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How Alia Bhatt nailed Udta Punjab

August 22, 2016 12:37 IST

'The starting point of the Udta Punjab casting was that we didn't think stars would do a film like this, so we'd take non-stars.'
'As the names kept rolling in and we had Kareena Kapoor and Shahid and Alia Bhatt, I was like "yaar yeh ho kya raha hai?"'
Udta Punjab director Abhishek Chaubey and writer Sudip Sharma discuss their film with Rediff.com's Raja Sen.

It is this year's most talked about Hindi film.

Udta Punjab highlighted the severity of the drug problem in Punjab and got rave reviews, but also made news for the wrong reasons -- after a long battle with the censors, the film leaked online.

Now, after most people have watched the film, we felt the time was right to publish an in-depth, spoiler-filled discussion between the film's director Abhishek Chaubey, the film's writer Sudip Sharma, and Rediff.com film critic Raja Sen.

In the first part of the conversation, the creators spoke about their motivations and why they had initially conceived the Kareena Kapoor character as male.

In this concluding part of the conversation, they discuss the way they wanted to present Punjab, alternate endings for the film, the dramatic peak, and their first reaction to the idea of casting Alia Bhatt as a migrant worker. Read on.

IMAGE: Alia Bhatt in Udta Punjab.

Raja Sen: How long did you guys spend in Punjab?

Sudip Sharma: I spent a month.

Abhishek Chaubey: You spent a month first, and then I joined you for a week, 10 days. And then I kept going, for recce. We got a lot of information there, so collectively I guess about three months.

Raja: Was it hard to get the kind of information you were looking for? How's your Punjabi? I'm guessing you can deal with it now, but how was it when you started?

Abhishek: My Punjabi was terrible.

Sudip: Mine was okay. I knew the sound of it and it got better as we worked on it. I still can't speak it, but I could understand.

I could write the dialogues as long as somebody could fix them, fix the grammar and fix some of it.

Abhishek: We went pretty hardcore, actually. I learnt how to read it, because every signage is in Gurmukhi. It's very easy to learn, close to Devnagri.

Otherwise you feel like a complete foreigner. It's like being in Tamil Nadu, where you don't understand anything.

Sudip: Some of the cliches about Punjab are true. It's a really lovely place, and to get into it is very easy. They pull you in.

Raja: In fact in some way or the other, your film repurposes every Punjabi cliche to some extent. It's all there, from the lassi to even the chicken -- in a particularly sordid way. So was that something you were consciously trying to do?

Abhishek: We didn't have to set out to do that. If you go and see Punjab for real, we didn't try to change it. We shot in real places, practically everybody in the film -- except for the three actors from the main cast -- is Punjabi.

Some of the actors live in Bombay, but their origins are in Punjab. So authentic casting, shooting in real locations, shooting Punjab for what it is rather than art-directing it too much... this is what it looks like.

It's a lovely place by itself, but we tried very hard. Most Hindi films, when we shoot in Punjab, try to find the prettiest haveli.

Sudip: Which is a reaffirmation of the kind of Punjab that we have already seen. Rather than the other Punjab. There is also the Punjab of (Gurvinder Singh's) Anhe Ghorey Ka Daan...

Abhishek: Which was a visual reference for us.

Sudip: It's almost like the Punjab in our movies is like the childhood home we don't want to let go of.

We're just clinging on to the idea of it, the comforting image. We didn't want to go away from it but show it like it is.

Abhishek: Balli also came from a real-life person. We went to a de-addiction centre.

Sudip: The one where they slapped around the junkies?

Abhishek: Yeah. There was one kid, must have been 16, and we were just sitting and chatting. We spent quite a few hours, and Sudip asked )one of the guys) ki yaar tum yeh jo karte ho, mazaa kya aata hai? And his eyes lit up, and he started explaining... And everybody was just transfixed, looking at his hand, at that time. And that kid just said 'band kar, yaar.' Because he couldn't take it.

And he was 16, started when he was 14. That was truly shocking. We got scared with the amount of responsibility that we had.

Raja: When you see the film, one of the things that leaps out is access. The fact that drugs are so easily available -- at every cornershop, for cheap, to everyone -- is really screwed up. You guys didn't feel the need to try this?

Abhishek: No. I've tried other stuff. Not heroin.

Sudip: Love is all you need. (Laughs)

IMAGE: Diljit Dosanjh and Kareena Kapoor in Udta Punjab.

Raja: Three out of the four protagonists in the film go through some sort of substance abuse, and the one who doesn't is the one who dies. What do we read into that?

Abhishek: Yeah. It comes from the line that she says 'ki joh bhi khubsoorat cheez hoti hai woh usko khatam kar deti hai.' She says that while she's talking to the patients.

In that sense, she was a representational figure rather than a character who has an arc, as such. Such people are there, we met them. It's just ironical and tragic that she's the one who has to go.

For a long time, it was Sartaj who was going to die because he's the corrupt cop, he's the one seeking redemption. But then this brainwave came and we were pretty happy about it.

Sudip: It's fun to kill characters. (Laughs) We have to hold back and say let's keep this one alive.

Preet dying is the most depressing moment in the film, because here's the one person who was fighting the good fight, and she dies.

And that, for me, says everything about the fight on drugs that people fighting the good fight are going to be thrown aside.

Abhishek: And who kills her is as important. You can't really blame him. When you're 25 and you choose to do drugs, that's your choice, but what do you do when a 15 year old is doing it?

Raja: She also says that the comprehension between good and evil is lost.

Abhishek: Yeah, and that to happen when Balli kills her. It's tragic because who are you going to blame? Where can you point this finger? And that is the truly f***** up thing about drug abuse, when it becomes a sociological problem, which is what it is, in this case.

For example, I don't think drug abuse is a problem in Bombay, although there is a lot of drug use there. But we're not talking about party drugs, we're talking about something a lot more serious.

Sudip: One of the reasons for Preet's character is so that we can talk about drugs in a professional light. Just to understand what heroin is etc. Because in our movies...

I think it's a movie from the 1970s where Kiran Kumar walks into a club and calls the waiter and says 'ek glass drugs,' and the waiter comes back with a green liquid with vapour coming out of it and he looks at it and says 'drugggs.' (Laughs)

Abhishek: While we were shooting in Punjab, and the public would be watching the scene, we would hear things like 'haqeeqat hi toh bol rahe hain.'

Raja: So that would be your greatest affirmation.

Abhishek: Yeah, because both of us knew that when people in Punjab watch this, it will hit home. We decided we'll do it for them and then let's see (how everyone else reacts).

Raja: How do you think audiences have reacted to the film? In our theatres, audiences are given to laughing immaturely at swearwords etc, and in that huge Alia scene (where she passionately and tragically talks about her life), people do laugh at the moment when she kisses Shahid -- and I don't think they are necessarily laughing because it's funny, but laughing also as a relief from the tension building up -- but immediately after that, when she tells Shahid that the kiss is the only thing that hasn't been inflicted on her, that is the point where the theatre quietens down. It's the point where the bombshell drops.
That's a very hard scene to do. How did you strike the tonal balance in that scene?

Abhishek: That was also one of the most difficult scenes to write.

Sudip: We were writing it till the very end.

Raja: That is, what, a six-seven page monologue?

Sudip: Yeah. Exactly that.

Abhishek: And coming on the heels of another six-seven page scene, which was Tommy in the concert. A lot of times when we gave the script to writer friends, they said that the Tommy scene works but this one, right after that scene, tends to become heavy and speechified. A lot of ideas were thrown around like let's remove the dialogue from the scene and make something happen to them and they get out of a situation rather than talk to each other.

Sudip: It was a very talky scene, in the first draft. There was too much dialogue.

Abhishek had a brainwave in the third draft that let's break it, let's use music, let's treat it in a different way.

Take the dialogue out and make it about these guys being chased. And when that happened and we thought of Ikk Kudi and that song really fits in.

Then everything started falling into place.

Abhishek: I think in Tommy and Mary Jane's track of the story, that scene is the core. Even in the final draft, a lot of people had issues with it, but we had to stand up for it and say that we will make it work.

It was a risk, even at the point when we went to the sets. In terms of performance, because that was the main thing, both these guys worked very hard. Shahid discusses a lot, and Alia likes to do things rather than have an abstract discussion.

So they prepared it very well, and the location we chose for it, the ruins, things crumbling all around you, that sort of gave it a mood. The way Rajeev (Ravi, cinematographer) lit it. Everything just came together.

Sudip: Also, I thought we managed to get humour into the scene. Sort of gave that light touch...

Abhishek: Yeah, the humour made it slightly palatable. That part of the film is very tricky, the first 40 minutes of the second half. A lot of people, who have felt the film is too long and that it meanders a little is because, I think, from being a plot-driven drug film, it almost becomes about the character's interpersonal relationships.

Raja: Yeah. Briefly it feels like a fable, even. In that section.

Abhishek: Yeah. It was tricky but our theory was intact.

In Tommy and Mary Jane's story, it was very simple. Here's this guy who is super-rich, successful but because of his addiction, which is purely selfish, he has lost his muse, so to speak.

He's angry and his journey has begun from that jail, where he's met those kids. He's realised something is seriously wrong with him, but he doesn't know what it is.

He tries to meet his fans on stage and tries to confront them, but nobody's having any of it. Matlab 'tune chitta-chitta gaaya, tu chitta-chitta gaa, na! That's what we like.'

He comes from there and he meets this girl. They get talking and he tells her about his angst.

When he hears her side of the story, he feels so small. And -- this can only happen in a movie -- he understands that.

And this girl vents it all out, by virtue of saying everything she has to say, she's sapped of all energy.

He also tells her (they should commit suicide), and that shows in her next scene when she's looking at the syringe and it's in that moment that she decides that I'm going to struggle hard, but I'm going to quit.

And Tommy, of course, quits it. He's decided that the only redemption he can find is by saving her. And that connection happens that night.

Raja: It is the dramatic peak of the film.

Abhishek: Yeah. Also, just before that is the Sartaj-Preet scene where they also share what is going on.

Which is a tricky scene again because it's a much softer scene. Sartaj is doing it for a personal reason; if his brother hadn't been affected, he wouldn't have given a f*** about what's going on.

And he says that in as many words. 'You saved my brother.'

Preet is not doing it for any personal reasons, and that too was important. Because there was a draft where she had reasons and a backstory but we removed it because there are people like that (who work selflessly) and we better start believing there are people like that.

So they state their points of view about it. And yes, there is a romance there but we believe that romance isn't heavy on the film. It's just that with a guy like Sartaj and a girl like Preet, what will happen.

Raja: They're also thrown together doing some pretty messy work. It's not like they're meeting other people.

Abhishek: Yeah. And Sartaj comes from a different social class.

Sudip: And that romance is really Sartaj's romance. Even Preet's reciprocation of it is just (a warmth).

 

IMAGE: Shahid Kapoor in Udta Punjab.

Raja: One of the tricky things is when you show someone trying to quit drugs and succeeding. With Shahid, it's a relatively easier drug to quit, cocaine, and his quitting is also honestly just a few cokeless hours because he was high on stage.
With Alia and heroin, that's a tricky slope, right? Because you're showing Balli go through the same thing and fail.

Sudip: But it's a very short period that we're talking about. The way she's looking at it is that I want to survive this night without heroin; let me see if I can pull this off. Her real quitting and rehab is actually happening in Goa.

Raja: Ah, what a place for rehab.

Sudip: (Laughs) There we go. But when we catch her at the end of the film, probably by then she's clean.

It's the will that's come into her. That I'm not going to touch this thing again.

Abhishek: Also through research, I found out the physiological effects of quitting heroin, even for a heavy user, lasts a few days and the symptoms are flu-like. That's about it.

So because Alia's character is a strong-willed character, it's kind of believable that if this person has made up her mind not to touch it, she's going to get acidic, she's going to have flu-like symptoms, she rides over that and suffers that one night we have shown. Of course, movies condense and stretch the idea of time, but the real battle for heroin addiction is mental.

And Balli never decided to quit. There's nothing wrong with his health, he's healthy.

Raja: But he's just not equipped to make that decision.

Abhishek: Yeah. In fact, a lot of the rehab centres don't take in patients who do not want to quit. As a rule.

Sudip: The other thing they say is that the circumstances which made you pick up heroin in the first place, if they haven't changed, then you haven't really 'rehabbed.'

Abhishek: There's a very beautiful film called Oslo 31 August by Lars Von Trier's nephew, about a guy who comes out of a rehab centre and what happens to him. That accurately portrays heroin addiction. Unless you really make up your mind...

In our case, Mary Jane has made up her mind not to do it, so she has a fighting chance.

That's what the film also tries to say, that the individual battle can be won. Balli's battle can be won.

There's a possibility that you will find redemption and you will be able to quit.

But the war against the system that you're fighting, that's impossible to overcome. That's the one thing we're trying to say about war on drugs in this film.

We've deliberately not made a subtle film. Hathoda maaro.

IMAGE: Alia Bhatt in the Ikk Kudi song in Udta Punjab.

Raja: Oh, it's clear that it is a message film. But let's talk about Ikk Kudi. Abhishek, the way you use music in your movies is often to use the lyric as a literal part of the narrative, and Ikk Kudi is that to a large extent.
The entire third act, to a very large extent, is built around Ikk Kudi. So when did that come to you?

Sudip: I think we were in Goa, and we were trying to crack that sequence. Abhishek had mentioned that we needed to do it musically, and take the dialogue out.

At that time, the song came to me and we realised it works really well. So we just googled the lyrics and realised it fits in completely.

Raja: So it's a poem by Shiv Kumar Batalvi or is it also a kind of folk song? Is there an existing tune?

Sudip: It's a poem which he has sung.

Abhishek: He's done it in tarannum, but we have a different melody.

It's a long poem, runs into pages. We've used a small section of it.

If I kept the whole song, it'd be a 20 minute song. It's a lovely song, Rabbi did a version of it, and that was my memory of it, and then we heard the Batalvi version and it just fit right in.

That's the tune he struggles with, and that's the tune playing when she's swimming to the light.

Sudip: And the song works so well for this nameless, faceless girl.

Raja: That's something I'm curious about. Was she already nameless when the song came in, or did you change it because of how well the song worked?

Sudip: There was one reference maybe to her name somewhere, which we then went back and quietly deleted.

Raja: For me in the world of that film, Tommy is a character who has a tune but doesn't know what to sing, and when he's in hospital later and made to sing, he goes back to that Batalvi song because he is familiar with the original. It's not something he's suddenly written.

Sudip: Yes, and you've seen a Batalvi book in his room.

Abhishek: Yeah, when he's struggling with the guitar, with his Taya and all that, right behind him, strategically placed (laughs) is a Batalvi book. I had to really art-direct it.

Raja: About the nameless girl. What's the deal with that Mary Jane revelation? It is bordering on being too cutesy, you know what I mean.
Why was that the final thing the film chose to end on and what made you think of that as her name?

Abhishek: (Laughs) You can't resist these things, right? Can't resist a joke, can't not use it when you've thought of it.

Raja: Is it a cheeky way to condone one way of drug life while condemning another?

Abhishek: (Laughs) Both of us don't smoke, but herbal is good. It was a cute idea.

I mean he would ask for her name and she couldn't be Jane Doe.

Sudip: Also, we knew it was an anti-drug film that we're making, the message was loud and clear. So maybe we wanted to soften that message. Anti-drug but it's qualified.

I mean if you're an adult and it's herbal and it's not regular, then give it a shot.

Raja: Abhishek, even your first two (Ishqiya) films featured a certain amount of getting stoned. Bhaang etc.

Abhishek: Yeah, yeah. (Smiles) I'm all for legalising marijuana.

IMAGE: Diljit Dosanjh and Satish Kaushik in Udta Punjab.

Raja: Your supporting cast in this film is really good. Manav Vij was exceptional. Suhail Nayyar is a lot of fun, Satish Kaushik is this much fun after a long time.
But the other actors, the main leads: Why did you choose the actors you chose?
Diljit, for example, fit perfectly in the film but from what I've read, I gather Diljit's other films have been very funny, mainstream.

Abhishek: Yeah, essentially comedies. He's known mainly for his comic timing.

Sudip: That's all there is in Punjabi cinema, to be fair to him.

Abhishek: I saw Punjab 1984. Very different from our film but I got to know ki dramatic kar lega. I thought it'd be very good casting, and I really liked casting a sardar to play a sardar.

Raja: It's quite bewildering, right? The fact that we've never had a sardar leading man in Hindi movies? Especially considering how prominently Punjab is featured in the films.

Abhishek: Correct. Also when I met Diljit, a lot of what you see in the film is how he is in real life. I used his personality, I used the things he says. Two, three times in the film he says 'Waheguru' under his breath, that's what he does in real life.

I tweaked Sartaj the character a little bit (to make room for Diljit). Because Sartaj could have been akkhad, a gruff kind of guy, but when I met Diljit I just used his personality and he fit really well.

Also, he was the last one to come in. The starting point of the casting was that we didn't think stars would do a film like this, so we'd take non-stars etc. And as the names kept rolling in and we had Kareena Kapoor and Shahid and Alia Bhatt, I was like 'yaar yeh ho kya raha hai? '(Laughs)

So when I found Diljit, I was glad that yes, let's get somebody who isn't very well known in Bombay.

Raja: Also, Diljit gets this film a larger audience in Punjab, where you really want this film to be seen.

Abhishek: Yes, that was the added bonus for the producers, who were very pleased. But for me, it was a fresh casting with a new, talented guy. He's not a trained actor but he's good, he brings a certain honesty.

Raja: There is a quiet intensity, yes. Shahid, on the other hand, playing the least quiet role possible, was the first actor to be cast.

Abhishek: Shahid came first, yeah. The Phantoms (who produced the film) told me that this character is a star, and they wanted to get a star because it was difficult to raise finance for a film like this, with content like this, without a star.

Financiers are often shy of funding dark films, and it was in that environment that we were making this film.

Raja: It's also impressive that it's a two-hero film, which is again quite a hard sell these days.

Sudip: Yeah, we were very lucky to get away with this film, actually. (Laughs)

Abhishek: Yeah. Next time one hero, one heroine, one villain, sir. Yeah, so Shahid came on board.

I've known Shahid for a while, we worked together in Kaminey. He knew this wasn't going to be a moneyspinner, that his 'Shanatics' and lady fans were not going to be very excited about this (but he went ahead with it).

Raja: Was there a visual reference for Tommy? Any particular rock stars he was aping? There have been somewhat justifiable comparisons to Tom Cruise from Rock Of Ages.

Sudip: Basically the reference was more of the palette from the 1970s. Iggy Pop and more. A late 60s-70s throwback.

Raja: The peeing on stage and then almost getting arrested for indecency is obviously a Jim Morrison reference.

Sudip: Yeah, that's a little nod.

Raja: In fact Neeraj (Ghaywan, director of Masaan, who did the subtitles for Udta Punjab) underlines it his own way in the subtitles. Which, in fact, I must applaud.
The subtitles are fantastic. Your NH10, Sudip, and all your films, Abhishek, they are so steeped in dialect that calling them Hindi films is sometimes a bit of a stretch, and the subtitles here were really clever and much needed.

Abhishek: Yeah, and we should get to a space now where as Indian audiences we are okay with subtitled films.

There are so many wonderful regional films we miss out on because of subtitles. And maybe Bombay's getting used to subtitles, but let's get Ranchi used to it, let's get Lucknow used to it. Let the movies bring us closer.

IMAGE: Alia Bhatt in Udta Punjab.

Raja: This is a really risky role for Alia to take up. Shahid, being who he is and the kind of roles he's doing right now, there isn't as much to lose.
Alia's at the top of her game, headlining hit mainstream movies, and she's young and trying to push herself. So her doing this role -- which, for the most part, appears like a thankless role till that explosive monologue -- is very impressive to me.
Was it a tough sell?

Abhishek: Not at all. I was confused about who to cast. We were auditioning a lot of actors in Bombay and some of them were very good. I was trying to make my mind up, but raising the finance was still a problem, at which point I had a meeting with Shahid.

He'd shot a schedule of Shaandaar already and he told me that I must (talk to Alia).

And I was like yaar tum pagal ho gaye ho? I mean she's a good actress, she was good in Highway, but in Highway she played an upper-class Delhi girl, how is she going to do this?

I mean Tropic Thunder mein Robert Downey Jr ho jaayega, yaar! But he said I should meet her. So I went and she was shooting a song for Shaandaar and she was dressed in this ghagra choli, very bright and full makeup.

Meri aur phat gayi ki how am I going to get out of this situation, man. (Laughs)

But we spoke for about an hour and she had read the script by then, and she came across as very genuine.

Her reasons for wanting to do the film were very correct. She made the right noises, and that started a process in my head where I started wondering if we could do this.

And I was still not getting the funding. Both of us discussed it. Sudip was startled, but then we started to work with her.

After two or three meetings, I thought the look was the only trouble I was going to have because everything else this girl was just going for it.

We met with Pankaj Tripathi and put him onto her and he started working with her, doing workshops, cracking the accent, reading everyday for the period of a month or two.

So that way I got convinced, and then we went into weeks and weeks of getting the look right. So it was hard. A lot of work went into it.

Thanks to my technical team for the look, to Pankaj and to Alia's own effort for the dialect, but the main thing is the emotional pitch.

We had three, four intense discussions and even if the accent falters, even if the look isn't a hundred percent, she totally nailed the emotional pitch. And it's amazing.

She's a 22-23-year-old girl playing an 18-year-old girl, and I would keep briefing her that the character is a young girl, she's a GIRL, and then I'd have to tell myself I'm talking to a girl. (Laughs)

Raja: She's impressive in the film and the hard work shows. But as a director when you write a character like that, the idea of taking a theatre actress would be perhaps easier to mould on some levels. That has its own pros and cons, right?
So when you make a decision like this, what is the tradeoff you're looking at? More people?

Abhishek: More people se bhi zyaada, picture banane ko toh mile pehle. See, that becomes a huge problem. If I can go to Bihar and cast a girl from Siwan, from Siwan theatre group or whatever, bring her here, hone her acting chops. She'd look and feel so real.

Like for Balli, you get a sardar kid, you don't get a Parsi kid and do makeup on him. So obviously I'd do that, but how do I make the film?

Even without stars, this film has to shoot in Punjab for X number of days, in a certain way. I can't compromise on that. There is a vision that you have.

There are other ways of making films, but this wasn't a film (that could be made) like that. It needed to be told a certain way.

The challenge is that if you need a star you go get a star, but the performance has to be on the right level.

Raja: So after you had Shahid and Alia, did you get to a point where you were like now that we have two stars, the other two have to be stars as well, just to balance things out?

Abhishek: Well, Vikas (Bahl, one of the producers) said that 'ek track mein Alia-Shahid honge, ek track mein koi nahin hoga, toh aap socho janta ka kya hoga?' (Laughs)

Raja: There is that idea of the audience waiting to see one pair on screen, which is distracting to the overall storytelling, right. But Kareena Kapoor is still not someone you'd expect in this film.

Abhishek: But Kareena Kapoor is cast for type, also. If you see what she's done in Omkara or Dev, it's a little more mature extension of that.

That pure thing, that Desdemona-like quality. Of course, padi-likhi hai ismein and she knows the way the world works, but that sense of purity (she brings) is very important.

Raja: Creatively, cinematically, who forms the common ground for both of you? You're collaborating on another film after this, so who are the writers and filmmakers you look up to?

Sudip: I think we both like the Coen Brothers.

Abhishek: Aspire to be. (Laughs) I mean jis din woh ho jaaye...

Sudip: I'll retire, I think.

Raja: But you won't know you've pulled it off, right? Not till 20 years after you've made that film. You need it to have legacy.

Sudip: True. Their screenplays are such great reads. Besides the screen, just to read them is a joy. I love some of Quentin Tarantino's earlier work, of late it's been a bit repetitive.

I like William Goldman. The way he narrates his screenplays, Shane Black. That's one of the things I aspire for in my screenplays that I would love to have them be read for what they are, rather than it just being a technical document.

Abhishek: Filmmakers would have to also be Martin Scorsese. Right now he's making comedies, but he's having so much fun.

Raja: Speaking of fun, in your film, was that part with Alia in the water a Trainspotting reference or are you going to deny it? (Laughs)

Abhishek: We were just talking about it in the car on the way here. When he wrote it, he had forgotten about Trainspotting.

Sudip: I thought I was doing a brilliant piece of original work. It was actually not on my mind.

Abhishek: When I read it, I knew it was a homage. I was like, 'nice, man.' We never discussed it. (Laughs)

Raja: If not that homage in this film, then where, right? Super.

Abhishek: What was the line? Filthiest toilet in Scotland. We didn't reference too many drug films, though.

Raja: What is this film you're working on now?

Abhishek: Right now it's very sketchy. What we know about it is that it'll be set in the 1970s and hopefully, be an action movie.

Raja: Nice. With a 70s Indian action ethos as well?

Abhishek: Better choreographed, I hope. (Laughs)

IMAGE: Abhishek Chaubey, Alia Bhatt, Shahid Kapoor, Diljit Dosanjh and Anurag Kashyap at the press conference for Udta Punjab.

Raja: Because of the controversies surrounding the Censor Board, and I can't begin to imagine the hell you guys went through, the fact is that more people are going to watch this film.
It became a film everyone was talking about, and even if it's happening for awful reasons, it diverts the spotlight toward the message.

Abhishek: Although what kinda rankles is that if the film is worthy of any memory, it should not be because that film went through some censor battle. Some of the reviews actually ask 'Is the film worth it?' (laughs) Worth what?

Raja: Ridiculous, because even a bad film would be worth it. The fight matters. Do you guys think that things are going to change, in terms of the censor board?
Like Shyam Benegal's declaring that there should be certification instead of censorship, and while this includes the bizarre idea of an Adults (With Caution) category, it would at least mean films don't get chopped off by the board, right?

Sudip: I'm still apprehensive. It's a great first step but we'll have to be very careful about what we call an Adult film and what we call an Adult (With Caution) film.
If we're talking about pornographic films being called an Adult (With Caution) film and played in certain theatres, great. But it can't be a film like this, you know?
If you still have the same set of people judging which film is going to be rated X or A or whatever, they'd call Udta Punjab the worst thing. Which means zero audience.

Raja: So, coming back to what we started the discussion with, it will create a bigger culture of self-censorship. The producer will demand you cut the film in order to save it from categories like Adult (with Caution).

Abhishek: It's exactly what happened in the West 30, 40 years ago, with the NC-17 rating which was the death knell for a film. A lot of independent films died because of that.

Essentially you're still giving them the power to decide, and who watches the watchmen?

Raja Sen / Rediff.com in Mumbai