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Amar Singh Chamkila Review: The Imtiaz Ali we missed, the Diljit Dosanjh we deserve

Amar Singh Chamkila is where Imtiaz Ali returns to form, with AR Rahman and Irshad Kamil by his side, while telling the story of an artist who never let the word dejection get attached to him. 

Amar Singh Chamkila Review: The Imtiaz Ali we missed, the Diljit Dosanjh we deserve
Amar Singh Chamkila Review Out

Last Updated: 01.31 PM, Apr 12, 2024


Amar Singh Chamkila Story

Amar Singh, the artist who turned into Amar Singh Chamkila (Diljit Dosanjh), grew up in a poverty-stricken environment where the only things he was exposed to were evils. Growing up, he turned the misery around him into something artistic. But to the world, his art was obscene. But who decides this? He and his wife, Amarjot Kaur (Parineeti Chopra), continued to sing the same songs until the day bullets with their names were fired from a gun by people who are to date unknown. Will the world ever ask for justice for Chamkila? Or did his art, considered small, take away his right to live?

Amar Singh Chamkila Review

What is high art? What is low art? What is ART? Who defines who consumes what? Do you kill art that doesn’t align with your idea? “Jis wajah se chamka, woh us wajah se tapka,” reads a line in the epic song Baaja, composed by AR Rahman and penned by Irshad Kamil. A line that defines what led to Chamkila’s rise is what brought doom to his doorstep, and what follows is an almost two-and-a-half-hour dissection of a man through the eyes of those who saw him because they are the ones who defined him. Imtiaz Ali, in his return to feature format and form after half a decade, explores a man who chose anything that came his way but never let the word dejection join his name.


Directed by Imtiaz Ali, who wrote Amar Singh Chamkila with his brother Sajid Ali (Laila Majnu), the movie pays homage to an artist who died at the hands of an unknown system because it saw the artist in him as a criminal. That system decided that what he did shouldn’t be consumed by anyone around, but did that system even ask anyone? Imtiaz, in his first Netflix directorial, explains exactly that with a lens that looks at Chamkila as a research subject. Everyone has dissected him enough, and everyone has criticised him more than they should have. Now it’s time they put all of it together and connect the dots.

Amar Singh Chamkila, for the most part, is the world looking at Chamkila, a man who was born into poverty where his education was mostly the slurs and slang thrown around him, and the curiosity to know their meaning raised a man who found art in it. But what was art to him was garbage to many, and that led to the conflict. Imtiaz never looks at Chamkila with empathy; he rather looks at him with judgement and lets Chamkila be his attorney who clears the claims against him. Amar Singh Chamkila stands tall only because of this trait, where Chamkila’s image is neither whitewashed nor given a pedestal. He is always the man who wrote ‘Gande Gaane’.

The first half is an Imtiaz Ali we have never seen before. He has multiple storytellers scattered throughout, all telling their own version of Chamkila’s stories. Some have seen him rise, some have lived it with him, but everyone has one thing to say: ‘he was a wild artist’. The second half is where Imtiaz comes into being and explores the wild with a spectacular Diljit Dosanjh and Parineeti Chopra. Even with timid steps, Imtiaz Ali made sure he tackled the politics of the time. Chamkila was a victim of caste politics, the class divide, and even the power play. While you can see Imtiaz not letting politics take centre stage, he scatters the points quite cleverly. In a key moment, Chamkila says, “Chamar hoon par bhukha mahin marunga,” when a contractor reminds him of his class. A moment that reminds you this is an Imtiaz Ali movie and this is a man who now aligns with his mind.

Amar Singh Chamkila is, in many ways, Imtiaz Ali’s return to form. This is not a surface-level exploration. Here is a filmmaker who wants you to not just look at Chamkila and his descent into madness and fearlessness but also at the surroundings that have forced him from one margin to another. The journey in between is where Chamkila died many deaths that led to his losing it completely. The most hurtful moment is when Imtiaz shows you how the world exploited Chamkila even after his death. When you see his father being okay with his singing only because he brings money and the world being happy because he donates a hefty sum, it is all triggering. 

But nothing triggers more than the world trying to juice out the last drop of profit from his dead body. They pose with his and Amarjot’s mortal remains like they always supported them while the haunting Vida Karo plays, a song equivalent to Pyaasa's Yeh Duniya (1957), reminding you that not much has changed for artists who went against extremists of any kind. 

Talking of Vida Karo, the music of Chamkila is iconic. One must not compare it with Rockstar only for the names involved; the Ranbir Kapoor-led film is a different beast that cannot be recreated. With Amar Singh Chamkila, Imtiaz Ali, AR Rahman, and Irshad Kamil entering boundaries, they haven’t. They blend Chamkila’s world into their music and what is born is a unique album. Naram Kaalja is a rebellion that reminds us that our culture has song forms like that of Chamkila’s; we never questioned them. Baaja is a beast, and so are the rest of the songs. All hail the trio that never disappoints. Chamkila becomes a social commentary through its songs that build a successful parallel narrative. Exactly how music must be approached.

Speaking of acting performances, Diljit Dosanjh gives one of the finest performances of his career. Chamkila is as complex as a character can be and even more so in the head than physically. To be that is a challenge and Dosanjh aces it. The acting performance touches the heart and wins it. Parineeti Chopra as Amarjot Kaur will be one of the most celebrated performances of the year. The actor understands the responsibility that comes with this and does it well. However, the script at one point sidelines her and brings Chamkila as supreme. It is felt and will not be appreciated. She paid for his bravery, and Amarjot should have gotten the opportunity to vent it out.

Kumud Mishra plays a very confusing part this time. The excitement we had seeing him the first time in Chamkila is boiled down to two scenes that don’t create much impact because we haven’t been introduced to him well and have not been given any time to know him. We don’t even know when he met Chamkila for the first time. The entire gang that plays various people from Chamkila’s team is impeccable. Robbie Johal, Tushar Dutt, Apinderdeep Singh, and others are actors who definitely deserve more gigs.

Imtiaz Ali’s direction is brilliant as he explores the man, and I have written enough about it; anything more would be spoilers. Once the tension reaches its peak, the filmmaker tries to dodge the politics, and one can sense his urge to not go into sensitive lanes. But it all is compensated for as he begins the last act and how he chooses to open and end the film. You see bodies rotting slowly, and I might be reading too much between the lines, but it is what the harsh society does to artists who dare to do something that doesn't fit the norms.

DOP Sylvester Fonseca gives Amar Singh Chamkila a vibe like someone is shooting this on their phone and that gives the movie a very interesting and fresh layer. The editing is peppy with its jump cuts and constant change in screen ratio. Imtiaz Ali gives the technical department a free hand to experiment and one can see it. Suman Roy Mahapatra’s production design is authentic to the core and so rustic. Everything has rough edges and almost nothing is polished, which gives Amar Singh Chamkila its relatability visually. Watching it on the big screen at the MAMI Year Round Programme had its own charm. I wish the world could experience it. 

Amar Singh Chamkila Verdict

“Har kisi ki sahi galat chunne ki aukat nahi hoti; kuch ko bas zinda rehna hota hai,” Chamkila tells a journalist who criticises him and later heaps praise on him once he is dead. This is what Imtiaz Ali sets out to explain and you must watch the film with an open mind. The ‘ganda’ Chamkila wants to tell you what made him ‘ganda’."

Amar Singh Chamkila is now streaming on Netflix. Stay tuned to OTTplay for more such reviews and everything else from the world of streaming and films.


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