Amar Singh Chamkila Review: WAH!!

Diljit Dosanjh’s switch in singing style as he smoothly assumes Amar Singh Chamkila’s vocal persona highlights the brilliance of his artistry, observes Sukanya Verma.

Back in the 1980s, popular Punjabi singer Amar Singh Chamkila and his wife Amarjot made a killing in the music market with their raunchy, rustic duets attracting fandom and flak in equal measure.

On March 8, 1988, just as they were stepping out of a dove grey Ambassador to perform at a function in Mehsampur, the couple was gunned down in broad daylight.

Only 27 years old at the time of his death, Chamkila’s controversial songs and a life tragically cut short has gained a sort of timeless celebrity since.

Chamkila, John Lennon, The Notorious BIG, Tupac Shakur or, more recently, Sidhu Moose Wala, the murder of musicians is, understandably, subject to endless speculation.

Many film-makers, both documentary and feature, have probed into the mystery and myths surrounding these killings to gain insight into the matter if also an intimate understanding into the world of the deceased.

Most of the time, it says more about the society we live in as Imtiaz Ali’s passionately crafted biopic notes in the posthumous reflections of Chamkila’s colleagues and cops investigating his death while gently dropping their guard.

Imtiaz’s earlier works dabble in journeys leading to self-discovery, contemporary coming-of-ages or meet-cute whimsy.

In Amar Singh Chamkila, his most revolutionary creation since Geet and Jordan, he revisits a decade worth of memories to document a man on the fringes (Diljit Dosanjh) coming up in life by regaling an audience who loves his guts.

Drawn to the power of innuendo as a knee-high kid, a Ludhiana lower-caste lad finds his calling in tumbi and titillating penmanship culminating in folksy, sexually charged ditties.

Brushing aside the English subtitles laying bare the risqué reality of his purely Punjabi words, there’s a surprising innocence in Chamkila’s straightforward performance, which Dosanjh faithfully retains on screen.

Chamkila’s kotha dhau kalakar — dubbed so for literally bringing the house down during his live concerts — finds an able partner in Amarjot (Parineeti Chopra) as they bawdily banter in akharas and dive into their passion for music making outside it.

Fascinating how Chamkila and Amarjot’s demure romance plays out in complete contrast to their salacious interactions before the public.

Distracting wig design aside, Dosanjh’s switch in singing style as he smoothly assumes Chamkila’s vocal persona highlights the brilliance of his artistry.

As niftily she carries the high-pitch tunes of her LIVE singing, Parineeti’s dispassionate presence is more of an accessory than anchor in the grand scheme of things.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

As their popularity grows, so do their critics.

Against the backdrop of Punjab’s insurgency, accusations of hurting religious sentiments and extortionists making a quick buck at his expense, regular instances of threats and intimidation portend Chamkila’s eventual fate.

Call them entourage or coterie, his pack of brothers too have an axe to grind or grudge they harbour, which takes the shape of guilt when confronted by the grim sight of Chamkila’s body.

Imtiaz and brother Sajid Ali’s script travels back and forth to rue and ruminate at the injustice of the crowd-pleaser’s end.

Did Chamkila die because he was a Dalit and married a woman from an upper caste?

Did his stardom drive his rivals to wipe him out of the scene?

Did his ‘sexila’ ardour offend the moral police to the extent they ordered his death?

The police couldn’t make sense of his execution.

But it’s as though Chamkila knew and had made his peace with it all along.

When his well-wisher warns him against returning to Punjab, he calmly explains, ‘Yeh duniya na, yeh samajhdaari se chalti hi nahi hai. Yeh bas chalti hai. Aur iski chaal ke saath jisko jo karna hai na bas kar le. Samajhna nahi hai kuch bhi.’

Imtiaz’s stylistic touches around the man and his music underscore the sad but true paradox of Punjab’s violence and vibrance. Every time he floods the screen in provocative captions of Chamkila’s war on propriety illustrates the bleak chapters of his life in comic book panels or juxtaposes the recreated imagery with real-life footage.

As the biggest icon of India’s seventies-eighties pop culture era, Amitabh Bachchan’s presence looms large in Amar Singh Chamkila’s hopes and hairstyles.

Imtiaz recognises the sweeping influence of that unmistakable confidence in Vijay’s promise to overturn his ‘Main paanch lakh ka sauda karne aaya hoon aur meri jeb mein paanch phooti kaudiyaan bhi nahin hai‘ status quo on the disadvantaged youth of that time.

Watch out for a mild but meaningful manifestation of it in Chamkila’s ‘Janta ke aage main Amitabh Bachchan’ claim.

Amar Singh Chamkila‘s social commentary comes alive in its musical elegy for a ribald rebel.

Brimming in exuberant covers of his original numbers, performed in person by its leads, the biopic finds its alter ego in Irshad Kamil’s kaleidoscopic song writing.

Capturing an artist’s gift to articulate his dirtiest desires before a sexually repressed crowd and say it like it is, the curse of censorship versus the demands of fans where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t and complexities of making music in the time of militancy, serve as a standalone movie.

Composer A R Rahman is happy to accommodate the zeal of his many, many beautiful words in beats so sublime they do perfect justice to Punjab’s fabled Elvis Presley.

Amar Singh Chamkila streams on Netflix.

Amar Singh Chamkila Review Rediff Rating: