Punjab’s Shame forgotten
In October 2012, when Rahul Gandhi, then Congress general secretary pointed out that 70% of Punjab’s Youth was into drugs, it was probably one of the few sane statements by the Congress-heir in-waiting that were insanely true. Akali-Dal and BJP tried a cover-up with a vicious Pappu campaign to shield the deadly dark secret of Punjab.
But like Ishq aur Musq chupai nahi chupte (Love and fragrance cannot be hidden), the ill kept secret that leaked in small doses earlier with regular hauls of drugs from Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Indo-Pak border, broke out in the open with – “Udtaa Punjab”- a cine portrayal of the real drug scene of the once robust state.
CBFC’s nonsensical objections besides reports of ruling combine of Akali-BJP trying to stall the release of the movie, turned around to give Udtaa its extra innings!
The political opportunity was grabbed by Amritsar’s MP and Congress head – Capt Amarinder Singh, who had given a sound beating at the hustings to Arun Jaitely (Union Finance Minister). Capt threatened to release uncut CDs of ‘Udtaa’ at Majitha in defiance of CBFC ruling on June 17th. The High Court of course made only a single cut and a few disclaimers to give a green signal to the movie, now embellished with extra hype.
But the fact that the CD were to be released at Majitha – a stronghold of Akali MLA Bikram Singh Majithia, brother of Akali MP Harsimrat Badal and brother in law of deputy CM Sukhbir Badal, an accused in the multi-crore Bhola Drug scam, was a huge pointer in the direction of the ruling party’s leaders alleged involvement in Punjab’s notorious drug trade.
Drugs became an integral part of the Punjab election scenario in late 80’s when Pakistan replaced guns and ammunition with Narco-terrorism post Punjab’s terrorism era. With the attraction of ‘minor-risk-for- big-money’ the political stalwarts of Punjab gave it their tacit support, turning drugs into big business. If the recent arrest of Ramzaan(32) a drug smuggler from Pakistan arrested from Sowana border outpost in Fazilka district on June 13, who confessed waging a ‘drug Jihad’ to ruin young generation of ‘Kafirs’ in border regions of India. Ramzaan is a prized catch as a first Pakistani drug-smuggler to be caught. How is it that BSF has never caught any smuggler before and only muffled them into silence with death?
Any Punjabi will tell you –“Drugs are freely distributed amongst electorate in every nook and corner of Punjab. The election commission having never taken the issue seriously, the trend is fast and furious”.
Hence watching ‘Udtaa Punjab’ felt like a no –holds barred peep, into the drug dens of Punjab that emerge from scene to scene and surprises no one in this stupor state. A timed release with forthcoming elections in Punjab is the film’s bane and benefit. Abhishek Chaubey’s Udtaa gained more curiosity by CBFC hyperbole and reports of film’s piracy than merely by its subject and story.
The movie served to wipe out the carefully crafted media-campaign by ruling combine on All FMs with ‘paid farmers’ of various villages swearing that there was no drug wave as is being made out by opposition parties. One advertisement went –“Our village has 1400 population and none, I swear, is into drugs, be cautious about rumor mongers!” in an old villager’s voice. Punjab is laughing at the advertisements making spoofs of the tailored propaganda that openly smacks of cover- up of Punjab’s lethal cocktails and killing ‘Chitta’ or drug powder. Kashmir too is falling to the taste of drugs percolating from Punjab and across the border into this enchantingly beautiful but vulnerable state with its share of deep troubles.
However with the wave of Terrorism lashing the world, the scourge of drugs is put on the back burner. The FM channels also have riveted to old advertisement lines. Someone told the ruling party –“ The issue of drugs is almost dead, so lets pull down the ad-campaign and latch on to the value status of developments in the state”.
It comes as no surprise that the role of Punjab Police in drug dealing is glaring from a sizable number of Police personnel under treatment for drugs in parts of Tarn Taran and Amritsar including their children in rehabilitation centers here .
The role of BSF is also not a clean slate for the massive quantity of drugs being seized on the border. “The amount of drug seizures shown on media are just half or less than the actual haul”, an officer once revealed jokingly. The movie too includes this episode.
Drugs became an integral part of the Punjab election scenario in late 80’s when Pakistan replaced guns and ammunition with Narco-terrorism post Punjab’s terrorism era. With the attraction of ‘minor-risk-for- big-money’ the political stalwarts of Punjab gave it their tacit support, turning drugs into big business. The recent arrest of Ramzaan(32) a drug smuggler from Pakistan arrested from Sowana border outpost in Fazilka district on June 13, is who confessed waging a ‘drug Jihad’ to ruin young generation of ‘Kafirs’ in border regions of India, clearly points a finger at Pakistan’s covert tactics. Ramzaan is a prized catch as a first Pakistani drug-smuggler to be caught. If it is true that Ramzaan is the first Pakistani smuggler to be caught alive, how is it that BSF has never nabbed any smuggler before despite huge drug hauls, and only muffled them into silence with death?
The matinee show of the film in Amritsar, saw colored characters follow in to the movie hall to watch Punjab’s shame. Along with many police personnel, one loudmouthed one in plainclothes was accompanied by a Police officer. A stout bicep-tricep supporting guy in black clothes with gel-standing hair had menacing tattoos hanging on his arms. Many boys in the audience were with a studded ear. Women were few and had to endure the hootings at the drop of cusswords that fell in a steady drizzle throughout the film. The movie hall was strategically surrounded by Punjab Police personnel, on the opening day.
If truth be told, then ‘Udtaa Punjab’ is a searing flash across Punjab’s blue-smoke horizon of snorts, dragon-trials, capsules and needles. Names of infamous areas along Punjab’s border of village Hawellian, Tarn Taran, Narli, Amritsar are actual hotbed smuggling dens that were skillfully woven in conversations laced with authentic countryside abuses.
The film starts with ‘triply’ on a jittery scooter coping with a ride into lush fields near the unfettered international border, a packet is skillfully flung across the barbed wire fencing by a Shot-Put thrower, his jacket emblazoned with word ‘Pakistan’. Perhaps that is the only hint on the rampant cross-border smuggling. Drug smuggling in border villages is a whole-hearted business that undauntedly runs through a cross country network including smuggling aboard the Samjhauta Express- peddled as ‘a train of emotions’ between India & Pakistan, PVC pipe conduits, lady couriers, messenger pigeons, kites and balloons with Urdu couplets and numbers, courier- buffaloes in swamp areas. Add to it, is the emerging dragon power of Gurudoms and quack racketeers in Punjab.
The film is just the tip of an iceberg with flagrantly flourishing drug mafia in Punjab’s hinterland, supported by local politicians in cahoots with the police. Udtaa’s story runs around operations of the drug cartel, a once bribe-happy-turned-good cop played by Daljit Dosanjh- a versatile actor excelling in slapstick comedy, aptly named ‘Sartaj Singh’ in the film, a name synonymous with benign music of singer Sartaj’s signature ‘Sai’ brand played at Amrit vela or pre-dawn, in Punjabi homes, more like a prayer. Dosanjh as Sartaj plays a corrupt police officer to the hilt till drugs lay their deadly eggs in his own home. Shahid Kapoor playing Tommy Singh the Rockstar singer, is named closely with a namesake popular Punjabi Rockstar who is known to have cut several albums on nasha (intoxicate).
The simple murmurings of Punjab’s stalwart poet Shiv Batalvi -‘Ikk Kudi si’ takes the cake for music, otherwise sounding banal and nonsensical, used for furthering the narration.
Using drugs as talent enhancers by singers is a tragic reality of Punjab. Drug mafias swoop on upcoming singers promising enhanced talents with stimulating drug cocktails simultaneously prompting them to sing popular songs on drugs, nasha, botal (alcohol) and power.
In the thick of drugs sits Kareena Kapoor Khan alias Preet Sahni, a rehab clinic doctor, pout-less and natural, accusing the officer in denial mode with the choicest expletives, to drill the reality of police’s underhand dealings in drug consignments that turnaround to snare and gulp their own homesteads.
Punjabis identify with the colorful language, people, lifestyle and profanities that are common, as the four main characters build up the story. Especially impressive is Aalia Bhatt with her class performance as hockey player turned Bihari migrant. She comes across realistically with her half nail henna smear, a ubiquitous nose-stud and freckled skin with her Bihari abuses. Aalia is fast emerging as one of the finest actress as well as a budding singer. It is seen that migrant laborers in Punjab are emerging as one of the fastest growing drug consumer with drugs like Phukki, Doda, Charas, Ganja growing freely in the countryside.
The narrative of the film felt a little ruffled at times but situations leap outs, run around and close clutches the throat in a gripping portal of Punjab’s robust Punjabis turning into shitpots!
Yesterday, an old woman working in a spinning in a factory in Shaheedaan area of Amritsar related about her 16- year son’s death in a drug overdose, completely tearless, in a monotone sounding more relieved than pained at the loss of her child.
Likewise, Maqboolpura of Amritsar is infamously referred to as the ‘locality of widows’ as most male members became sacrificial offerings to drugs. Once a robust industrial area Chehharta has been ruined with the ‘chitta’, some allege the local MLA‘s drug dealing behind the ruin. The same MLA was booed out from a gathering by Sri Sri Ravi Shanker of ‘Art of living’ for coming drunk on the stage, a few months back.
Harinder Brar, portrayed as a Politician in the film is thus believable. One who is equally at ease, being the largest drug cocktail manufacturer, as he is, with coining a slogan and stretching his vocals cords to a blast, denouncing drugs in public-appearances. That the film director catches the absolute rustic flavor of Punjab and realtime settings have painfully ruffled political feathers.
One character in the film calls the drug trade ‘the Green Revolution –Part II’ of Punjab, the following rough estimate shows the repulsive scenario as Crores go down the drain- “Average spending per day of a heroin user (Rs 1500) opium user (Rs 350) Pharma drugs (Rs 250) , majority of users are heroin addicts. Incidentally, 90% of users are literate while half of them are from rural areas mostly in the age group of 15 to 45 years”.
While Shekhar Gupta founder Editor, The Quint- online news magazine, lashes–“Pahlaj ji deserve the sack for gifting Udtaa Punjab undeserved fame. Compared to Haider, Madras Cafe, Wasseypur, this is clichéd & juvenile.”
I answer -“Agreed, Shekhar! Udtaa is an average cinematic excellence, but it is the reality that hits in its most naked and goriest forms!”
Pappu was right.
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