Poor Alia Bhatt. Her valiant efforts at neo-realism so early in her career has incensed people in Bihar who think her portrayal of the Bihari girl in Udta Punjab is stereotypical and ridiculously over-the-top.
Alia plays a migrant hockey player from Bihar in Punjab who apparently undergoes a series of traumatic experiences including rape.
A young journalist Shefali Jha from Bihar has questioned Alia’s portrayal of the Bihar immigrant.
The letter which has gone viral, says:
Just like the rest of the country, I am thrilled by the intense trailer of Udta Punjab. Shahidlooks like a rockstar. The movie appears gritty and real. The music is something we’re all waiting madly for. But just one thing. I somehow could not digest your migrant Biharicharacter.
While others, reportedly, got ‘goose bumps’ watching you, I thought you were trying too hard to pass off as Bihari, especially considering (as you have constantly claimed yourself) that you took such great pains to lend authenticity to the role.
As a bonafide Bihari myself, I think I have the right to be absolutely blunt. So, here goes. Firstly, your treatment of the character is nothing but a concoction of stereotypes. (Trust me, this kind of stereotyping is far ahead of what even Chetan Bhagat is capable of.)
Secondly, ‘Bihari’ is not a language. People in Bihar converse in Maithili, Bhojpuri,Maghai or Angika. They don’t speak in ‘Bihari’; people who originate here are referred to as Biharis, and not their language. You actually underwent a month-long coaching to get the dialect right, and still ended up calling the language ‘Bihari’? Not good. And, by the way, ‘Ee’, ‘Ka’, ‘Kon’, ‘Chutiy***’ is not the ‘Bihari’ language either. It’s just lazy stereotyping, something Bollywood has always excelled at.
Thirdly – and this makes me weep – the costumes and props that you claim helped you ‘nail’ the Bihari look are nothing but soiled, tattered clothes, grimy skin and messed up hair. These are not the preserve of just the state of Bihar, only the grave manifestations of poverty the world over. Is this what you think, Alia? Do you really think all Biharis are poor and look like this? Shame.”
Alia reacted sharply to the criticism. She is not really to blame for her over-the-top bebass-Bihari Behenji act.
As a leading filmmaker comments, “It is the director’s job to ensure the actor remains within character. No more no less. Since Alia Bhatt has no idea of Bihar and Bihari culture it was Abhishek Choubey’s job to ensure she doesn’t go over-the-top. She lacks the experience of a Shabana Azmi or a Smita Patil to play a rural woman. She should have been directed more closely.”
Interestingly there is a Sikh Sardar character of a cop in Udta Punjab played by Diljit Dosanjh. His cultural background doesn’t define his character at all. Then why must Alia’sBihari woman be so broad and load to almost appear like an endorsement of the ‘Lalu Yadav’ stereotype ?