Feminism is the radical notion that women are people said someone famous. That sums up feminism better than any long winded definitio...

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Udta Punjab Film Review : One More Blow for Misogyny

As I endured the torture that was the vast expanse of Udta Punjab, I was left bewildered by the fact that its director is Abhishek Chaubey. That the guy who directed the twin little gems of Ishqiya and Dedh Ishqiya, both of which portrayed women as independent characters, with a capacity to think for themselves, should come up with the misogynist fare that is Udta Punjab, boggles the mind.

A movie with a surfeit of men and awash with patriarchy is hard enough to digest. To top it, it makes things more difficult for itself by debasing women, dehumanising them and leaving them voiceless.

The movie tries to weave together four different narratives in the backdrop of drug trafficking and addiction in Punjab. However, it fails to bring together the various threads into a coherent narrative. The choppy feel makes the movie seem a dissatisfying experience. Towards the end, the random co-incidences where all characters come together for a resolution, seems awfully contrived.

The two performances that stand out are those of the cop played by Diljit Dosanjh and Prabhjyot Singh, who plays his younger brother. Prabhjyot, specially, puts in an absolutely stunning performance as a drug addict who gets into all sorts of trouble. He has few scenes but leaves a lasting impression.

Shahid Kapoor plays Tommy, a so called rock/pop/rap star. Surprisingly, all the terms are used interchangeably in the film. Tommy is on a downward spiral, and has one meltdown after another. As he struggles to perform, the character himself attributes his earlier success to drug fuelled chance. Shahid as Tommy is a pain to watch on screen. He is unable to pull off the troubled musician.

Similarly, playing a doctor running a de-addiction centre, Kareena Kapoor does a hatchet job at best. I was gripped with a sense of sense of deja vu to see her reprise the same  role she's played multiple times. She leaves no impact whatsoever. Does her character have a name? I seemed to have missed it.

The police- politician nexus and the way it is unraveled is so simplistic and comes across as more like watching a scene from Enid Blyton's the five find outers projected on screen. The juvenile attempts at crime busting apart, one small consolation was the "romantic" pairing of the much older Kareena with the young Daljit. Though I'm not sure of the age of either actor, my guess is there's at least half a decade separating the two, a reversal which is heartening indeed. Yes, we must grasp at straws and be grateful for them.

Then again, the setting up of a drug-induced loosening of tongue for a declaration of love made me very uncomfortable. But that's me.

Shockingly, for a movie with claims to realism, in her final scene, Kareena's character, indulges in actions that defy logic. She seems to forget her training and years of work at a de-addiction centre, and goes on to confront, single-handedly, an addict who is clearly violent and out of control.

Yet again there's a sequence where Alia's character ties a cloth to her stomach and stuffs a rag in her mouth to overcome her withdrawal symptoms, reinforcing the stereotype that overcomng addiction is just a matter of putting your mind to it. As anyone who has worked in the field will tell you this is simplistic and dangerous myth building.

To my mind, the sequences portraying Alia's character who is forced into addiction as well as the opening sequences with Shahid's character Tommy, both portray the impact of hallucinogens as glamorous and aspirational.

The gore in the movie is enough to want you to throw up. Needless, gratuitous violence which serves no purpose in leading the movie forward or furthering insight into any of the characters.

Which brings me to the biggest problem I have with the movie. The way Alia Bhat's character is etched left me whimpering in my seat, and not in the manner the makers of the movie intended.

The movie is yet another in the long list, which use women's bodies as vehicles to deliver violence, women portrayed as a victims, unable to overcome their circumstances. The movie reinforces the hapless damsel in distress trope. To top it all, Alia's character remains unnamed right till the very end. Erasure of women's identities continues. One more blow for misogyny.


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