About 73.5 % of the Indian state of Punjab’s youth is addicted to drugs and yet barely any action is being taken by the state. But this summer’s big Bollywood flick, “Udta Punjab” (translation: “Flying high Punjab”), takes on India’s drug problem head first.
Directed by Abhishek Chaubey, this film follows the lives of four characters: a rock idol, a doctor, a police officer and a Bihari migrant worker. Each of these characters is connected to substance abuse in his or her unique way; their individual plot lines serve to unveil the depth of the drug issues in Punjab (a state in northern India that borders Pakistan).
The youngest character, a young migrant worker girl played by Alia Bhatt, finds her fate altered when she stumbles across three kilos of heroine in a field near the Pakistan border. Aware that this could be her ticket out of labor work, she arranges to sell the heroine to a drug dealer a few villages away but taken by fear, she frantically dispersed all of the heroine in a well. The drug dealer captures her, drugs her, and turns her into a heroine-addicted sex slave. This is just one of the harsh realities that the film introduces the audience to.
The film also brings up corruption, as the police officials are aware of the drug deals going on and yet decide to let it happen in exchange for a cut of the profits. The legislature does not take action either; the candidates running for positions take advantage of the youths addiction by passing out drugs or slips for pharmacies to potential voters.
While Udta Punjab is a not a documentary, the situations evoked in the movie are all based on reality. The corruption and violence present in the film are rampant in Punjab. The doctor character points out that there are “two wars on drugs being fought. On one hand there is the one being fought by the advocates who are trying to end drug addiction in the state, and a much harder one: the one being fought by drug addicts like the rock star and the young girl”.
Naturally, this film caused a lot of controversy in the weeks leading up to it’s release. The Censor Board of Film Certification (CBFC) suggested 40 to 80 cuts in the film, in the end only one cut was made. Removing all references to Punjab was also suggested.
Fortunately, the release went well and the movie was taken with overwhelming support. Not only was it a social statement, it was also very well cast, starring some of Bollywood and Punjab’s biggest stars and the soundtrack was equally striking. Definitely a must-see for anyone interested in learning more about Punjab.