Six stories run parallel. Lives intermingle. Ideas, high on psychedelic drugs run amok. The alternate reality is neither ecstatic, nor seen through a crystal kick. Everything is bleak.
Director Jatinder Mauhar's latest offering Qissa Panjab brings forth the rampant drug addiction in Punjab and the state's virtual helplessness to counter it. Staying away from painting a clichéd picture of Punjab which most Punjabi film directors never miss to (beautiful fields, picturesque villages), the countryside in this film is real - dirty, with overflowing drains.
The characters are those the common man can relate to: a student, a basketball player who is unable to get a job, a rich man's son perpetually high on substance, a village boy who has almost turned neurotic after constant drug abuse, a folk singer wanting to make it big, a dancer from a village waiting for her big break and the drug mafia operating smoothly outside educational institutes.
Mating their lives seamlessly and projecting how tragedy is always about small heartbreaks like a gunshot losing its trajectory and hitting someone accidently, breaking trust at the height of substance withdrawal or a young woman waiting for her lover at a small bus stand while he has already been killed some few hundred kilometers away; the film handles every story delicately enough to invite silence. And sigh.
With a solid script from Uday Pratap Singh, who ensured that his characters said more through an uneasy quiet rather than long monologues one witnesses in Punjabi films, director Mauhar's wonderful selection of actors, mostly from theatre, seemed to be under strict instructions to underplay everything - something that worked fantastically well for the film.
Preet Bhullar as Arjun, Dheeraj Kumar as Heera, Kul Sidhu as Kismat, Jagjit Sandhu as Speed, Aman Dhaliwal who played Deep and Harshjot Kaur who was seen as Sukhjeet should not only congratulate themselves for breaking new grounds but also hold acting workshops for so-called Punjabi superstars who are favourites of big banners (read property dealers turned film producers), but offer horrendous expressions in the name of comedy, something which is bound to make any sane person burst into tears.
After the last frame of the film was projected, one knew for sure that the director had hired a team that was perfectly in sync with each other. Of course, for all the praise that the film has received from different quarters, the director must share the credit with the scriptwriter and editor Shekhar Koditkar, whose intelligent editing not only made the film slick but also left enough spaces for audiences to seek answers and interpret spaces themselves. Realistic costumes by Navjeet Kaur blended seamlessly with the narrative.
Produced by Annu Bains, Qissa Punjab is one of those rare Punjabi films which is not only sensible but highly watchable too. Fantastic music by Manna Mand ("Bolian, Rutt Pyaar Di") and Nooran sisters ("Jinde Meriye") are highly downloadable, especially if you think that the entire Punjabi music industry is plagued by shoddy double meaning songs.