‘Amar Singh Chamkila’ Ending Explained & Film Summary: What Happened To Chamkila’s Sons?


Amar Singh Chamkila’s songs described repressed sexual desires and fantasies, which is why he was loved by his fans and hated by his critics. Imtiaz Ali’s Amar Singh Chamkila skillfully brings out the caste politics associated with the singer. The public perception was such that only the working class was assumed to be his devoted listeners and fans. Cultured men publicly expressed their disapproval of Chamkila’s vulgar music, but secretly, they too bought his cassettes and smirked at the lyrics. When chaos ensued in Punjab during the 1980s, Chamkila became a target. All of a sudden, Chamkila was blamed for spreading filth and corrupting the minds of his audience. The singer was left without much of a choice—he could either comply and give up his music career or sing till his last breath, and he chose to do the latter.

Spoiler Alert

The rise of the humble singer

Born into a Dalit Sikh family, Dhanni Ram aka Amar Singh, from a young age, was exposed to the ‘filth’ that he eventually incorporated into his lyrics. When an interviewer accused him of objectifying women through his lyrics, Chamkila retorted back, saying that he was born into vulgarity and that was the kind of life and language he had grown up with. Extramarital affairs, violence, voyeuristic pleasure, objectification of women, debauchery—as a little boy, Singh had witnessed it all, and it remained etched in his mind. Naturally, the environment he had grown up in influenced the lyrics he wrote.

Amar Singh worked at a cloth factory when he met Kesar Singh Tikki, the dholak player of popular Punjabi singer Jatinder Jinda. Singh was beaming with confidence, and even though Tikki was hesitant, he ended up helping the amateur singer. Jinda was surprised to learn that the eighteen-year-old was not just a talented singer but also a capable writer. The crowd enjoyed the suggestive lyrics composed by Singh, and he eventually joined Jinda’s entourage. Singh’s life took a turn when one day Jinda failed to arrive at his show on time. Everyone on the team knew that Singh was an equally capable singer, and they encouraged him to entertain the audience until the star of the show arrived. It was all too sudden for Amar Singh, but the audience was agitated, and only good music could calm them down. That day, Amar Singh became Amar Singh Chamkila, and he, with a tumbi in hand, went on stage. The audience booed at him and screamed for Jinda, but the minute Chamkila started singing, everyone was in awe. Jinda was shocked when the audience requested Chamkila to continue performing. On that day, he realized that he would be replaced by his protege. Chamkila’s popularity skyrocketed when Jinda traveled to Canada and his producer launched the record of the new musical duo, Chamkila and Sonia.

Throughout his career, Singh often faced the question—why vulgar music? And his answer was simple: That was the kind of music the audience demanded. Coming from a humble background, Chamkila valued his audience, and he never wanted to leave them disappointed. He was proud that he could entertain people during trying times. And he believed that he put into words what everyone (all castes and classes) thought and dreamed of. People were shy to admit it for moralistic reasons, but Chamkila was unafraid.

How did Chamkila revolutionize the Punjabi music scene?

Chamkila’s lyrics and high-pitched vocals became his signature style. At a young age, he had come to realize the kind of music the crowd enjoyed, and he delivered just that. There was also a sense of relatability when it came to his music. The situations he mentioned in his songs were either familiar or taken straight out of one’s wild fantasy. Illicit relationships and affairs were openly discussed by Chamkila through his songs, and repressed desire was often the subject of his lyrics. While such topics were discussed only among men in close circles, if at all discussed, the fact that Chamkila was addressing such forbidden topics through his songs triggered the educated upper class.

Amar Singh Chamkila establishes through found footage of his performances that it was not just the working-class men who enjoyed his music but also women. While I am not familiar with the language, the subtitles suggest that his lyrics, more often than not, objectified women, but that does not necessarily mean that women did not listen to his music. The duet arrangement allowed for the representation of women’s desires. The conversational lyrics and the female voice gave women the space to express their sexuality. The complex relationship between Indian women and sexuality becomes important in this context. Until the 1970s, in Hindi mainstream films, a traditional woman devoid of sexual desire was the ideal Indian woman, but gradually, during the 1970s and 1980s, we witnessed a shift in the portrayal with the rise of working women and their exposure to the Western lifestyle. Chamkila’s music career spanned from the late 1970s to the 1980s, and it is not far-fetched to imagine that it was in his lyrics that women found a way to channel their sexuality. Chamkila sheepishly smiled when he was titled “Kotha Dhau Kalakaar” (The Roof Breaker) after a roof crashed during one of his shows because of the hundreds of women who had gathered to watch him perform.

The 1980s were also a period of great turmoil in Punjab with the uprising of the Sikh militants against the Indian government for autonomous status. Chamkila was dumbstruck to see his demand at a time when people were being murdered and there was chaos all around. He realized that in such a tense situation, people craved music that was celebratory, fun, and entertaining. Chamkila believed it was his duty to perform, now more than ever. But not everyone was happy with the musician’s decision.

Who was behind the death threats?

Chamkila received death threats, and the only way he could avoid them was by changing the kind of music he made. The Sikh militants were not happy with the music Chamkila produced. According to them, he was corrupting the minds of the common people. His music was a distraction to the cause, and they made it quite clear that he must change his ways. Chamkila was a scared man; he had a family to look after, and he was afraid of losing everything he had worked hard for. For the sake of his and his family’s safety, Chamkila was ready to agree to anything that the militant suggested. During this period, Chamkila decided to only produce devotional songs. His team was against the idea, but Chamkila excelled in the new genre as well. He performed his new songs in the live shows, but his audience continued to request his old hits. Chamkila initially refused, but he had always been dedicated to his audience, and pleasing them was his ultimate goal. He knew the risk he was taking when he performed his old hits, but there was no greater pleasure than seeing his audience happy.

Chamkila traveled abroad to perform as well, but he never stopped receiving threats. During the time he was in Canada, he met a militant group that warned him to never sing vulgar songs, drink alcohol, consume non-vegetarian food, or smoke. Chamkila used to be a scared man, but he was not the same anymore. He was tired of being targeted by every group—the police suspected him of his involvement with the militants, the militants detested him for his music, and even his fans did not mind threatening him for money. In the end, he decided to do what his heart desired. The minute he stepped out of the meeting, he pulled out a ‘bidi’ (hand-rolled cigarette) and smoked it—a clear indication that he would not follow any of the rules mentioned by the militants. Chamkila was heavily criticized, but that did not stop him from performing his all-time hits on stage.

How Did Chamkila and Amarjot Kaur Die?

During Amar Singh Chamkila‘s ending, the situation in Punjab had worsened, and Chamkila’s friend, Swarn Sivia, advised him not to return home from Canada. But Chamkila refused to hide abroad. He believed he could be killed anywhere, and he could not allow fear to dictate his actions. He wanted to return home, even if it meant he would be shot dead by the militants. Amar Singh tried to convince his wife, Amarjot, to stay back in Canada, but she could not imagine her life without her husband. Chamkila and Amarjot performed together. She blushed at the lyrics, but when it came to performing them onstage, she was brilliant. Amarjot fell in love with Chamkila, and they decided to get married when her father threatened to take her away. Amarjot was oblivious to the fact that Chamkila was a married man. He thought hiding his marriage was the only way for them to be together, and he eventually decided to pay his first wife a monthly stipend along with other benefits to get away with two marriages.

Amarjot was pregnant at the time when they decided to return home. Even with the looming threat, the duo continued to perform. Chamkila was showered with love, hatred, and jealousy, and he chose to accept it all with open arms. As per the police reports, some motorcyclists pulled out guns and killed Chamkila and his wife on the fateful day of March 8, 1988. The murder case remained unsolved—some believed it was the Sikh militants who shot Chamkila and Amarjot dead, while others accused his competitors of conspiring against him. Chamkila had far too many enemies, and the police did not think the case was worth wasting all their resources on. Even though everyone enjoyed his music, he had to pay the price of being unabashed. Chamkila’s elder son, Jaiman, continues to perform his father’s songs. Their second son was only fifteen days old when he passed away. Amar Singh Chamkila ends with the police officer who was investigating the case developing an emotional connection with the late singer. He chose not to punish his son for listening to Chamkila’s music, perhaps realizing repression was not the answer.

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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