Drugs on War

The naïveté of the film makers was the only humor that I found in the two and half hours that I wasted watching Udta Punjab. The solution to the problem, as one of the protagonists, suggested was so simplistic that is was not even laughable.

Long time back, the first film I had seen on the drug problem, was actually a far better attempt than Flying Punjab, for Parashar not only had a good story, with strong characters, and communicated with conviction; the angst of a young Naseer till date is unmatched. It only goes onto prove that film making is more of an art than technology, and technological advancements can never substitute content.

Drug problem is not a limited to Punjab. In fact it has appeared in Punjab very recently. Till about a decade ago, Chandigarh had a healthy reputation of being a city of fitness freaks with a high density of fitness clubs. Mumbai geographically smaller than Punjab still has more addicts and always had. Goa is another place where drugs are available easily.

Drug problem is not a just a domestic problem. It has plagued the world for a long time. It is the most lucrative business with triple digit margins, without any marketing costs. The value chain starts in the poppy fields and ends in the streets of NY, London, Mumbai, on the way it traipses through blood and bodies.

Inspite of all the shock expressed by people around, India hitherto has been relatively  shielded from the drug menace, as the big drug lords focused on the Americas and Europe, sourcing from Latin America and selling in NY, London, Paris. India had some loose consignments coming its way from Afghanistan, mainly to serve the markets of Goa, Mumbai and may be some pockets of Lutyens.

However, with increasing disposable incomes the Indian market is likely to attract the attention of the big drug organizations, much like any other foreign investor, it is difficult to ignore a billion plus market. Improved lifestyles generate demand for all sorts of products. If a Budweiser can reach the Tier III towns, how far would the syringes be? Drugs provide just the right thrill to attract rebels. It sounds scary.

There are two kinds of artists, one is the set that believes in Art for Art’s sake. A film is made for its own sake and not for promoting any social or other cause. Most of Karan, SRK movies fall in this bucket, which one goes to enjoy alongwith the popcorn and girlfriend, and forget when we come out of the screen.

The second lot is the kind of movies that one sees and finds it difficult to forget, Schindler’s List for example, or  Haider, if one has to take another of Shahid movie.

Udta Punjab was positioned in the latter category. It was always positioned as a mature movie for mature audience, since the subject was very noire, with near zero romantic angles, and generally speaking a very depressing subject. It was a risk right from the start when the makers had targeted “A” certification from the CBFC.

As a nation, we do not like mature subjects or mature movies for that matter. We are far more comfortable watching a Chennai Express or any other Khan movie. Among the “A” certificate club, there is only one movie that has crossed the Rs 100 cr mark, “Grand Masti”. Reveals a lot about our national maturity levels.

Anyway, a film maker desirous of tackling the drug menace would to start with, have to get his story right. The problem is so deep with implications all over that any half hearted story would fail. That was the first problem with Udta Punjab.

It is a gobbled up effort to cross four lanes on the drug junction. Was it really necessary to have four characters, or could the makers have done better with one or two threads at the most, may be just the cop, and his brother. To get across your point, one has to get some of the basics right, like having a strong protagonist, antagonist, story development, and a logical conclusion. Unlike Jalwa, there was no strong protagonist. Multiple characters just diluted the impact. Bad acting made it bad and poor editing made it worse.

Secondly the way the characters had been written and developed through the film was hardly convincing. Tommy Singh starts out on a loud note, and then suddenly, before we realize, turns over a new leaf. Any expert would have told the film maker that a drug addict does not care about his own family members, that he would be affected by the painful stories about other’s families, although I loved the camera work in that particular shot where only one eye, very expressive eye of Shahid, was in the light.

Similarly, the character of Alia, who becomes an addict, ofcourse forcefully through some very contrived scenes. Her decision to not to continue to be an addict was absolutely unconvincing. The pain of an addict fighting the demons has to be captured creatively unlike, as she tries to control her desires, by shutting up her mouth and tightening of the stomach to pass the night. Just because the sun rises on the east, does not mean anything to a drug addict driven by his need for the dosage. The story could have been developed minus this character, and could have been much tighter.

The character of Kareena was the worst written in the film. I tried to figure out on what was she doing in the movie, until in the end, when a saint was required to be sacrificed in the war against drugs. Her acting was even worse, as she smirked and generally looked amused while explaining the serious effects of drug abuse. Her expressions reminded of her character in Jab We Met.

It actually looked like a Punjabi movie with the young Daljit being the lead and Shahid, Alia, Kareena playing supporting roles. The music was shoddy. Purely in terms of a party number, a similar themed song picturised on Deepika in Cocktail was far impactful. The last number that Shahid intones, should have been much more melodious instead it falls flat. That song or even para should have been so beautiful so as to make life itself look beautiful. The darkness of drugs need to be contrasted with the beauty of poetry.

The worst sufferer in any drug abuse story is the family, and here the film maker made his biggest mistake. At no point was this pain captured, for none of the drug addicts were shown to have any family who would cry for their brother, father or son. Even the young boy’s family is finally killed in a shootout without any pain. The human touch was totally missing.

Films like Udta Punjab actually make fun of the sufferings of a drug addict and their families, without offering any hope to anybody. The film actually ends in a Tarantino-like shootout. I should have taken Pahlaj’s opinion that it is a bad movie, but then he had tried to impose his opinion, which I don’t like.

In a very poignant scene laced with dark humor the situation in Punjab is compared to Mexico, as a bunch of cops discuss about the mean neighborhoods in the City where even cops dare not venture. For these are controlled by the drug system. Yes it is a system and not individuals that finally takes over. The name of the drug lord may change over time, but the system never. Like in another scene the cop explains on how the MLA also has to payoff the cops to clear his trucks.

The system evolves over a period of time as people add to it, make things institutionalized, so that it survives the individuals. Thereafter, any individual who tries to resist the system is taken care of by itself. Today in places like Punjab, there are so many vested interests in the continuity of drugs that tackling it would be a huge challenge. The cops want it to continue. The judiciary atleast at the lower levels would suffer if it breaks down. Everyone makes money, easy money. The addicts themselves become peddlars getting more addicts so as to pay for their needs. Pyramid selling is in full steam. Payoffs are institutionalized. And so are punishments if anyone falls out of line.

The police inspector in the film, very frankly admits that there is not much he can do to control drugs in Punjab. That’s true not just in Punjab. Everywhere relatives of many senior officials have got into the drug habit, but have not been able to do anything to solve the drug problem. Slowly it becomes part of life, something that we learn to live with, something from which we protect our families, rather then engage in a futile and violent fight against the system.

Sunil Dutt was one of the most honest and popular politicians in Mumbai, but when his son got into drugs, the best he could do was to rehab Sanjay. Mumbai continues to be in the clutches of the white powder. Sanjay came out of drugs.

For no single individual, howsoever powerful he may be can do anything to stop the business; a business which every year just keeps getting bigger. The movie very conveniently ends with an accusation on one of the politician. Even if the charges are eventually proven, that would not cause any dent in the drug business. Such is the reality. And the reality outside the screen is even worse, for our politicians are interested in making the maximum mileage out of the film controversy and also the real problem that plagues Punjab. With elections scheduled next year, we can expect some more mud slinging. No one would clean it.

Drugs originating in Afghanistan come into India mostly from the western borders. It is a long border, with a very unfriendly neighbor on the other side. The eastern border is now warming up to the drug trade with Myanamar set to become a new source.

Strategically it is a very cheap war for them, cheaper than terrorism too. Cheap exports! If they keep dropping heroin packets across the border every day, slowly eroding our youth in a sustained manner for the next ten years, they would kill thousands of young without using any blade or bullet. Drugs are the new weapons. New bombs.

Things actually will get worse, before any hope of getting better. The crime syndicates controlling the networks are still not yet on the international standard. Sooner or later, the drug mafia from Russia, Mexico would turn their attention to the big market that India is. The attractive market can pull all kinds of products.

Supply creates its own demand, and it is not so difficult to get youngsters to try out their first of anything. We have to make life so beautiful that the youngsters do not have to find ecstasy in some powder. There are various ways in which this can be achieved. Make the kids value life. Kill the excitement of doing drugs.

Countries have made marijuana legit, now discussions are on for heroin, so as to kill the adventure element of drugs. We are far away from that discourse, for we are moving in the opposite direction, as we ban various meats, prohibition has arrived in many states and don’t know what next. Yoga appears to be some hope. It was a very smart move to have the national yoga day celebrations centered in Chandigarh this year.

Bringing back an addict is never easy. It is like fighting a lost war. From that first, the journey is slow, steady and surely doomed. Lecturing does not help. For once someone gets onto addiction, the probability of coming out is rare, most of the times the rehab centre is the best market for peddlars.

Until something snaps back again in the mind of an addict, kind of some major shock, the addict will not give up. A major shock would make it an abrupt stop. Like the death of the saintly Kareena in the movie. For when it comes to drugs, there is no gradual giving up. Either the addict stands up one fine day and says “NO”, come what may, or keeps reaching new depths of pain.

Drugs are on the War path and there are fault lines in our defence.

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