Interview By: Rohan A.Sawant

It is not very often that the film gets involved in too many conflicts before its release. It is not very often that the content of the film is decided by the High Court rather than the CBFC. It is also not very often that the writer of such a film gets open with you and lets his heart do the talking. Here’s Sudip Sharma the writer of ‘Udta Punjab’ in a very candid chat.

“The ideal censor verdict of ‘Udta Punjab’, I feel should have been with no cuts whatsoever”

How did the thought of ‘Udta Punjab’ strike to you?

I met Abhishek Chaubey about 3 years back and he had a film in mind which was based around the idea of drugs and also he had a few characters in mind. I also had done some research on Punjab and the whole drug scene related to it, had read a few articles about it as well. But it was not something which was talked about at national level, it was more of an obscure regional issue but the situation itself was quite alarming. So I shared some of these things with Abhishek and he liked the idea very much and he also spent some time researching it. We went to Punjab and travelled almost every corner of it to understand what the real situation was and sooner we realised that we needed to make a film about this because it is a very important thing that is happening around us.

What was the research required, because the film deals with four different characters who are in different zones?

We wanted to make the film very realistic. When we travelled to Punjab, we wanted to know the happenings at the ground level and to meet people who are dealing with this particular situation on day-to-day basis or fighting the drug menace at personal or professional level.  We went to several Rehab centres for drug addicts, where we meet several drug addicts, several doctors, NGO workers fighting for it. We also met several policemen’s who are fighting this at the ground level.  We also met various drug peddlers to understand the other side of it. The 4 main characters came out of that, like Kareena’s character is actually based on one of the doctors whom we met during the research. Similarly in the movie there’s a character of around a 16-17 year old boy whom we met during our research. We met lot of teenagers during our research because this problem has particularly hit the teenagers on a large scale. The cop’s character was always there in our mind because we wanted someone who was from the Law’s side, who was fighting it the hard way. But several characters were influenced by different people we met. So we can say that real life experience was taken into the account while making these characters!

Initially when you and Abhishek Chaubey were scripting the film, did you have any apprehensions about  the Censor Board not being okay with what is presented in the film?

As artists, writers or filmmakers you don’t want to pre-censor yourself. The problem comes when they start censoring themselves. So when we started writing, we of course had a model compass in our head. We in our heads do have a sense of what is right and what is wrong or what we can show or what we cannot show or also what we should show and what we should not. We let that internal judgement of ours guide us in writing the script and we did not try to think of what the censors will pass or they won’t pass, especially in this case because we thought that we are making a film on a case which is extremely important, which is very relevant and something which was affecting millions of youth of the country. So in our heads we were doing something which was absolutely right and something which was needed to be done without any doubt. It CBFC reaction to the film actually came to us as a shocker. We could not understand what the problem was since it was a very anti-drug pro youth film. But that’s how we would want to function in the future as well by not pre-censoring ourselves because of moral daddies sitting out there.

As a writer you pour your heart out and then suddenly you are asked to delete so many scenes from a film…what was your reaction to this whole controversy?

It was a mix of all emotions that you can possible think of; all the negative emotions actually. It is a serious setback, you feel crashed. But more than that you start questioning yourself which is not a good feeling because I went by my moral and artistic judgement which you always hope is right. But then something like this happens and then you start doubting yourself which is not a good feeling at all. The sense or the look of suspicion with which you are looked at is never a good feeling to deal with and that’s why I am so glad that this whole nonsense is over and that the honourable High Court has let us go out the way we were supposed to with our heads held high with a film which we can proudly claim as a responsible work of ours.

Amidst the whole controversy, the entire team stuck to their grounds by not accepting the Censor Boards decision. What was the thought process behind it?

Everybody believed in the script and the film. From the first point of the shoot we all knew that we were making something responsible and we knew that it was something very important and relevant to today’s generation and it was done with an artistic judgement and so there was never a doubt in any of our heads of ours, or the actors or anyone else for that matter. I am just glad that all of us together in this.

Do you think after the High Court’s decisions and after this whole controversy the CBFC approach will be changed for the films that come later?

I certainly hope so. I would really hope that they start looking at films in a certain angle, a context. You can’t things out of context, because that would look really weird or maybe inappropriate. So you have to see things with reference to their context and I hope they do that (laughs). I am hoping that with Mr. Benegal’s recommendation there would be a further revamp of the CBFC and there would be lot of changes brought in and all of us right now are feeling quite hopeful that it happens.

What would have been the ideal censor verdict for the film from a writer’s perspective?

Whenever you put something in the film, it is for a particular reason. So the ideal censor verdict, I feel should have been with no cuts whatsoever. There is a discussion that is going on that if it is the job of Censor Board if to censor or certify. The ideal verdict would be to see the film in a particular context and that it should only been seen by people who are above 18 years old, because that is what we really wanted; we applied for a Adult rating for this film. I am glad that the honourable High Court has actually let that happen, because they are putting out the film that we really wanted to put out there.

From 89 cuts to a single cut, do you think you have achieved what you intended to?

We were citing for our rights. Honestly the feeling that I had or Abhishek had yesterday was of massive relief. The real battle actually starts for us now and this is the only battle that we want to be fighting which is the battle of weather the film is a good film or not. The only people who can decide that is the audience and I am glad that we are actually on the right turf rather than getting caught in these kinds of stuff happening earlier.

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