Netflix’s Amar Singh Chamkila, Imtiaz Ali Pays A Warm  Tribute To Punjab’s Elvis Presley

Amar Singh Chamkila
Amar Singh Chamkila

Rating: *** ½

“Hum chetaawani nahin denge, marenge,” a  Sikh committee  warns  Amar Singh Chamkila, who is too far gone into wink-wink-nudge-nudge gaane route to care.

When threatened  Chamkila, as played by Diljit Dosanjh, is  like, whatever…

Was Chamkila  a brave musician who  wouldn’t  be intimidated by moral policing and  creative  fascism? Director Imtiaz  Ali who had lately been  churning out balderdash  like,cringe, When Harry Met Sejal and, double  cringe,  Love Aaj Kal (Kartik Aaryan’s own Razia Sultan) , is back in form.

And in Punjab where he loves to shoot  from his hips.
Amar Singh Chamkila  is  shot like  a docu-dream. The cinematographer Sylvester  Fonseca keeps the visuals  raw real and rugged while editor Aarti Bajaj  knows exactly where to cut before the  raunchy singing hits the low notes.

Dosanjh, a  singer and an actor of substantial skills, is the Chamkila we expect: you know, Sikh singer, etc.  But  there is  no surprise element here. No…fireworks. Dosanjh, I think, assumed  the  cautious attitude to  play the controversial  musician.  Chamkila, as played by  Dosanjh , seems  to make all the right noises, while making sure that the  neighbours  don’t wake up.

 A  part  of  the moderate experience that is Dosanjh’s Chamkila, is  the  fence-sitting that the writers(Imtiaz and Sajid Ali) have adopted . We  don’t know till the end which side  the film is on: is it  okay for  Chamkila to sing all those naughty  slightly lurid songs  about  devar-bhabhi, etc. Or  should  Chamkila have curbed his exuberance and saved  his own life and his wife’s?

Halfway through the  film when the death threats  begin to get very serious, Chamkila decides to switch genres . From risqué  songs he is shown going dharmik.  The  transition is anything but smooth and the consequences  of this charge of art  quite calamitous , with  fans (understandably) asking for the real Chamkila  to please stand up. In a manner of speaking…rather, singing.

Unknowingly or not, some  portions  of  Chamkila’s  life are filmed more as satire than tragedy when in fact the need of the  hour was gravitas. There is this  unintentionally  hilarious sequence wherein a group of  “fans” barge into Chamkila’s home, praise him to the skies  and then  threaten him in the same breath.

They are fans with fangs: they love his music but, hell,there is  a job to be made.

This brings  me to Chamkila’s  wife Amarjot Kaur. Parineeti Chopra plays her with impressive quietude. But why does this shy clear-headed woman agree to  sing those dirty ditties on stage with her husband ? For her spouse or the love of music?

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