The Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Kareena Kapoor Khan and Diljit Dosanjh-starrer

NEW YORK (TIP): The last ditch attempt to stall release of the controversial film Udta Punjab havingfailed, the controversial film is now all set to release, as planned, on June 17. The Punjab and Haryana High Court on Thursday, June 16 dismissed the petitions seeking stalling the release of Bollywood film ‘Udta Punjab’ on Friday, on the plea that it projected Punjabis in bad light.

The petition filed by a lawyer and other petitions failed to find favor with the court as Justice M Jayepaul dismissed the petitions after the amicus curiae argued that the film did not glorify the use of drugs in Punjab, there was nothing objectionable to Punjabis in it and it did not portray them in bad light.

Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court had refused to entertain the plea by an NGO seeking stay on the release of the film. A vacation Bench of Justices AK Goel and LN Rao had advised the NGO petitioner to await the outcome of a similar case pending in the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

The NGO, Human Rights Awareness Association, had accepted the suggestion and withdrew its appeal against the Bombay High Court verdict allowing the release of the movie.

The NGO had moved the Supreme Court on Wednesday to stall the screening of the film, while another plea by it had prompted the Delhi High Court to direct the producer to modify the promos by adhering to the Bombay High Court order.

The plea filed before the apex court bench sought a direction to restrain the screening of the movie on the grounds that it depicted Punjab in a bad light.

Behind the noise lie layers of reality: a cringing fear of getting swamped by drug prevalence and the unverifiable impact of government’s efforts to minimize the damage.

Here are the facts from a report on drug addiction in Punjab published in The Tribune, Chandigarh some time ago.

First the figures:

The state police say 32,522 persons have been arrested for possessing drugs since January 2014 in Punjab at an average of about 1,121 persons per month. As many as 48,653 people have visited OPDs of the various de-addiction centers besides about 16,230 admitted for treatment. Over Rs 100 crore has been spent on constructing 26 de-addiction and rehabilitation and skill development centers.

The government says there are around 700 beds in 22 functional government de-addiction centers in the state. In his budget speech, state finance minister Parminder Dhindsa said: “The state government is committed to eradicating drug menace in an effective manner. To provide tertiary level facilities, five model drug de-addiction centers, 50-bed each, have been set up in Jalandhar, Patiala, Bathinda, Amritsar and Faridkot. The state government has also established 22 counselling and rehabilitation centers.” The state has 14 licensed private de-addiction centers

There are 108 male staff nurses and 82 ward attendants in the centers. One counsellor has been provided at a DDC in each of the eight central jails. Currently, the state health department has 30 psychiatrists. 60 trained medical officers for counselling and rehab services.

In 2012: Punjab Opioid Dependence Survey conducted in 10 districts by AIIMS and Society for Promotion of Youth and Masses found that 2.32 lakh individuals are dependent on opioid in state. An overwhelming majority (89%) are illiterate.

Government officials as well as the police have no idea as to what impact the state government measures have had. A senior doctor responsible for rehabilitation says: “The entire concept of rehabilitation needs to be studied again before formulating a workable, purposeful plan of action for resettlement of addicts. Wasting crores of rupees on useless infrastructure will be just a meaningless exercise.”

The police data claims the worst is over. The figures of seizures reveal that even if there were fewer arrests this year, the quantity was almost on the line of the previous years. In 2015, about 11 kg of smack was seized, but in the first five months of this year, the haul has already reached 7.5 kg. For the first time since 2014, about 10gm cocaine was recovered.

Ever since the hypersensitive Pahlaj Nihalani took over as the CBFC head, he has been hyperventilating his spleen and disdain against all things he deems un-Indian. As he locked horns with more than one maker, even the government understood the impasse couldn’t continue. When Shyam Benegal-led committee was appointed to look into the CBFC guidelines and suggest changes, the government seemed sincere. Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitely too observed that he wanted the board to be controversy-free. Many saw light at the end of the tubular vision of the board otherwise groping in darkness of regressive values. Never mind if the well-meaning Mudgal committee recommendations could not be implemented.

The CBFC chief, meanwhile, has gone about his business as usual: Films have been cut left, right and center. Innocuous kissing scenes, the staple diet of James Bond films, were axed in Spectre. Films like Jungle Book based on all-time favorite book of children were slapped with a U/A rating.

Aligarh director Hansal Mehta was miffed when censor board gave an A certificate to film’s trailer too. Expectedly he dismissed the board’s thinking in one word “outdated.” Prakash Jha too saw red when the censor’s axe fell on Priyanka Chopra starrer Jai Gangajal. Nevertheless, directors relented. A snip here and there was taken in stride.

But this time an altogether different game plan was in the offing: Change the film’s title, remove references to Punjab and its cities, shift the story to an imaginary land… the suggestions were as ludicrous as endless. Expecting a film to make 89 cuts (the review committee list stated 13 suggestions but then there are cuts within cuts) is crazier than any character Shahid would ever get to portray on screen. Somebody out there is so rattled by the film’s ‘unsavory’ subject of drug abuse in Punjab that even before the film could hit the screens, an absurd campaign was unleashed.

The point isn’t whether the CBFC should limit its role to certification. Its very existence and utility has come under a cloud. Udta Punjab or Udta India or whatever might be the new title of the film (if the censors have their way), the board can’t be allowed a free run.

On June 13, the Bombay High Court had cleared the decks for the release of ‘Udta Punjab’ after ordering deleting of one scene-a urination scene and displaying a revised disclaimer as per which the makers would have to delete reference to Pakistan.

The Bombay High Court had also directed the film-maker to make additions to the disclaimer to the effect that the movie, its characters and the film-makers do not promote the use of drugs and abusive language, and the film is only attempting to depict the reality of drug abuse.

In the Bombay High Court, Anurag Kashyap’s Phantom Films had challenged the Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) revising the committee’s order of June 6 directing a total of 13 changes in the movie.

The Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Kareena Kapoor Khan and Diljit Dosanjh-starrer “Udta Punjab” delves into how a large number of youth in Punjab have succumbed to drugs.The film premiers in New York on June 17 at Bombay Theatre, 68-25 Fresh Meadows Lane, Flushing, NY 11365.


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