‘Chamkila’ movie review: Diljit Dosanjh gamely anchors Imtiaz Ali’s vibrant musical

During the 1980s, a groundbreaking artist, Amar Singh Chamkila, rose from his roots in a Dalit Sikh family in Punjab to become a provocative sensation with his edgy melodies and sharp-witted lyrics. With songs that boldly addressed taboo topics and mirrored the socioeconomic challenges faced by the common folk in North India, he captured the hearts and minds of many. His life was tragically cut short on March 8, 1988, when he and his wife, as well as fellow performers, were mysteriously murdered in Mehsampur, leaving a legacy shrouded in unresolved enigmas amidst a period of political unrest.

A creative force in cinema, Imtiaz Ali, along with his brother Sajid, revisits Chamkila’s story. Those acquainted with Chamkila’s notorious life won’t find new revelations in the film, as it doesn’t delve into the intricacies of the unsolved case. Instead, it beautifully honors his legend, offering a glimpse into his personal world beyond the public’s eye.

A telling moment is presented deep into the narrative. Chamkila, portrayed by Diljit Dosanjh, experiences a bittersweet triumph with a sold-out concert in Toronto. Despite outshining a recent show by his hero Amitabh Bachchan, Chamkila’s happiness dissolves, hinting at an inner turmoil. The film subtly questions whether Chamkila ever truly felt at ease with his explosive success and fame.

Also Read: In the wake of Coachella, Diljit Dosanjh delves into depicting a folk musician from Punjab in the upcoming film ‘Jodi’.

Instead of solving existing puzzles, Ali’s film paints an intimate portrait of Chamkila’s life through a nonlinear storyline that plays with reality and folklore, blending a compelling musical score with visual poetry.

Amar Singh Chamkila (Hindi)

Director: Imtiaz Ali

Cast: Diljit Dosanjh, Parineeti Chopra, Anurag Arora, Kumud Mishra, Anjum Batra, Samuel John

Runtime: 146 minutes

Storyline: A cinematic retelling of the life and impact of the late Punjabi folk legend, Amar Singh Chamkila

Ali’s account begins with Chamkila’s assassination and meanders through scenes of his youth, career highlights, and ultimately, his demise, accompanied by rich, emotive soundscapes. The movie’s opening, with its bold audiovisual montage, might remind viewers of the stylistic choices seen in Ali’s previous works such as ‘Tamasha’ and ‘Rockstar’.

The plot methodically unfolds the chronicle of Chamkila’s stardom, reflecting on his humble origins, challenges, and triumphs. Despite the turmoil of 80s Punjab, Ali manages to maintain an optimistic undertone throughout the film, which is further accentuated by a vibrant animated interlude and a stirring original score by A.R. Rahman. The lyrics, penned by Irshad Kamil, display a playful cultural authenticity, connecting listeners to Chamkila’s art.

A still from ‘Amar Singh Chamkila’

A still from ‘Amar Singh Chamkila’

Dosanjh impresses with his sensitive depiction of Chamkila, capturing the essence of a visionary artist lost in his dreams. Despite some expectations being unmet, his performance is a nuanced take on a complex figure. Chopra contributes a compelling performance, and the film features an array of engaging characters, each adding a layer to the rich tapestry of Chamkila’s legacy.

In the end, ‘Amar Singh Chamkila’ is more an exploration of the lives influenced by the singer than a biography of Chamkila himself. His profound impact on those around him—from rivals to admirers—is evident in the personal tales they share, much like moths drawn to his flame.

Amar Singh Chamkila is available for streaming on Netflix.

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