Thanks to Pahlaj Nihalni’s ceaseless attempts to win Modiji’s Number One chamcha award and Arvind Kejriwal’s equally persistent attempt to make pretty much everything about him, and the pre-release brouhaha fitting perfectly in with the narrative of “intolerant as North Korea”, which in the absence of a functioning opposition has emerged as Modi’s biggest enemy, an idea rather than a party, Udta Punjab was political even before it hit the screens.
And once you have seen it, you realize, that regardless of what came before it, Udta Punjab was always going to be political, intensely political.
Everyone knew Bihar had no law. Thank you Prakash Jha. Everyone knew that Bhais rule Mumbai. Every Sanjay Dutt film tells us that.
But Punjab? Wasn’t it, for the rest of India, the land of plenty, of rustic simplicity, of sarson da khet through which lovers ran into each other’s arms, of “Singh is King”s, jolly bhangra-dancing and loud-laughing, of hearts bigger than the outdoors, of bravery, friendship and love?
Not any more. Broken buildings and broken men in their shadows, catatonic from drugs, politicians handing out bottles of drugs in lieu of blankets, the police under the control of politicians and the drug-mafia (beat the driver, as a wisened cop says, but don’t damage the trucks of the drug-transporters, because, as we know, in Punjab, a truck is personal), toxic intoxicants available in neighborhood pharmacies, violence and sexual slavery in place of dance and love, and foul language that would make Gulzar go “ma di behen di”.
How did that Punjab become this Punjab, how did the sylvan fantasy become this post-apocalyptic dystopian nightmare?
Questions will be asked, by those whose idea of India is from what they watch in films, and the answers, they will find if they care to follow up, will be political.