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Amar Singh Chamkila Review: Diljit Dosanjh-Parineeti Chopra Shine With Sincerity

'Chamkila' starring Diljit Dosanjh and Parineeti Chopra is streaming on Netflix.

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A majority of the ‘storytelling’ in Imtiaz Ali’s Amar Singh Chamkila happens in debate – between Chamkila’s mourning friends and colleagues and a hard-headed cop (played by Anuraag Arora). The debate revolves around the singer Amar Singh Chamkila’s legacy and the ‘morality’ of his music – a discussion that could easily be taking place in 2024 as well. 

'Chamkila' starring Diljit Dosanjh and Parineeti Chopra is streaming on Netflix.

Diljit Dosanjh and Parineeti Chopra in a still from Chamkila.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

The Punjabi musician Amar Singh Chamkila was a sensation – he was often called the ‘Elvis of Punjab – and his wife Amarjot was right next to him as half of an iconic jodi. Amar Singh Chamkila seems like a biography (though the disclaimer warns that the makers have taken creative liberties) but it never turns into a hagiography. That is something that biopics often tend to do – they turn the subject into a monument; someone to be revered. The audience is only meant to watch a legend be born without thinking about much else. 

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But Amar Singh Chamkila is a film of stronger substance – it pushes the audience to think for themselves. Chamkila’s music was often provocative and raunchy and was hence often criticised by conservatives and hardliners of the time. And yet, he had unprecedented mass appeal. The film, through this basic contrast, pushes you to think about the interrelation between class privilege and content consumption.

'Chamkila' starring Diljit Dosanjh and Parineeti Chopra is streaming on Netflix.

A still from Chamkila.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

How many times have we heard people call social media content ‘cringe’ only for videos to cross millions of views? This phenomenon sparked a conversation about the lens through which we view content. A conversation that permeates the fabric of Imtiaz Ali’s film. For instance, a deeper dive into Chamkila’s repertoire would reveal that he often sang about issues that plagued Punjab, domestic strife, and the class divide. 

In that sense, the telescope is less on Chamkila and more on the audience. Many who criticise or police Chamkila in public, listen to his music in private. The movie wants you to ask – do we use faux concern to shield our moral policing tendencies? In the film, Chamkila often proclaims that he makes the kind of music he does because that’s what people want to listen to.

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Even when he decides to change his image, the masses keep requesting his older hits – there is no winning. If we wonder what some of Chamkila’s most popular tracks were, the names ‘Chaska Peh Gaya’ and ‘Pehle Lalkare Naal’ might crop up (these are songs you’ll hear in the film). This points to another topic of discussion around Chamkila’s music – hypermasculinity. And yet, the Chamkila and Amarjot had a legion of female fans. 

'Chamkila' starring Diljit Dosanjh and Parineeti Chopra is streaming on Netflix.

A still from Chamkila.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

The Imtiaz Ali touch is especially evident in the way Amar Singh Chamkila explores this dichotomy. Viewers get a glimpse into how Chamkila is a product of his surroundings – he sings what he sees – but we also see an elderly woman reveal that she feels a connection to his music because it reminds her of the folk songs the women sing. Chamkila’s music would sometimes also feature women characters who had agency over their sexuality – a rarity in a world where patriarchy conditions us to view sexuality through a male gaze. 

That is perhaps why ‘Naram Kaalja’ is my favourite track from the film; the way the song is composed and picturised all point to the sense of liberation attached to the idea behind the song like this. Something similar is explored through Amarjot’s characterisation as well.

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The men in her family tend to constantly interrupt her and speak for her but as soon as she gets to explore her agency, we see an artist break through; we see a woman who can convey a lot without saying a word. Amarjot’s character is a complex one – she is silent but not submissive. She seems confident in her talent but unsure of her place in the world she’s stepped into and yet, she seems acutely aware of her circumstances. This is a complex medley to portray on screen and Parineeti Chopra’s measured performance ticks all the boxes. 

'Chamkila' starring Diljit Dosanjh and Parineeti Chopra is streaming on Netflix.

Diljit Dosanjh and Parineeti Chopra in a still from Chamkila.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

The screen comes alive with Diljit Dosanjh and Parineeti Chopra’s chemistry as the dynamic duo. Speaking of Diljit Dosanjh, he is the perfect choice for the role. Even beyond the screen, Diljit’s everyman persona and authenticity makes him popular amongst the masses. From his lockdown cooking videos to his viral Coachella moment, Dosanjh has curated an image off-screen that blends beautifully with the character we see in the film. 

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One can’t fully understand Chamkila’s legacy without speaking about his caste identity – he is a Dalit man in an intercaste marriage who is constantly facing an unspoken threat. While the film doesn’t delve into that aspect of his life a lot, there is clear subtext. Every action Chamkila makes is defined by his deference. The connection between him and his audience is sacred to him and despite feeling initial fear after the threats start to mount, he soon realises that he’s fighting a war he can’t win. 

'Chamkila' starring Diljit Dosanjh and Parineeti Chopra is streaming on Netflix.

A still from Chamkila.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

By starting the film with a scene recreating the day Amar Singh Chamkila and Amarjot were fatally shot in broad daylight and from the very get go, doesn’t lose sight of the gravity of the story that is being told. Even the ‘telling’ technically happens over the duration of one long night – before the news of their death reaches the masses. In that moment, Chamkila exists purely in the memories of the people he worked with before he becomes the controversial legend when the sun rises. 

'Chamkila' starring Diljit Dosanjh and Parineeti Chopra is streaming on Netflix.

Diljit Dosanjh in a still from Chamkila.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

This sensitive telling is bolstered by AR Rahman’s intuitive music and Irshad Kamil’s exceptional lyrics – the duo manage to capture the essence of Imtiaz Ali and Chamkila’s vision. Writers Imtiaz Ali and Sajid Ali remember Chamkila as a man of dissent – when a label owner asks him to create music for the people of Punjab as an escape during the 1984 riots, he asks, ‘If I don’t do it, who will?’

Amar Singh Chamkila is not a film looking for answers; instead it poses one question after another all while keeping its focus on one man and his story. What will we learn from Chamkila’s legacy and where will those learnings fit into an ever-changing world? 

Amar Singh Chamkila is streaming on Netflix.

Rating: 4/5

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