Punjabis embrace Udta Punjab, busloads of villagers travel to watch it
- Despite last-ditch attempts to stop it, Udta Punjab released on 17 June
- The Punjab and Haryana HC dismissed a petition seeking a stay on the movie\'s screening
- Moviegoers in Punjab flocked to multiplexes and single-screens to watch the movie
- They were near unanimous in praise, calling it an accurate depiction that resonated with the youth
- How the controversy around the movie has got young and old, urban and rural all buzzing about it
- Forced on the defensive, what the Shiromani Akali Dal government has said about the movie
Punjabis have embraced Udta Punjab with open arms, dispelling all notions about the film defaming Punjab and its residents. The movie saw eager crowds going to cinema houses and multiplexes when the movie was released on Friday, 17 June.
Tight security arrangements were made for the movie's opening, after those opposed to it made last-ditch attempts to stop its screening. However, on Thursday, the Punjab and Haryana High Court dismissed a petition filed by an NGO to stay the screening. The court refused to interfere with the order of the Bombay High Court, reportedly observing that the film does not show Punjabis in poor light.
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Across Punjab's big cities like Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Patiala, Bathinda and Amritsar, the public had made heavy advance bookings, according to sources. The youth, in particular, thronged the multiplexes as well as single-screen cinemas to watch the movie. At several places, groups of youngsters could be seen clicking selfies with the film's posters and cutouts.
Anil, who saw the first show at a multiplex in Chandigarh, said: "The movie depicts the reality of Punjab. Hence, it is a must watch for the people, particularly parents. I could see that the youth, in particular, could relate to the movie.
"I could hear them talking that what has been shown is just the tip of the iceberg, and that the situation is much worse in the villages. The youngsters could relate to how their parents do not want them to visit their homes in the villages even during the holidays, fearing that they might get hooked on to drugs."
Shiv Inder, a radio journalist and a political commentator, said: "There is a talk about the movie in the villages, with youngsters and elders alike planning to watch the movie. There have been debates and discussions on the drug menace in my village of Burjlittan near Ludhiana. The interest can be gauged from the fact that my own 65-year-old father has expressed his desire to see the film, as he is curious about its content. The last movie he had seen was several years ago."
There are reports that family members of drug addicts in the state, particularly in the border areas, are booking buses and tractors to go to nearby towns to see the film.
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A large number of people in Punjab are of the view that the movie needs to be watched, because someone has dared to bring out the truth prevailing in the state.
Praising the performance of Alia Bhatt, a viewer posted in one of the social media groups: "And yes, I also wondered why the censor board went mad after such a nice movie, (after) watching which, one would only start hating drugs. In fact, it is one of those few movies which generate total disgust against drugs and their menace while blowing away any pinch of glamour associated with them. Pahlaj Nihalani should be dismissed (as censor board head) and punished."
Viewers have particularly liked the character of a politician, whose voice resembles that of one of the top politicians in the state.
The only aspect about which people have expressed reservations are the cuss words used liberally in the movie. While there are some people who say that their 'overuse' could have been avoided, others say these are part and parcel of what one hears daily in the markets and even offices across the state.
Craving an answer
This is the second mainstream Bollywood movie that has dealt with a contemporary social issue in Punjab. The first one was Gulzar's Maachis in 1996, which dealt with the issue of militancy in the state.
This reporter had covered its first screening in Chandigarh, and had seen people coming out of cinema halls with tears in their eyes.
But the reaction to Udta Punjab is different.
"People are enjoying the liberal use of cuss words. They can relate to the fact that the drug menace exists in Punjab, how the drugs are smuggled, distributed etc. That is just about it. It makes one wonder what the hullabaloo was all about. It has just resulted in the movie being a hit in Punjab. The Punjabi audience has been left craving for the answer as to how and why the drug menace started in the state," said a journalist from a leading regional daily, after watching the first show in Bathinda.
SAD on the defensive
With even the courts having given a green signal to its release and the people eager to watch it, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is now in face-saving mode on the issue.
Harcharan Bains, the advisor on national affairs to Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, has said the state government "wholeheartedly welcomes any effort that adds to its own efforts towards fighting the drug problem and spreading awareness against it. This includes any feature or documentary film or television programmes or other media efforts".
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He said the Punjab government "has always maintained that it had nothing to do with the controversy", nor had it ever commented in any way on or against the movie.
"Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal have repeatedly and formally stated that they have not even seen the movie, and there was no question of their commenting on it without actually seeing it. That stand remains unchanged," he said.
Bains has, however, expressed hope that the film would "not demonise the youth of the state, and that its intent and flow would be in the direction of our own ongoing war on drugs. Anything, including this movie, that lends strength to our efforts, is welcome".
He reiterated that the government and the parties that comprise it are "strongly committed to the freedom of speech and of artistic representation of reality or even perceived reality".
However, the controversies over the film in Punjab refuse to die down. State cabinet minister Gulzar Singh Ranike has reportedly targeted Punjabi actor and singer Diljit Dosanjh for being a part of the movie.
Besides being a hit with the people of the state, the movie will surely find mention in the poll campaigns for the next Assembly elections, which are just a few months away.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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