‘Amar Singh Chamkila’ Review: Diljit Dosanjh & Parineeti Chopra Elegantly Lead Imitiaz Ali’s Musical On Censorship


Every country has a heritage month dedicated to minorities, marginalized communities, or sections of society that have defied various forms of oppression and continue to do so in the present day. There’s Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Pride Month, and so on and so forth. And usually, producers, distributors, and streaming platforms release movies and TV shows that touch on the aforementioned subjects during these months in order to educate the audience. In India, April is observed as Dalit History Month. Since Dalit representation in Indian cinema, especially in Bollywood, is pretty abysmal, and since casteism is a rampant issue in this country, even in 2024, I wasn’t expecting anything. Thankfully, we have Diljit Dosanjh as a Dalit protagonist in Amar Singh Chamkila.

Imtiaz Ali’s Amar Singh Chamkila, which he has co-written with Sajid Ali, is based on the real-life story of the titular singer and his wife, Amarjot Kaur. The movie opens with the broad daylight murder of the couple as they are about to perform on stage. As their dead bodies are being taken to Chamkila’s home so that their friends and families can cremate them, Chamkila’s story from zero to somewhat of a hero is narrated by his close aide, Tikki, to a bunch of dudes at a bar. We get glimpses of his life as a child, his time at a sock-making factory, and his work as the writer and composer for Jatinder Jinda. Then, as he fades away into one of his alcoholic ramblings, the responsibility of telling Chamkila’s story to a DSP (and the viewers) is picked up by three of his fans. They track his rise to fame with Amarjot, how he became even more popular during the 1984 Sikh riots, and the couple’s tryst with prudes who were vehemently against their “vulgar” lyrics. And then the rest of their journey is covered by Swarn Sivia, who apparently tried to solve their murder until he breathed his last.

In my opinion, Imtiaz and Sajid tell the story of Amar Singh Chamkila under the assumption that nobody knows about him, and I think they are right. Back in the day, when it came to singers from Punjab, I was only aware of Gurdas Maan. Nowadays, as the Punjabi music industry has become more mainstream, everyone knows about Diljit Dosanjh, Sidhu Moose Wala, Jaswinder Brar, Jassie Gill, Gippy Grewal, Guru Randhawa, Jasleen Royal, and the list goes on. However, the legacy of Chamkila and Amarjot has never really been addressed. So, when you see them die in the opening scene of the film, you don’t feel anything. But when you return to that very moment after viewing various beautiful and ugly chapters of their lives, a sense of fear sets in, and you start to hope that what happened in real life won’t happen in this fictional retelling. And that is what I call solid writing. It’s structured like a standard biopic. However, the way the protagonist fought against casteism, how Chamkila and Amarjot tackled insane amounts of manufactured backlash, and the fact that they are re-developing a cult following their untimely deaths are what imbue the done-to-death structure with the spirit of rebellion.

Yes, Amar Singh Chamkila is a movie about censorship, amongst many other things! Censorship has always been a major issue in India, as, despite copulating and growing in numbers by the second, we try to paint this sacred and “pure” picture of the country. Crimes against women are committed by strangers and family members, yet we pretend that we deify women. Even though our society is deeply voyeuristic in nature and privacy is pretty much nonexistent, we love to scream, “This is our internal matter,” whenever someone sees us doing something ethically wrong. Chamkila’s songs essentially critiqued all this and more. He didn’t filter what he saw and presented things as they were, and that resonated with his audience. Since the existence of Chamkila and Amarjot was leading to the erasure of this mask that everyone was wearing, close-minded hypocrites used religion and moral superiority to suppress their voices. And you can draw a direct parallel between what was happening to them and what is happening to artists right now. We are still hearing politicians, and gurus talk about “saving the kids” and “making things family-friendly” from anti-social art as if the general audience is only made of babies, while they commit heinous acts of violence in the name of caste, creed, and religion. The only issue is that the general audience, who used to ignore or resist such prudes, is now echoing that puritan behavior, thereby leading to the proverbial (and sometimes literal) death of the artist.

In terms of visual artistry, Imtiaz Ali’s filmography has been very music-oriented. Even though most Bollywood films have a lot of songs in them, only Imtiaz manages to use music to propel the story forward. And that makes him the perfect director to tell the story of Amar Singh Chamkila. As mentioned before, it’s structured like a regular biopic. However, the use of a different camera lens for Chamkila’s past, hand-painted or rotoscoped animation for the song montages, and colorful Punjabi subtitles to assist the musical numbers are what make the viewing experience so engaging. Ali and his team break reality with the help of these dancers in black, double-exposure clothing to viscerally show what entertainment feels like during moments of strife in the country. Towards the tail end of the film, they use some kind of rear projection to show Chamkila walking through various kinds of crowds, and the unmotivated lighting and disproportionate sizes of the people and Chamkila create such a powerful image. Sylvester Fonseca is a genius. Aarti Bajaj continues to prove that she is one of the best in the business. A. R. Rahman’s original songs and recreations of the songs by Chamkila and Amarjot are exquisite. “Ishq Mitaye” is an instant classic. I think there’s some brown-facing going on in the make-up department. So, I have to knock some points for that. The period-accurate sets, cars, props, and costumes are fantastic.

Diljit and Parineeti have delivered career-defining performances. They are predictably good during the dialogue scenes. But it’s when they start to flex their vocal chops that they begin to shine. Both of them are underplaying it a lot, especially Parineeti. But it never feels inauthentic. Their reserved and honest nature seems to emanate from within. There’s a sense of awkwardness in the spaces they inhabit, which clashes with the lyrics that are coming out of their mouths and is undercut by Chamkila’s blatant flaws. Yet, it all feels warm and endearing for some inexplicable reason. If Anjum Batra doesn’t win all the best supporting actor awards, I think award shows will prove yet again that they are pretty pointless. Apinderdeep Singh is great. Anuraag Arora, in his limited screen time, pokes holes at all the moral and literal policing that’s corroding society. Kumud Mishra and Mohit Chauhan’s cameos are sweet. As for the rest of the supporting actors, to be honest, I think Amar Singh Chamkila has some of the best casting that I have ever seen. Anyone who appears on the screen for even a second absolutely knocks it out of the park. If you tell me that the people in the crowd weren’t actors, I will totally believe you; that’s how good they are.

The way Amar Singh Chamkila handles the deaths of the couple is the only thing that I am a little conflicted about. I think it tries to connect the threat of the Khalistanis with the discrimination that Dalits face for breaking the glass ceiling, and it ends up being a tad bit problematic and a little conspiracy theory-ish. Thankfully, that’s not the note on which the movie ends, as, during its closing moments, Imtiaz Ali chooses to highlight the indomitable spirit of Chamkila and Amarjot pulsing through their songs so that the last thing that’s on the audience’s mind is their adrenaline-pumping vocals instead of the incessant whining of their critics. It’s a shame that this didn’t get a big-screen release because it would’ve been wonderful to feel all these songs reverberating through the corridors of the theater. But, given how the Bollywood landscape is full of toxic propaganda films, I am sort of glad that this exists. I mean, going by the personal trajectories of the artists involved in the film, I won’t be surprised if they decide to suddenly become a part of that orange tapestry. So, cherish true, unfiltered art if you don’t want to consume prudish garbage.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

Must Read

DMT Guide

More Like This