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Movie Review: Amar Singh Chamkila – 4/5

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Synopsis: Based on a true tragedy, the musical looks back at Amar Singh Chamkila, Punjab’s popular but disgraced slain singer. Belonging to the ill-fated 27 club, he and his wife Amarjot, were shot dead in the late 80s by masked gunmen. The killings were preceded by anonymous threats directed at the singer for penning obscene lyrics that largely objectified women. Diljit Dosanjh and Parineeti Chopra play the lead roles.

Review: Imtiaz Ali, known for his soul-searching, contemplative stories on love and self discovery, steers away from his usual path only to truly find himself again. Through Chamkila, he deep dives into a tragedy seeped in moral policing, caste discrimination, societal bullying and prejudice.

Poignant, provocative and poetic, Imtiaz’s vision conjures vivid emotions. The objective, yet empathetic, biopic compels you to look inward. Are we slaves to survival? What constitutes art? Who gets to decide what qualifies as art? Does fame without respect matter? Should anyone be expected to endure a lifetime of hate and humiliation for their choices driven by circumstances? And finally, can you separate the art from the artist? We have a right to criticise but do we have a right to ban something?

Be it Tamasha’s Ved-Tara, Rockstar’s Jordan or Jai and Meera of Love Aaj kal, Imtiaz’s central characters are often non-conformist, sometimes even without being aware of it. They aren’t rebellious by choice. The intent is to live freely, more openly and discover a purpose along the way. Chamkila is an able successor. He isn’t heroic per se, nor dismissive of the society but chooses not to get bullied into submission. Along with entertaining, the film makes a social commentary on the (offline) cancel culture of yore (80s-90s), politics of religious radicals and repressed sensuality.

At 2 hours, 25 minutes, the film packs in a lot and has much to process, given it’s non linear storytelling, genre hopping (docu drama-musical-semi investigative) & political insight. Punjab is viewed as a state of excess, be it through its extreme love, passion or control. The second half feels a bit repetitive but AR Rahman’s music (background) and Diljit’s rustic vocals keep the momentum going. The film belongs to the actor-singer as he delivers a career-defining performance. He brings a perfect blend of humility, frustration and angst to his part. While it isn’t fair to expect Parineeti to match up to Diljit’s singing, she has a likeable presence but her acting pales in comparison in crucial scenes.

The camera work especially in Naram Kalja, where the girls talk straight to the camera, stays with you & the one-liners are hilarious.

Given Chamkila’s questionable reputation, unapologetic approach to life, the film doesn’t glorify nor justify his actions. It merely allows him a chance to be heard. This symphonic tale of survival, shame and social standing makes for an immersive watch.

PS: If you aren’t well-acquainted with Punjabi, English subtitles are mandatory for this one.

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