Now that Udta Punjab (UP) is finally out, what are your feelings?
Relief, joy, calm and a sense of achievement.
Do you feel triumphant about your victory over the censor board?
Triumph is too big a word. I wanted to focus on the film somehow being released on June 17. That was very important for all of us. If we had not met our release date I’d have felt defeated.
The High Court bypassed the Censor Board to release your film. Now even the sex comedies with filthy, phallic jokes can go straight to the courts if the censors object…
But the profanities in your film do not offend?
That’s because those lines were not put in there to titillate, that’s how the characters speak.
Your last film was Dedh Ishqiya. How did you suddenly jump to a film about the drug menace in Punjab?
I started writing Udta Punjab in September 2013, a few months before Dedh Ishqiya released. I was really keen to make a film on drug abuse. But initially I didn’t know how to go about doing it.
How did Punjab come into the picture?
Initially there was no Punjab in my film. I just wanted to do a film on drug abuse because it was a problem that bothered me. I had seen from very close quarters what drugs could do.
Have you ever tried drugs?
No, nothing major. Maybe marijuana. But I’ve seen friends in college fall victim. The drug menace is all around us. But no one was talking about it in our cinema. Apart from whispers at high-society parties, no one really bothered. That bothered me. I read up on the subject.
The information I gathered was very incipient. It was after this that we moved our plot idea to Punjab. Because the problem of drug abuse is acute in Punjab. After that everything fell into place.
The claim in your film that 70 per cent of the youth in Punjab are drug addicts has become contentious…
All the data is easily available to anyone who wants to check on the Internet. We also depended on various other sources for our data such a comprehensive piece on Tehelka. There is a problem in Punjab. We said, ‘Let’s make a film on it with stars so that people will listen to us.’ This is the reality. This is what is happening in Punjab. And this is our small contribution to creating an awareness of the situation.
How did you get Shahid Kapoor to convey so much madness as Tommy Singh?
When I narrated the idea to Shahid he was immediately excited. Of course the quality of madness was challenging for him. We had to walk a thin line between Tommy Singh being wild and obnoxious. But I’ve to tell you I was surprised by how eagerly he grabbed at the character.
And Alia Batt. How traumatized was she playing her character of a Bihar migrant in Punjab who is captured and enslaved?
Extremely traumatised. So much so that on the day she finished shooting, she ran into her van and let out a whoop of joy and relief (laughs). She became herself again. Alia had to go through a lot in playing the character. We had to be careful about how far we could go in showing her trauma.
Apparently all the principal actors took a pay cut?
Yes, that’s true. We knew this was not a big-budget blockbuster movie. Yet we wanted and needed stars. We had to shoot within a stipulated number of days. All the actors were willing and they surrendered without hesitation. They made the film possible.