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Censors Fail To Clip Udta Punjab

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Actors Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Kareena Kapoor and Punjabi singer and actor Diljit Dosanjh during the trailer launch of film Udta Punjab in Mumbai

Udta Punjab – A grim reminder that “censorship” is still an Orwellian nightmare in the hands of politicians….writes Manish Tiwari, Managing Director, Here & Now 365

Rebecca MacKinnon once said “A moral argument about whether censorship is good or bad deteriorates quickly into accusations about who is more or less patriotic, moral, pious, and so on.”

Udta Punjab Poster
Udta Punjab Poster

That’s what happened to Udta Punjab – a film which is a mirror image of the reality of the rampant drug abuse in Punjab – got embroiled with the CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification)  in India who blamed the film for tarnishing the image of the state and glorifying drugs – along with it being against “Indian culture”.

So, I went to see the film to check out what the hoopla around it was all about and was shocked. Shocked not because I found anything offensive but because of the harsh realities the film showcased.

Patriotism is not about patronising. It is not about showing green fields and fairy tale love stories such as Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge or holier than thou family dramas such as Hum Saath Saath Hai or yelling patriotic slogans like we have seen in various Sunny Deol movies. It is about coming face to face with the reality, accepting we have an issue and do something about it – it is about taking up the call of duty – and that is exactly what this film has done.

I have known the director Abhishek Chaubey since my Mumbai advertising days, when he was studying in St Xavier’s College. Looking at him direct this hard hitting film instilled a sense of pride.
It is one of the most well researched, good films to have released this year. Depicting how drugs has ruined the state and the politics behind it – the film doesn’t sugar coat facts, or make flippant and baseless claims to appease the box office numbers – if anything, it is a deterrent to drug use by showcasing the realities of the victims, perpetrators and those who are trying to fight against the menace.

Actors Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Kareena Kapoor and Punjabi singer and actor Diljit Dosanjh during the trailer launch of film Udta Punjab in Mumbai
Actors Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Kareena Kapoor and Punjabi singer and actor Diljit Dosanjh during the trailer launch of film Udta Punjab in Mumbai

The film is raw, devoid of any glorification or glamour. The situations are real and the acting does justice to the vision of the story. In short, the heart of this film is in the right place. Each actor has laid bare their soul while portraying their characters. Alia Bhatt looks, speaks and feels every bit of a Haryanvi villager caught up with the drug mafia – her look is so real. Shahid Kapoor’s portrayal of a fading rock star high on drugs is effortless. Daljit Dosanjh has made a compelling Bollywood debut as the junior cop who ignores the matter till it reaches his door step. Kareena Kapoor brings the character of Dr Preeti Sahni to life, further stamping her prowess as an actor.

Abhishek Chaubey could have easily glorified drugs like several other films which have been passed in the past including the song Dum maaro dum – both the Zeenat Aman and Deepika Padukone versions. Instead he chose to make a film which is responsible, he chose to remove the romance of drugs and showcase the struggles and makes you at the end go“Drugs di maa di”.

Manish Tiwari, founder of Here & Now 365, London
Manish Tiwari, founder of Here & Now 365, London

And when it comes to Mr Pahlaj Nahlani, the chief of the CBFC, he should be reprimanded (if not sacked). The CBFC’s job is to certify and you may not agree but the solution is not to ban and create an oppressed society.  After all the Indian film industry is one of the biggest money churners globally and curbing its freedom of expression will only kill an industry which has always held India’s soft power globally to its advantage as PM Modi pointed out.

Closer home it was another kind of censorship, which the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan had the stupid bias to unleash. In this most global and open city, it is criminal to inflict any kind of censorship even if his intentions might be the ‘noble’ pursuit of feminist identity being unduly pressurized into “Beach Body” fitness. Dear Sadiq, as much as I was proud of you being the first Asian Mayor to this city, the ban first made me laugh loud and then sad that even in this Mecca of freedom and free speech, the reverend Mayor feels censorship is the way to tame minds. Certainly not. The freedom of ideas is in pitching better ideas and not curbing expression, howsoever risqué, through oppressive censorship. Hope the ad industry challenges this. As part of the industry, I certainly would.