Chamkila review: The Elvis of Punjab gets his much-deserved film just like Elvis!

Sakshi Sharma
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Chamkila review

Chamkila review

Imtiaz Ali's Amar Singh Chamkila is a biopic that feels as if Chamkila's soul was waiting for Imtiaz Ali to bring his story to the world in a way where he gets to say what he didn't have enough time to!

More often than not, biopics in India are fictional retellings of historical facts rather than creative concoctions of a film based on something or someone. And they end up walking the slippery slope of blindsiding where they showcase the person the film is based on by putting them on a pedestal or defending and justifying everything they did. Keeping that in mind, Imtiaz Ali's Amar Singh Chamkila is a refreshing biopic that speaks in the filmmaker's language to embody Chamkila's personality while paying tribute to this legend's legacy and the time and place he lived in, leaving it up to the audience to decide how they feel about him. 

Amar Singh Chamkila was a controversial musician of the 1980s who, ironically, at the same time, was loved and hated for his music. He became famous for his unabashed lyrics with sexual references, which also ended up being the reason behind his death at the mere age of 27. His life has always been a subject of interest to many because a thousand narratives spun around him and his death. Banking on precisely this, Ali reigns in his magic of filmmaking and uses people as reliable narrators to tell us the story of Chamkila. What interested him, motivated him, how he made his music, wrote his lyrics, rose to unmatched fame, found love with Amarjot, dealt with religious threats, his insecurities, anxieties, fears, dilemmas, and finally, his painful death. We get to know all about him through various opinions of the people close to him, his fans, and haters. After all, when a person dies, their life becomes about how others remember them, but when an artist dies, their life is immortalized by how their fans and even haters remember them and their work. 

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Whether Imtiaz Ali, just like Chamkila, was moved by the demand of the masses to return to his form of filmmaking or he found an artist's soul connection with Chamkila's story, this biopic feels like a much-deserved fictional telling of who Amar Singh Chamkila was as an artist. The film's lens takes a lighter approach to the array of complexity and politics surrounding Chamkila and attempts to understand him as a Sikh chamar singer who wanted just to sing the truth that he saw around him and please the audience that wanted to listen to it without caring about what the meaning behind it all was. And who better to do this than a filmmaker whose characters always live in a world far beyond right and wrong? In Imtiaz's hands, Chamkila's life found a home where 'the film painting the tamasha of this rebellious rockstar's life' goes to find freedom in his death so that the artist can finally breathe! 

Beyond this metaphor, the shadows of Tamasha and Rockstar loom large over the film. If they were a conscious fictional understanding of an artist's painful, angst-filled, paradoxical life, then Chamkila is its lived reality. He was constantly stuck between the masses demanding the same songs that others called vulgar and facing the hypocrisy of the society that blamed him for running the culture with his songs but also listened to them behind closed doors because his songs also spoke the truth of the culture. Given that the film is made in the present time, it handles this debate of the responsibility of an artist sensitively without taking sides, whether that's about Chamkila's lyrics or whether or not they were demeaning to women. The film effectively uses creative visual storytelling with comic book-style referencing for the bits and pieces of his life, plug-in of archival footage, shots of old-school-style frame rates, and the Hindi translation of Punjabi songs to reign in rootedness and bridge the gap between fiction and reality. 

When you think that a biopic of a singer will only have his music to pay tribute to him, that's where you would undermine the genius of Imtiaz Ali, A R Rahman, and Irshad Kamil. These three bring in an album of six songs that become avid descriptions of his life and the emotions felt toward him. From the eclectic beats of Bajwa to Vida Karo's choking ballad, apart from the originals of Chamkila sung by Diljit and Parineeti live. Even the film in itself embodies Chamkila's humanness as music becomes the heart of the movie while his honest, innocent pursuit of music to search for his truth amidst all violence becomes the story. This is transcended further by the earnestness with which Diljit Dosanjh portrays him. If you have loved Diljit's singing, then seeing serenity, fun, and curiosity in his eyes throughout this film will make you fall in love with his acting. And Parineeti Chopra becomes his dependable partner. 

One thing is clear, whether Imtiaz Ali has a soul connection with Punjab or not, after this film, it can be definitely said that Tamasha and Rockstar were made so that Imtiaz could reach to Chamkila only to break him free from this world's gaze! This is a simple story of an innocent singer found in the streets, lost in his music because it is the only thing he knows. Morality, politics, and the rest are all fodder in an artist's life, and that's left upto you to decide what you want to make out of it. 

Amar Singh Chamikla is currently streaming on Netflix

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