbridled language presented on the screen.
Through Udta Punjab, Anurag and Ekta come together to create a filmi story on the business of drugs. The film becomes an arena to try out their tricks. We can say that the film is Abhishek Chubey’s and not Ekta and Anurag’s. It is a valid objection; but Anurag and Ekta’s creative ability travel the path of commercialization through Udta Punjab. Abhishek’s film bears their distinct stamp.Through both - custom and patronage - it is Anurag and Ekta’s film. After advertising jewellery, sarees, and cosmetics in television serials, in the film Ekta Kapoor creates spaces for advertisements for Cafe Coffee Day and WhatsApp. Anurag Kashyap is promoting Udta Punjab as a next step to his films Paanch and Gangs of Wasseypur.
Anurag and Ekta’s characters are impulsive. All the characters in Udta Punjab are impulsive. They respond impulsively to their loneliness, failures, poverty and politics. They see the answer to their misery in the trade or consumption of drugs. They respond impulsively to drug menace when it hurts them personally. As per Anurag’s style, the film props itself up on cuss-words and violence. The cuss-words become the cruelest and sharpest weapon to depict and inflict the violence. As per Ekta’s style, all characters seek sanctuary in greed, mistrust and grudges. As per the film’s disclaimer, Anurag and Ekta move the stories of the police officer who initially denies his younger brother’s addiction but opens his eyes, the good single lady doctor, and the hockey player struck by misfortune.True to its disclaimer, the film depicts the drug trade and ends by the time the politics and inquiry into the trade starts. From this it is clear how important the court injunction is to the film: sovereignty or integrity. The court had said, ‘The film does not raise any question on the sovereignty and integrity of the country.’ The film remains true to this argument. It stays confined to the black sheep in the government and police but portrays the ugly face of society. It gives a bouquet of cuss-words to the audience and fills them with harsh violence and ugliness.
It is important to examine Udta Punjab along with Punjab’s real condition. How does the drug trade take place on one of the most difficult borders in the world? Many elected leaders of the state repeatedly say that the central government is not doing enough to stop the trade because the central forces are under the union home minister. All studies in the world prove that such trade is not possible without the involvement of security and intelligence forces. Udta Punjab evades the issue.
What are the reasons drugs become a social issue? Drugs impact the society. The health of the addicts deteriorates. People lose their human abilities. When drugs cross levels of being used for overcoming tiredness or easy but controlled recreation, they become a social issue. As the drug production and distribution is illegal so it needs to be addressed on social and political fronts. Punjab does not produce local drugs. Synthetic drugs and inter-country smuggling thrives only through the collaboration of political, governmental, and ruling parties. This nexus needs porters and consumers and it strengthens with the addiction of the masses.
Udta Punjab’s disclaimer states that it will not engage with this nexus and proves its allegiance to this disclaimer.The film has no relation to the clobbering of drugs on Punjab. The Anurga-Ekta collaboration found a filmi story in Punjab to showcase its talent. The story shows their own coarse side and the political atmosphere worked as an advertisement for them. The Punjab government and rest of the political parties are mobilizing around the film because of their own anxiety. The film will hold the hands of neither the Aam Aadmi Party or the Congress, nor will it sink the already sinking boat of the ruling party. The success of this film is in the question of how the collaboration between Anurag Kashyap and Ekta Kapoor has got all political parties to come together and queue up at the box office.