Amar Singh Chamkila: Biopic With A Soul

He was called the ‘Elvis of Punjab’.


He was called the ‘Voice of Vice’

From 1979 to 1988, Amar Singh Chamkila was the ‘KING’ of the music scene in Punjab. His raunchy songs intertwined with explicit lyrics of forbidden pleasure were loved by many and are a rage even today. But many critics denounced the risqué songs which left little to imagination. Chamkila attained cult status. At the same time he made a lot of enemies.

Director Imtiaz Ali recreates the meteoritic rise and fall of Amar Singh Chamkila, the legendary folk singer from Punjab in his film ‘ Chamkila’ now streaming on Netflix.

Imtiaz Ali’s Biopic moves back and forth in time. Most of the story is told in the flashback mode. Imtiaz has this uncanny knack to crisscross across time with his stories. And in Chamkila the master is in full form. Images and scenes cut across time. He even blends real life footage with his vision.

Imtiaz Ali’a ‘Amar Singh Chamkila’ begins with the end of Chamkila.

March 8, 1988. Meshampur, Punjab. A huge crowd is waiting with bated breath for Chamkila the star to come and perform. Their excitement reaches a pinnacle as the Ambassador car with Chamkila and his wife Amarjot makes way to the Akhada (a place where open air programme take place). The car stops and Amarjot gets down. As she gets down, there is a loud sound and a bullet hits her in the forehead. As Chamkila turns towards Amarjot another bullet hits him. And as they fall down onto the ground in a pool of blood, Imtiaz Ali cuts back into the past with Rahman’s song Baj baja baja, khel shuru aaja, aa dekhe aaja. Irshad Kamil’s line jis wajah se chamka woh, uss wajah se tapka woh sets the tone of the film.

The film is not about ‘ who killed chamkila?’, it is more about ‘ who was chamkila ?, who was this artiste who made the masses sway?’

Imtiaz Ali’s stroke of genius is the casting. Diljit Dosanjh is a brilliant Punjabi Singer, a brilliant actor and he gets into the skin of the character. He transforms that simplicity, that vibrance and that energy of Chamkila onto the screen. There couldn’t have been a better Chamkila on screen.

Parineeti Chopra becomes Amarjot. Look at her mannerisms, look at her coyness, her smile,. She is amazing. In an interview, she stated that she gained weight to fit into the role of Amarjot.

Together Diljit and Parineeti have sung 15 songs of Chamkila in the film and all of them were recorded live. And that’s not all, Imtiaz made sure that the mikes in the movie were sourced from the same mike supply company who set up the sound system for Chamkila’s shows.

A R Rahman’s  background score and soundtrack takes the movie to another level. The background score moves with the pace and vision of the director. The silences and guitar strings evolve into that orchestral magic as the story progresses. The songs written by Irshad Kamil and sung by Mohit Chauhan, Arijit Singh, Alka Yagnik, Jonita Gandhi  are subtle, beautiful and soaring. Imtiaz Ali blends the songs with visuals beautifully in his inimitable style. Amarjot’s longing for Chamkila, the sensual undercurrent and their passion come alive on the screen in the song Tu Kya Jaane. It’s a riot of colours, vibrancy, love against the backdrop of insurgency as the soaring Ishq Mitaye plays on the screen. And in Vida Karo, there is an afterglow on the screen.

Rahman creates magic for Imtiaz Ali once again after ‘Rockstar’ and ‘Tamasha’.

Imtiaz Ali’s biopic never talks about the right or the wrong. For Imtiaz, Chamkila is an artiste and he never takes the judgemental route. A music company executive justifies Chamkila’s popularity during insurgency and says “ people want to be entertained during troubled times”. And when a reporter objects to his lewd lyrics that objectify women, Chamkila replies that he creates what the masses like and that it was a matter of survival for him.

Imtiaz Ali laces his film with some beautiful nuggets.

One of the nuggets is about how Amar Singh became Chamkila. The audience at the akhada in Chandigarh is getting restless.The folk singer Jatinder Shinda is late. At one point, the organiser asks Amar Singh to start the show.The person introducing Amar Singh asks him his name and Amar Singh replies ‘ Amar Singh Sandila’ and the person introduces him as ‘ Amar Singh Chamkila’. Amar Singh holds his Tumbi, and starts singing. And a new star ‘ Chamkila’ is born.

Amitabh Bachchan and his super stardom are the gold standards for a few scenes in the film.

Imtiaz Ali never takes a judgmental route but it does raise questions in your mind about censorship, artistic freedom and morality.

As Rahman’s Vida Karo plays towards the end, Amarjot and Chamkila are lying there on the ground with a strange kind of beautiful afterglow on their face. Rahmans music, Irshad Kamil’s lyrics (Mainu vida karo, Mainu Vida karo, Maine jaana hai us paar, Tum sabhi saaf sah,Hoon matmela main),and Imtiaz Ali’s imagery make you feel for the young slain couple.

Imtiaz Ali’s ‘Amar Singh Chamkila’ is a beautiful and intense film. And the audience can connect with Chamkila’s simplicity, innocence, his earthiness, his music.

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