I must say if I had taken all the reactions-content and particularly language-to this much-talked about Bollywood flick seriously; I would not have watched it with female members of my family. I had thought that all the uproarious talk about the use of expletives or obscenities might have been the demand of its theme and used as in some off-beat films and stage plays.
An overwhelming sense of embarrassment was all that I returned with after watching the film last Saturday in the cinema hall at a Mall in Sector 17 of Chandigarh. It was not only the embarrassment that I had to bear in the presence of my family members, it was a big letdown in terms of negatively hyped screen portrayal of us, the Punjabis and our Punjab. Barring the character played by Kareena Kapoor ,Diljit Dosanjh ( in the second half ) and some odd one, there was hardly any character whose dialogue was complete without dirty expletives. So much so, Alia Bhat’s character of a Bihari woman too has been shown to ‘relish’ this language treat.
No doubt, the use of vulgarity and obscenity in mainstream Hindi cinema and musical video albums is increasing day by day and putting even Hollywood to shame.
I have no hesitation in accepting that meaning of vulgarity, obscenity and Cultural ethics keeps changing with time and place but I fail to understand the kind of artistic expression in which no Punjabi character can be considered realistic without using an expletive. How can it be justified that every Punjabi should resort of disrespectful referential usage of mother and sister in usual common daily talk ? It is a pity that this phenomenon has been presented in Udta Punjab as a dominant character of Punjab and Punjabis which is untrue. The abusive public display of language and use of intoxicants is one aspect of Punjabi character but it is certainly not its complete, wholesome reflection of the society.
My readers or viewers of Udta Punjab must be feeling constrained to think how many of us Punjabis use such foul language in their family or public environs. I have been born and brought up in a village of rear Malwa belt ,experienced a rustic life . Being a journalist, interacting with a large number of Punjabi rural folks daily. A vast majority of them are always courteous and civil in their language.
The film’s co-writer and director Abhishek Chaubey is a native of Uttar Pradesh. Why did he present Punjab and Punjabis like this? Why did he have this perception? Did he really perceive Punjabi character and presented it like this or there was some vested interested in doing so? Though answers to these questions are not there yet but there is sure an indication in sight. He has shown 90 percent Punjabis in every field as corrupt and mentally sick but I feel that doing so he and his colleagues have, knowingly or otherwise, displayed their own sick or lopsided mentality. I say so because people of this mental streak only get such sadistic pleasure out of so degraded use of language through a mass viewing platform like cinema. As I was watching this film and the laughter evoked by frequent use of expletives among a section of young viewers clearly showed they were enjoying it to the hilt.
So far as the issue of portraying the image of Punjab related to problem of drugs is concerned, I think it has been dealt with in the film at a superficial level. Undisputedly, the chemical drugs have taken a serious toll on Punjabi society particularly its youth but there seems neither any serious attempt to fathom the problem nor any credible way out suggested. Exceedingly unnecessary use of vulgar language has vastly diluted the real issue.
Talking about the drugs and their smuggling under the political patronage and connivance of the police, I think this has been portrayed in a far better manner in many Hindi films before Udta Punjab. It would be interesting to note that the viewers especially Punjabis already know more than what has been shown in the film about drugs and the nexus of peddlers , police and the politicians .
I agree with the comment by young writer Jaspreet Singh that if the word Punjab had not been used in the film’s name, it would not have made any difference to its appeal, commercial or otherwise like any Hindi Film . It would have been treated by the viewers like any other Bollywood stuff. Though most of the actors have performed very well but on the whole this film seems wanting in structure. It ends abruptly. Its makers seem to have “cheated” viewers while naming it as Udta Punjab ( Flying Punjab ). One wonders that going by the message it seems to be conveying, why was it not named "Dhehnda Punjab " ?
Inarguably, the artistic license or freedom of expression to portray social phenomena should not be compromised but at the same time it is also a reality that freedom does not exist in vacuum. There can be no absolute freedom. It is always relative.
It is safe to assume that in absence of its political opposition-Akali leaders and others who acted foolishly in opposing it- the film would have lasted hardly a week or so at the box office. It was bound to gain commercially due to unwanted political controversy surrounding its release. The SAD-BJP leadership must share the flak they received.Punjabi saying , " Nale Chhittar vi Khadhe, nale Gandhe vi " ( One is compelled to bear hundred strokes of shoes and also to eat 100 Onions ) perfectly suits to these leaders. They were under attack on drugs and curbing freedom of expression but failed to stop its release despite hard efforts. It may turn out to be a profitable venture of its producer but it is bound to set a wrong precedent. It has opened way for wrong and far-from-reality presentation of any group, State or region in the name of artistic freedom. It is all the more worrying that there is stamp of the apex court on it now.
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