That ‘Udta Punjab’ should be released on time and with as few deletions as possible became a cause celebre in the country over the past fortnight, engaging people form all walks of life, not just Bollywood denizens and alleged limousine liberals.
The issue is not only about freedom of expression being throttled, though that was obviously the main thrust. At a societal level, it is also about taking a mature look at the world we live in, acknowledging its imperfections, seeking ways to make it better.
The CBFC, especially its chief Pahlaj Nahalani, was cut down to size by the high court and inevitably became the butt of jokes and cartoons for stodgy, recalcitrant and nonsensical arguments in the controversy.
The HC admonished the CBFC for behaving like ‘a grandmother’. This was a rasping knock on the knuckles, and well deserved too, though I venture that it perhaps catered to a misplaced stereotype.
There are grandmas (and grandpas) I know who are more in step with current times and climes than many youngsters one- third their age who have been brainwashed into bigoted conservatism. And this goes beyond religious denomination.
Anyway, after this needless controversy — and a belated hiccup when footage from the film was surreptitiously leaked online a couple of days ago — ‘Udta Punjab’ releases today in theatres across the country.
The drama that has preceded release will have obviously whetted the interest of viewers, but it remains to be seen how well the film is made, and how it does at the box office because very high expectations can become a pitfall.
One hopes though it addresses the drug problem in Punjab more than just perfunctorily. This was the core argument put forward by the film’s makers, albeit within the ambit of creative expression.
The ‘victory’ over the CBFC would be pyrrhic if the movie — most certainly the controversy around it – does not us make us more aware about the menace of drugs and how this can be countered.
In fact, the problem looms over the country. Punjab may be the worst affected at this point in time, but there are several other states that are on the cusp of a drug tsunami, so to speak, as is only too well-known, but discussed only hush-hush; if at all.
On a more specific note, Mumbai too teeters alarmingly towards a drugs related problem. Though there are no telltale signs as in cities in Punjab or say Goa, it is clear that the drug trade thrives, and its use is copious.
There is no great need to go hunting for vendors. Enough anecdotal evidence can be easily gained from speaking to people who are in rehab. The extent and ease of availability is shocking.
In the 1970s when I was in university, charas and marijuana were freely available. South Bombay was where the vendors usually operated from, usually in shady bylanes in Colaba, Crawford Market, and ironically, several places of worship that dot the island city.
Since then not only the distribution network has grown across the length and breadth of the city, but harder drugs – largely chemically produced and with strange names like meow meow – have become accessible; sometimes even home delivered!
Why, in April this year, Rs2,000 crore worth of the banned drug ephedrine was seized from a chemical factory in Thane. Reports suggested most of this was for ‘export’, but what is the guarantee that 20-25 per cent would not be pilfered for local consumption, particularly Mumbai?
Lifestyle drugs — as they are popularly known — are becoming fairly common one understands. Whether for adventure, recreation, to beat stress or for high jinks, these are finding increasing takers. The consequences of prolonged use hardly need elaborating.
While family mentoring is crucial and awareness campaigns by NGOs and the like are important, the administration — state government and police — are really the only serious detriment to the growth of drug use.
Ironically, because of laxity or complicity, they can also become the biggest promoter as the example of Punjab highlights.
We need to be on guard. It will be a terrible day if the sequel to ‘Udta Punjab’ is ‘Doobta Mumbai’. Even if it is passed without a single cut.