Abhishek Chaubey
Udta Punjab director Abhishek Chaubey on the film being cleared by censors for television with a mere three-minute edit; CBFC’s decision mocks own earlier stance of 89 cuts for theatrical release
Mohar Basu (MID-DAY; April 21, 2017)

Abhishek Chaubey recalls the trying phase prior to the release of Udta Punjab last year. The Central Board of Film Certification, infamous for demanding excessive cuts in films, had invited the wrath of industry insiders, when it came down hard on the dark drugs drama, demanding 89 cuts to award certification.

Given the ordeal that the team endured before it hit screens, procuring satellite rights became harder, since channels were wary of acquiring permission. But, in a development that can only be termed ironic, the Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt and Kareena Kapoor-starrer has now been cleared for telecast with a mere three-minute cut. Ahead of the film’s TV premiere on April 30 on & Pictures, Chaubey discusses his love for Punjab, the effect his film had on the masses and of course, having the last laugh.

While the CBFC eventually demanded 13 cuts for the theatrical release, they have suggested only a three-minute edit for TV. Feeling vindicated?
Yes, I feel vindicated. I accept the cuts requested for telecast, as opposed to what happened before the theatrical release. In theatres, there is a provision for only adults to walk in, and when that happens, we [filmmakers] should have the ability to express ourselves in the best interest of the film. But TV is a different medium, accessible to everyone. I understand that the content of my film can’t be shown to a child in entirety. So the cuts were acceptable. They even wanted me to be part of the process, and in fact, I made a few suggestions.

Why did you base your story in Punjab?
As part of research, I came across reports that said young Indians were addicted to harmful products. There was no film around the topic, and as a filmmaker, and citizen, it interested me. My co-writer Sudip Sharma asked if I knew anything about the Punjab crisis. I realised this might be a great setting. Punjab, given the large number of people using drugs, could represent the problem better than any other state. Being a border state, smuggling is also rampant.

How challenging was it to portray a state that’s usually glorified differently?
I did not intend to change the image. If a filmmaker talks about a prevalent problem in a particular area, he talks out of love and concern. Since I love Punjab, I made the film. Those who deny the existence of the problem cannot love the state. I shot Punjab for what it is.

Did you stumble on interesting insights?
The number of youngsters addicted to drugs was surprising. We went to various rehabilitation centers and saw patients from different social circles. People from all walks of life were ailing because of this problem. But, more than the challenges of the addicts, what I took home was the spirit of the activists, doctors and healthcare professionals. Their strength and zest to fight the drug menace inspired me.