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Movie Reviews

Amar Singh Chamkila Review: A stellar act by Diljit Dosanjh in a moving biopic by Imtiaz Ali

Amar Singh Chamkila is streaming on Netflix and also stars Parineeti Chopra.

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Amar Singh Chamkila

Amar Singh Chamkila

Director: Imtiaz Ali

Writers: Imtiaz Ali, Sajid Ali

Cast: Diljit Dosanjh, Parineeti Chopra

Streaming on: Netflix

Hindi cinema seldom gets a biopic right, let alone modify the formulaic structure. The same goes for genre films – two such films have been released in theatres this week – Maidaan and Bade Miyan Chote Miyan. Imtiaz Ali’s Amar Singh Chamkila which drops on Netflix tries new tropes and succeeds as it proceeds.

Imtiaz’s biopic on the life of Amar Singh Chamkila attempts to capture the famous and controversial Punjabi singer in his most defining moments. There’s a scene in the film where Chamkila (Diljit Dosanjh) tells his friend over a phone call – zindagi na samajhdari se chalti nahin, yeh bas chalti hai, jisko jo karna hai iski chaal ke saath kar lena hai, samajhna hai. (Life is not to be understood. It simply moves on and one must just do what he wishes to do with it). Firstly, this is a trademark Imtiaz Ali line. Secondly, it beautifully summarizes the legend of Amar Singh Chamkila. His music emerged out of his surroundings. The kind of people that he lived with and the kind of things he heard them speak.

Chamkila wasn’t even his real surname. It was Sangila as the film informs us. He was from the Chamar community, worked in a sock factory, dealt with his share of discrimination but persisted to make the music he knew. You don’t need to be courageous to do something unimaginable, you just have to be naïve enough. The journey of Chamkila from a naïve villager to becoming a famous singer and reaching a stage where he was not afraid of death was remarkable. But he remained the servant of his audiences.

Also read: Brahmastra actress Rashi Mal: ‘Music is my way of expressing things that I feel deeply about’

What I liked about this biopic is that it doesn’t glorify the artist or seek sympathy. Imtiaz with his co-writer and brother Sajid Ali keeps things matter-of-fact. Chamkila’s flaws are shown as they were, and not to marvel at. The film is narrated almost documentary-style. Multi-media such as animation, photographs, and archival footage have been used smartly and create an immersive experience. Also, it must have saved a lot of budget.

Diljit Dosanjh has sung Chamkila’s songs and they were shot live and used as it is in the film. Diljit being a singer himself helps the cause. He is ably supported by Parineeti Chopra who plays Chamkila’s wife Amarjot and has also sung her songs herself. The Hindi translations of these Punjabi songs appear in typography on screen when the duo is singing at an aakhada (a stage show). Chamkila’s songs attracted record-breaking sales. I hadn’t listened to these songs before neither do I think I’ll be listening to them after watching the film. But in the film, I enjoyed some of those for not just the use of words but what they were trying to say – extramarital affairs, drug and alcohol use, etc. Chamkila also made one of the best-selling devotional albums in Punjab. But the audience didn’t let him change his style. He remained a prisoner of his ‘Chamkila’ image.

Diljit Dosanjh as Amar Singh Chamkila gives a stellar performance – so much at ease and self-assured with his act. Being a singer and a Sikh from Punjab himself, the language and body language must not have been a struggle but Diljit transforms himself into Chamkila. The thing about legends is that people debate about them about what they see at the surface level. Not many are willing to delve into what lies within the person behind that legend. A scene in the film between Chamkila and a journalist beautifully encapsulates this.

Also read: Flipsyde’s Dave Lopez on Allen Ling’s song Closer: ‘It’s a song you would want to get married to’

Supporting Diljit’s Chamkila is the endearing Parineeti Chopra as Amarjot. Parineeti sings herself. She has put on weight for the part. Her act is as natural as Diljit’s – the body language, mannerisms, singing, and stance while performing on stage. Singer Mohit Chauhan and actor Kumud Mishra are seen in special appearances. The supporting cast members do a sincere job of what is expected from them.

There’s so much I can write about the film’s narrative but it will rob you of your viewing experience because these narrative tools provide an element of shock, surprise, and joy. Also, a filmmaker recently told me, “Acchhe kaam ko zyada analyze nahin karna chahiye” (Don’t over-analyze good work). If you were disappointed with Imtiaz’s last two films, you’re in for a treat in this one. From the first sequence itself, you know that the filmmaker is trying to reinvent himself. When I first heard that the film would be directly released on OTT, I was disappointed because you want to watch certain filmmakers’ films only on the big screen. An Imtiaz Ali film set in Punjab with music and background score done by A.R. Rahman, you want to witness all that on the big screen in a dark cinema hall. But thankfully, I got to watch the film at a screening held by MAMI at a theatre in Mumbai. It was worth it.

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