As Tommy ‘Gabru’ Singh is thrown into a prison cell full of young Punjabi addicts who start singing a chartbuster from one of his first Punjabi rock albums as an ode to their idol, he is told by another inmate that two of the singing lads had killed their own mother as she refused to pay for their drug. Gabru, with his widely dilated pupils looks into nowhere, unable to comprehend what he has unleashed, for after all he is the youth icon of every Punjabi junkie in Abhishek Chaubey’s state of the five rivers. Shahid Kapoor’s Tommy Gabru Singh is a quintessential Punjabi rockstar always soaring high on an expletive laden, coke induced, urine powered (literally) journey to the nether world of Punjab.
Unwittingly, at that precise moment in the prison cell, Chaubey’s Gabru also symbolizes everything that Kejriwal stands for. A political rockstar-crusader who has unleashed a generation of dolts who consume the anti-corruption opium that he sells and are always on a high to notice his chicanery. Kejriwal’s first album in Delhi was a grand success, now he wants to top the charts in Punjab.
In fact, Udta Punjab is itself an SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle) aimed at the upcoming state elections. It is not an overtly political film mind you, but a neatly packaged film for a targeted audience with a subtle underlying message of “everybody in Punjab is corrupt and the state needs an external messiah to solve the problems”. For instance, in one scene, specially packaged drugs are wrapped in pamphlets of a ruling party MLA’s appeal for vote to be distributed among young junkie voters. It’s a subtle message that elections in Punjab are no longer about distributing merely money and liquor but have moved on to a new low of distributing drugs.
“We want this movie to reach the maximum number of people” tells Mr. Pushkar (name changed), “indeed, we have booked 40 tickets each day for the next 3 days for our friends” he adds. Mr. and Mrs. Pushkar run an education related NGO in Punjab and Himachal, they are both NRIs who were ‘converted’ by the India Against Corruption movement during those heady days of 2012. They were erstwhile followers of Mr. Bhushan and Mr. Yadav but chose to remain with Mr. Kejriwal the messiah. They have built a huge ‘network’ of middle class parents by organizing some very effective summer camps and seminars in these regions over the last few years. They are among those who are amplifying the message of “Udta Punjab” in the larger Punjabi civil society.
The box office numbers of Udta Punjab stand as testimony to its specially targeted market. On day 1, the movie managed to collect nearly 9 crore rupees and 40% of the collections came from Delhi and east Punjab – the Kejriwal territory. In fact, over the weekend, this film has done record business of the year in east Punjab territory despite being a slow, preachy film that suffers immensely from amateur editing and boring music. Of course, the silly controversy created by a foolish Pahlaj Nihalani has helped the film immensely. As per one estimate, the censor board gave free publicity worth at least 15 Crore rupees to Udta Punjab by putting it on prime time television and the front pages of newspapers.
Pahlaj Nihalani symbolizes that sheer lack of creativity of the ruling BJP and the larger Sangh Parivaar. It is this creative vacuum that is being effectively tapped by the left-libbers to create a pop-culture of antagonism to the prevalent mood of hyper (Hindu) nationalism.
Narendra Modi is possibly the greatest communicator India has ever seen and the opposition has realized this to some extent, they are therefore now creating a pop-culture vista targeting the youth and Udta Punjab is just one small example of that. Modi the communicator must soon realize the need to amplify his message creatively to reach the largest possible audience. Subtlety is the key here, for even massively successful schemes like the Jan Dhan Yojana and the Mudra loans need to be marketed creatively to a larger audience beyond mere government advertisements and handouts.
Meanwhile in Punjab, Kejriwal’s AAP is building a larger than life image for itself by sheer noise. For a party that did not even exist in large parts of the state until just a year ago and still does not have polling booth level infrastructure in many villages to emerge as a contender for power is a huge achievement in itself. Fact is that AAP is all noise in Punjab, even today, with little actual ground base; for instance, just this month when the party organized a supposedly massive Kisan Mela, it managed to gather less than 8000 farmers despite loud promises of assembling “lakhs of people”. But this is a tried and tested formula of AAP. In Delhi, the party created so much of hype by “fake” surveys that eventually people simply began to believe in the noise. Whether AAP really has actual support in Punjab is something that will only be borne by ground data, but there definitely is a lot of noise in the state created by Kejriwal and amplified by the local media-NGO-intellectual clique.
Yet, in that darkened half-empty theatre in Amritsar where Udta Punjab was playing in an otherwise quiet atmosphere, the loudest cheers came out when Diljith Dosanjh appeared on the screen. In fact, the restive audience only found ‘entertainment’ through the local star power of Dosanjh which gives another subtle message to the political parties. Kejriwal could provide the opium of being a messiah, but at the end of the day, the Khalsa needs a local expression and that may end up surprising AAP. What is even more surprising is the state of BJP and the fact that there is a local lotus that has not even been allowed to bloom by the party itself, so much so that Amritsar defied the Modi wave in 2014!