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‘It’s Like A Butterfly, Short-Lived But Beautiful,’ AR Rahman Praises Imtiaz Ali’s Amar Singh Chamkila

Jis wajah se chamka woh, uss wajah se tapka woh – these lyrics from Amar Singh Chamkila’s opening song, which is a biographical song about one of Punjab’s most well-known singers, essentially lay out the plot. After a four-year hiatus, Imtiaz Ali returns to directing, meticulously selecting even the smallest aspects from the singer’s life to craft a gripping story that culminates in a stunning film with impeccable storytelling. The movie immerses you in Chamkila’s life from the outset, showing you his ascent and decline as a musician as well as how his own success and notoriety ultimately contributed to his premature death.

Biopics frequently veer off course in an attempt to depict a variety of facets of a subject’s life; nevertheless, Imtiaz is here to present us with the true picture of Amar Singh Chamkila, popularly referred to as the “Elvis Presley of Punjab.” It turns out that casting Diljit Dosanjh was a safe choice, not just because of language barriers but also since the singer-actor is from the same state and must have grown up listening to Chamkila’s music. As a result, Dosanjh’s portrayal of the late artist looks incredibly realistic, and his physical attributes, mannerisms, and singing style are all very true to the late singer. To the extent where Diljit even removed his turban in order to resemble Chamkila, and he gives a mouthwatering performance that leaves you wanting more. Parineeti Chopra, on the other hand, does a respectable job as Amarjot, albeit it seems that Diljit’s star power eclipses her. In the movie, Parineeti sings 15 songs together, but to be honest, her performance isn’t very memorable.

When Chamkila (Diljit Dosanjh) and his wife Amarjot, also known as Babbi (Parineeti Chopra), arrive in Mehsampur for a performance, they are shot and killed. We are told through a series of flashbacks how he became one of the most important singers in Punjab and what ultimately led to his murder when their bodies were thrown into the Phillaur station.

Through a non-linear narrative, the film travels through 1977 to 1988, and tells us how aspiring singer Chamkila, working in a socks-knitting factory, is looking for that one break, which he gets after meeting Shinda, an already established musician. Chamkila starts writing songs for him, and one day while filling up for Shinda on stage at an akhada (crowd that gathers to listen to live music), he makes audiences fall in love with his style. He becomes an instant sensation, and his records start selling like hot cakes. He is often referred to as ‘ganda banda’ but despite writing, composing and singing objectionable songs with brash lyrics, there’s always a demand for his music among fans across age groups.

Written by Imtiaz and his brother Sajid, the film has some powerful and thought-provoking dialogues that make you sit up and take notice. On being questioned about how he justifies the vulgar songs he writes and sings, ‘Har kisi ki sahi galat sochne ki aukaat nahi hoti. Meri toh nahi hai. Mujhe toh bas zinda rehna hai’.

There’s a portion in the film where a press reporter comes to interview Chamkila and insists on talking to him alone and ask some personal questions. He’s reluctant to an extent that he won’t even make an eye contact with her, because she is wearing pants. Here, the film unapologetically showcases the hypocrisy that has plagued our society for long where a singer can write songs about women’s sexuality, objectify them in unimaginable ways but has issues with their modern clothing.

I loved how Imtiaz doesn’t try to do any image correction for Chamkila through this biopic. He presents the singer in his purest form through a melodious musical. If you are fluent in Punjabi, you’ll absolutely love every single time Diljit takes the stage and sings a new number, as you’d be able to understand the intended pun and humour in the words he was known for. Even if you don’t know the language, Imtiaz has brilliantly used supers (Hindi translation on screen) that make it easy for you to grasp the flow. However, each time the supers come on screen during a song, there’s a bit of a distraction and you won’t know where to focus – on the words being written or the artists performing on stage. But you can look past that flaw and enjoy the musical. While Chamkila’s story in itself is so colourful, Imtiaz has further enhanced it by adding another layer of 2D animation to certain visuals.

There have been several conspiracy theories around Chamkila’s death, whether it was separatists that eliminated him, or jealous rivals who got him killed or some religious groups that didn’t want him to besmirch the society and mislead and corrupt the mindsets of the youth. Fortunately, the film doesn’t delve deep into solving this mystery and turning into a cat and mouse chase. Instead, Imtiaz’s sole aim is to familiarise his audiences with Chamkila the person, the singer, the husband and the star he eventually became.

Watch out for several heartwarming moments in the film where you realise that whether out in open or behind the closed doors, Chamkila’s music always had takers. For instance, when the investigating cop is shown to silently confess that he also secretly admired Chamkila’s music is such a beautiful scene. Or when instead of yelling at his young son for not studying, he politely tells him to listen to Chamkila’s songs without fear whenever he felt like, is another moving scene.

The biopic also touches upon the tragic 1984 riots that took Punjab by storm and lefts artistes worried about their future. At this point, the film takes a moment to show how naïve Chamkila has been as a music label’s owner (Kumud Mishra) tells him, ‘Jab duniya mein tanaav badhta hai, tab junta ke andar entertainment ki bhookh aur bhi badh jati hai’, thus convincing Chamkila to continue making music. Further pushing him to not give in to the pressure and continue writing the same old songs that people loved and want to listen, we hear another dialogue, ‘Jab chaaron taraf khatra ho, log takleef se tadap rahe ho, toh unhe dukh bhare gaane nahi sunne hote, dukh toh pehle se hi unki zindagi mein hai. Unke koi tadakta gaana chahiye jinse unke raahat mile, aur kuch lamhon ke liye unki zindagi araam ho jaye.’ How Chamkila takes it upon himself to entertain people and make them forget their miseries is a written so beautifully that it just stays with you.

The film’s soundtrack, which was masterfully composed by AR Rahman and features lyrics by Irshad Kamil, is another standout. Ishq Mitaye creates the ideal atmosphere for a melancholic song, but Vida Karo is a depressing song that makes your throat hurt. The film’s strong point is the fifteen songs that Diljit and Parineeti live recorded in their own voices for their stage shows. Additionally, Imtiaz chose to include the lively song Naram Kaalja, which depicts women—from college girls to middle-aged women to the elderly in the home—openly discussing their sexual wants during those awkward times when women weren’t comfortable coming up about their sexuality. All you want to do is get up and give a loud cheer!

Watch Amar Singh Chamkila for its music, fun, spirited, honesty, and purity. It’s the equivalent of going to a live concert, and Diljit, Imtiaz, and AR Rahman are an incredible trio. Netflix is currently streaming the movie.

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