Hours before the Censor Board takes a call on the fate of Udta Punjab, its writer Sudip Sharma describes the nightmare he is now inhabiting
You are in a coffee shop. It’s like any other coffee shop in Andheri and you’ve seen them all. You know the regulars and they know you. Just like you, they too are prisoners of Andheri, moving from one coffee shop to another, not having the courage to drop out. But today it’s different, the way they look at you.
Your phone rings for the fourth time in an hour, an unknown number. You curse your wife for the iPhone she has recently gifted you (‘hey, your big film is coming up’). The damn truecaller doesn’t work on it. You let it ring out. You know who it is. They want a piece from you, a byte. Doesn’t matter that they probably heard your name for the first time five minutes back. Your friend looks at you, smirks –‘Man, look at what you’ve gotten yourself into’.
You are watching TV. It’s prime time, and apparently the nation is clued on – all wanting to know whether you can call a dog Jackie Chan. You don’t know if it’s really happening or if it’s a feverish dream you’re having. You remember his words now. ‘That’s how you feel on heroin’, he had told you.
You are in a rehab center, one of the many you will visit in 2013 and 2014. He is an 18 year old. And he is telling you how heroin makes him feel, and why he’d never be able to quit it. You want to get out. You have had enough of these sickening stories. But you will be back, you know it. For you’re a sucker for earnestness in your stories, for a sense of reality.
What is reality anyway, you find yourself asking. Is it what plays on the TV? Or what trends on Twitter? You are not on Twitter, but don’t lie, you have been following minute-by-minute updates for the last few days. Who is saying what? Is it good, or is it bad? Will they let it play, will they not? In the way it was meant to? Everyone has an opinion. All you have is a plea, an earnest plea – just watch it and decide.
Another unknown number. This time you pick it up. You’re going to snap at the caller. But you check yourself. For it’s an old lady from Jalandhar. She says she is calling to thank you for the film. She tells you about the son she lost to heroin.
You go back to Twitter. It’s your producer who is trending now. Some time later, it’s poor Jackie Chan again. You watch the feed like its live updates on a World Cup final. It’s huge, this controversy, they are telling you. You get a confirmation when your mom calls you. Even she has heard of it. What have you done now, she’s trying hard to stop herself from asking.
You are in your School Principal’s room. You are 16, and getting paraded in front of her for the third time in the month. ‘You’ve been using bad words again’, she glares at you. The buck toothed class teacher standing behind her reads out the‘bad words’ like a list of crimes committed. You try hard not to giggle. ‘Where did you learn these? This is not what we teach you here.’ ‘All around, Miss, I hear them all around’, you want to tell her. She hates your balls, although she uses another word for them, a not so bad word.
You are in a screening room. You are 37, getting paraded in front of a one-man jury. ‘You’ve used too many bad words’, he glares at you. They have just finished watching your film. The man behind him reads out the bad words like a list of crimes committed. This time, there is no giggle coming out of you. Giggles come hard at 37. You look at your director friend. You take secret solace in the fact that at this moment, he is probably feeling worse than you. Is it really happening, he seems to be asking himself. You pinch yourself too. Just like how an 18-year old somewhere puts a needle in his veins right now. Just like him, the reality consumes you.
You switch on the TV. Your producer is fighting it out for you. You message him – I envy your balls. He messages back – I envy your talent. It sounds tired and sympathetic, the kind of ‘I love you too’ couples in a long relationship send each other just before they are about to call it off. But you really do envy him his balls. You check for yours. You’re not sure you can feel them. You want to scream. But you doubt you will hear yourself. For the TV is too loud, and the voices on it too shrill. Some speak for you, some against you. You ignore them all. Except for one – the one that says you were not earnest. And that’s the one that hurts.