Movie Review

    Amar Singh Chamkila: Diljit, Parineeti help perfectly execute a masterpiece crafted by Imtiaz Ali

    Director: Imtiaz Ali

    Writers: Imtiaz Ali, Sajid Ali

    Cast: Diljit Dosanjh, Parineeti Chopra, Apinderdeep Singh

    Music: A.R. Rahman

    Run time: 2 hrs 26 mins

    Rating: ****

    Synopsis: The film follows the life of pop star duo Amar Singh Chamkila and Amarjot Kaur, whose songs that were social commentaries or devotionals became massive hits in the 80’s.

    Review: Imtiaz Ali’s Amar Singh Chamkila attempts to capture the essence of a legendary Punjabi singer who evades easy categorization. Murdered in 1988 at the age of 27 when he was at the height of his career, Chamkila is an exemplar of the supernova who lives and dies for art.

    Inspired by the goings-on around him, Chamkila wields his tumbi like a magic wand, bewitching local listeners as well as the Punjabi diaspora. Yet, his fame cannot shield him from the ire of militants, religious leaders and the police. Dosanjh, Chopra, and a few other singers perform Chamkila’s original songs in Punjabi, with the Hindi translations appearing on the screen. AR Rahman’s Punjabi pop-inflected Hindi soundtrack is woven into the musical-like saga. (Punjab is called Panjab throughout the movie.)

    The hot-blooded account of a cold case includes animation, split screens and footage of the real Chamkila and Amarjot. There is enough archival material included in the film to make the heart yearn for a straight-up documentary.

    The music video-level aesthetic creates enough momentum to distract from how mundane the movie turns out to be. The biopic is fixated on the explicit lyrics that put Chamkila on the top of charts and hit lists.

    Amar Singh Chamkila gets hot under the collar about Chamkila’s unabashed lasciviousness while claiming to celebrate his liberated ways.

    AR Rahman’s melodious tunes include Vida Karo, in which lyricist Irshad Kamil points to the hypocrisy of Chamkila’s world. But the movie itself can’t move beyond Chamkila as the creator of dirty ditties.

    Chamkila’s Dalit identity, the reason his earthy songs vaulted over socio-economic divisions, a sense of what else was happening in the music industry and Punjabi society at large – these barely concern the biopic’s makers. Instead, the film keeps looping back to the content of Chamkila’s music.

    Clumsy montages feebly address the tricky timing of Chamkila’s ascent – when the movement to carve out an independent Khalistan was at its peak. The creators also showcased the romance between Chamkila and Amarjot, which grows in the back of crowded cars in which they are squashed with other travelers.

    Initially coming off as a wide-eyed novice who doesn’t know what has hit him, Chamkila begins to reveal his complex personality. Although Dosanjh looks a bit too urbane to play the rustic singer, the actor scores in the scenes where Chamkila stops pretending to be on the outside while amazing things keep happening to him. Dosanjh is also an effortless charmer, which works when Chamkila is tuning up the crowds.

    Watch the film yourself and let the magic of Amar Singh Chamkila engulf your senses.

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