Amar Singh Chamkila Review | Imtiaz Ali Thrives in His Zone in This Well-Made Biopic

Exploring grey characters and emotions has always been an integral part of Imtiaz Ali’s stories. In the climax of Rockstar, we hear this line from Jordan, where he tells his love that they will meet again in a place beyond right and wrong. When it comes to Amar Singh Chamkila, his latest directorial, Imtiaz gets to explore a similar space through a real-life character who was murdered by unknown people, presumably for the vulgarity and objectification of women in the lyrics of his songs. The fact that even women used to love his songs raises a very complicated question of who decides right and wrong. Amar Singh Chamkila is actually an attempt to expose or understand that restrained morality.

The film is about Amar Singh Chamkila, a singer whose songs are still popular in Punjab. He was this extremely simple guy from rural Punjab who had dreams of becoming a singer. He started off as a lyricist and gradually gained popularity for his lyrics and singing style, eventually becoming Punjab’s first true blue rockstar. However, the voyeuristic gaze in his songs always created problems with the religious people. How these diametrically opposite reactions to his creations eventually lead to the end of Chamkila is what we see in this Imtiaz Ali film.

When I heard the announcement of this movie and did a small research about the person, it was quite obvious that the film Imtiaz Ali has taken up has problematic elements. But rather than doing a whitewash of the character, Imtiaz Ali is smartly engaging us in a debate about our definition of vulgarity. The circumstances in which Chamkila was raised had made him write those songs. There is this scene in the movie where an elderly woman says, that every man has similar thoughts about women, Chamkila is bold enough to express that without any sort of inhibition. And there is one more scene in the film where Chamkila is getting uncomfortable seeing a female journalist wearing pants. That scene pretty much gives you an idea that whatever he wrote came from what he saw and thought it was all okay because, as a child, he heard women in Punjab having a fun time singing songs with so-called vulgar lyrics.

Imtiaz Ali’s visual storytelling uses editing possibilities to create an intriguing flow to the narrative. The movie is narrated here as a flashback story from the perspective of various people who were a part of Chamkila’s growth at various stages. If you look at the very first visual of Chamkila’s death, there is no dramatization given to the visuals. It is because we don’t really know the depth of that moment. The same moment, when shown differently towards the end, is pictured in an extremely dramatic way with high frame rates because we, or the police officer who was like a representative of the viewer, now have an idea about who Chamkila was.

In order to do justice to the songs, Imtiaz has kept them in Punjabi with the Hindi translation popping up on the screen. The way the movie slips into real photos and footage occasionally made the narrative even more compelling. There are these split-screen visualizations of certain moments, and they have various purposes at various points. The most beautiful one was the final one where we see the police official looking into the beautiful past of Chamkila and Amarjot. Tilt-shift focus was used to depict the childhood memories of Chamkila, and there are these animated snippets that sort of cover the grandeur of his rockstar image very convincingly. In most of the Imtiaz Ali – AR Rahman combinations one could sense the music enhancing the drama in the story, and when you revisit the album of films like Tamasha, Rockstar, and Highway, one could really revise the whole film in their head. The Chamkila album from ARR had that quality as it had all the wide varieties of style despite the story happening in the ’80s.

Imtiaz Ali’s vision of Amar Singh Chamkila doesn’t have him as some sort of rebel. He is a conflicted and confused man who is perplexed seeing the irony of the demand and supply. He gets scared when people threaten him, and he is also someone who can’t say no to the people who made him popular. There is that sense of naivety in that character, which makes him a lot more human, and I think along with the talent of singing, Diljit Dosanjh has that simplicity in him which he channels into this performance. As Amarjot Kaur, Parineeti Chopra was also pretty convincing. The duo shared a palpable singing chemistry, which made the characters even more real. Anjum Batra, Rahul Mittra, and Apinderdeep Singh were some of the other names that managed to create an impression with their performances.

Amit Trivedi once called Amar Singh Chamkila the Elvis Presley of Punjab, as Presley had also faced similar criticism during his career. If you look at the best works of Imtiaz Ali, he has always thrived whenever the central character is in that morally ambiguous discomfort zone. In Amar Singh Chamkila, he gets to explore that using a real story and with a screenplay structure that creates excitement around a known story, Imtiaz Ali has made a wonderful film that gives you a feeling that it will grow in you as years pass by.

Final Thoughts

With a screenplay structure that creates excitement around a known story, Imtiaz Ali has made a wonderful film that gives you a feeling that it will grow in you as years pass by


Green: Recommended Content

Orange: The In-Between Ones

Red: Not Recommended


By Aswin Bharadwaj

Founder and editor of Lensmen Reviews.