NEW DELHI: The censor board’s advice to the makers of Udta Punjab to drop all references to the state sparked an angry pushback from the film industry on Tuesday while the controversy took on political overtones with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal wading into it.
“Punjab has a crippling drug problem. Censoring # UdtaPunjab will not fix it. T he government must accept reality and find solutions,” tweeted Gandhi, who has been vocal about the drug menace in Punjab.
Anurag Kashyap, one of the producers of the film, also took to the micro-blogging site to express his anguish. “I always wondered what it felt like to live in North Korea... Ab to plane pakadney ki bhi zaroorat nahin (now I don’t even need to catch a plane),” he said, dubbing censor board chief Pahlaj Nihalani a “dictatorial man” while asking politicians to “stay out of my battle”.
The film starring Shahid Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor Khan and Alia Bhatt is about the substance abuse crisis facing the youth of Punjab — which goes to polls in 2017.
The Shiromani Akali Dal, an NDA ally that has ruled the state for nine years, says the film tarnishes the image of the state and its people.
Besides dropping all references to Punjab, the board has demanded 89 cuts, creating a controversy that threatens to delay the film’s June 17 release.
Backing the film, director Karan Johar tweeted, “#UdtaPunjab speaks of the reality of our times....censoring reality amounts to delusion… the fraternity has to stand by what’s right.”
Leading man Shahid Kapoor, who plays rockstar-addict Tommy Singh in the movie, said, “Just because the title is Udta Punjab, everyone is thinking the problem is only in Punjab. First of all, Punjab is in India and any problem in Punjab is India’s problem… Everyone associated with the film believes the issue genuinely concerns the youth and not just Punjabis...”
“There is no film more honest than Udta Punjab... And any person or party opposing it is actually GUILTY of promoting drugs,” said Kashyap.
“I completely agree,” was AAP chief Kejriwal’s response on Twitter. But it elicited a terse response from the filmmaker: “I request Congress, AAP and other political parties to stay out of my battle. It’s my Rights vs the Censorship. I speak only on my behalf.”
The elections are expected to be a three-cornered fight with the SAD-BJP alliance fighting for survival, the Congress looking for a comeback win and a confident AAP looking to spread its wings beyond Delhi.
Even before the Udta Punjab controversy broke, the Congress had made drug abuse in Punjab a key poll issue. Gandhi had in 2012 famously announced that 70% of Punjab’s youth were addicts, the party citing a study to back its claim. In April this year too, the Congress vicepresident had said,
“The present government in Punjab has been ignoring the drug issue. The drug problem will be solved in months if our party comes to power in the assembly elections.”
The BJP’s spokespersons refused to comment on what they called an issue related to films.