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Dauntless, Daring, And Diljit Dosanjh, Imtiaz Ali’s ‘Amar Singh Chamkila’ Strikes All The Chords With Its Impeccable Storytelling

-A must watch!

12 Apr 2024

What makes a great film? One might answer this question with multiple factors: a great director, a talented cast, brilliant musicians, and the list goes on. If I rewind my memory of Bollywood movies, my top 3 will have one thing in common: they are all directed by Imtiaz Ali. He is someone who just doesn’t weave a story; his films showcase love and life in their many forms—turbulent, soothing, evocative, engaging, and heartbreaking—which leave a mark in the viewer’s heart. A few days ago, I had the opportunity to catch his latest Netflix release, Amar Singh Chamkila, exclusively in theatre with MAMI’s Year Round Programme.


Who is Amar Singh Chamkila aka The Elvis Presley of Punjab?

The film is a biography-drama of the deceased Punjabi pop icon Amar Singh Chamkila, born in Dhanni Ram on July 21, 1960, into a Dalit Sikh family in the village of Dugri near Ludhiana, Punjab, India. He was one of the biggest and record-breaking Punjabi singers, song writers, and musicians famously known as ‘Punjab ka Elvis.’ Chamkila was blessed with expressive vocabulary, a high-pitched voice, and creative songs, along with excellent Tumbi (a Punjabi musical instrument) skills.


His life was not always about fame and fortune; he was born into a lower-caste family which during those days is something that a lot of us can’t even comprehend. Amar Singh Chamkila’s discography was filled with obscene and salacious songs, which was a boon and curse for the star. He was assassinated at the age of 27 along with his co-singer and wife, Amarjot Kaur, and his two associates before an akhada (stage) performance, leaving a lot of conspiracy theories.

When we asked Pulkit Kochar, who hails from Punjab and worked thoroughly on the marketing of the movie with Netflix India, he said, “I have grown up listening to his songs. Chamkila’s songs are more than a blueprint for Punjabi music; you won’t even realise how many new songs are inspired by his tunes and beats. There is a whole category of music where Chamkila’s discography is used as a template. My father, who has actually attended one of Chamkila’s akhadas, said that Diljit Dosanjh nails the body language, be it his singing style or the way he shakes his head while singing. There is a lot of nostalgia attached to this singer in the movie.”


Plot and Narration

Imtiaz Ali’s films have a lovely artistic touch, in whatever shape they take, delivering a powerful narration. And looking back at his cult classic, Rockstar, I entered the movie hall with high expectations. There aren’t any spoilers to give the viewers, as Amar Singh Chamkila’s life was constantly documented by the press at the time, be it his success or struggle.

The movie takes you to the gallis and nukkads of rural Punjab, where Chamkila is trying to survive with the hope of making it big in the Punjabi music industry and living a better life. He is seen working at hosiery mill, practicing songs in his spare time, and later working under a famous singer.

Life takes a turn for him when one day he has to lead the akhada in an emergency, and that’s where he hits the nerve of Punjabi music. And after this, there’s no turning back for him; he’s slowly become everyone’s favourite icon in the state. His popularity is seen across Punjab and West Bengal. But as popular the saying life is not a bed of roses, Chamkila faces tonnes of backlash due to his lyrics being the way they were. From religious extremists to fellow composers, he slowly became everyone’s target, leading to his assassination.

The film also showcases India’s absurd history of caste systems and societal hierarchy. Chamkila’s story, like most compelling narratives, has numerous unanswered questions: was he killed by separatists who believed he was poisoning the brains of the younger generation with his vulgar songs? Or was he assassinated by his rivals, who felt intimidated by his reputation in the Punjabi music industry? Or did he pay the price of being a lower-caste man marrying a upper caste Jatt Sikh lady?


The Music

We can’t deny the charm of A.R. Rahman’s sufism in the film’s music. The film’s jukebox has six songs that are carefully crafted to leave everyone mesmerised by their tunes. Amar Singh Chamkila’s music is backed by a team that has nothing left to prove. The musical trio of the movie AR Rahman, Irshad Kamil, and Mohit Chauhan will once again leave you in a tearjerker space.

One can’t tune in to a song created by this legendary team and not have a heartfelt reaction to it. Even if you get hooked on a beat or a phrase, there will always be a world left to admire. Songs like Ishq Mitaye (Main Hoon Panjaab), Naram Kaalja (Daingan Daingan), Tu Kya Jaane, Baj Baaja Baaja, and more will make you search for the film’s album on your Spotify or Apple Music app.


Performance and Verdict

After reading the headline, you might wonder why I have used Diljit Dosanjh‘s name as an adjective. The answer lies in the movie; Diljit is undeniably the soul of the movie. He embodies Chamkila’s character in the truest sense, delivering a once-in-a lifetime performance. His performance makes you feel like you are watching a live concert in real life.

The film is supported by an extraordinary ensemble cast that will make you wonder if they are really acting or if you are watching a documentary. Pareeniti Chopra has less screen time than Diljit, but she does her part in playing Chamkila’s wife, Amarjot Kaur, quite well. Special mention to the film’s crisp editing, visually stunning screenplay and the animation which appears on the screen throughout the songs.

To sum it up, Amar Singh Chamkila possesses all the feelings of an Imtiaz Ali directorial. When we asked him what made him take this project, he said, “I feel that one thing that I took upon myself was to be as truthful to the material as I could, not only for it to be authentic but also for the process to be interesting for me, so I have tried not to manipulate anything so that the true picture emerges. Hopefully, people who watch the film will appreciate it.”

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