‘Chamak’ Review: Sony LIV Show Tries To Tackle Casteism, Revenge, & Music With A Hapless Protagonist

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It’s not necessary for every male protagonist to be heroic. He doesn’t have to save the day. He doesn’t have to achieve what he set out to do. He doesn’t have to woo the love of his life and ride into the sunset with her. Sometimes, he can be a loser, or he can end up somewhere that’s worse or more confusing than where he was at the beginning of the journey. For example, there’s Stanton from Nightmare Alley, who starts off as a loser, goes on this epic adventure, and then becomes a creature that’s neither human nor animal. Sam from Under the Silver Lake, Alfred and Robert from The Prestige, and Gawain from The Green Knight also fit into this particular category of stories. Sony LIV’s Chamak should technically qualify, but its lack of finesse and commitment keep the show from being as memorable as its peers.

Rohit Jugraj’s Chamak, which he has co-written with Geetanjali Mehlwal Chauhan, Fakira, Avinash Singh, Vijay Narayan Verma, and Gaurav Sharma, opens in 1999 with a concert in Punjab whose main attraction is Tara Singh Gill. He has a wife, Navpreet. His brother is Satnam. Tara and Navpreet’s little son, Kaala, is also in attendance. Going by the reaction of the audience, Tara is loved by all, and they love listening to him sing. But things take a turn for the worse as two men open fire on Tara and Navpreet, thereby killing them on the spot. The narrative shifts to the present day, in Canada, where Kaala is serving the last day of his prison life. He is greeted by his friend, Tidda, who takes Kaala to his girlfriend. After finding out that his girlfriend has moved on, Kaala beats up her current boyfriend. That makes him a wanted man yet again, and Tidda arranges a ticket out of Canada and a job in Punjab. When Kaala goes to Punjab, his aspirations of being a singer kick in while working as a valet, and he jumps into a rap battle. He goes viral, and Tidda tells him to go underground yet again. A singer and dhol player, Jazz, takes an interest in Kaala, and, randomly, he asks her to take her to the Gurdwara where Tara and Navpreet clicked a picture. That’s where he learns that he isn’t welcome there because of his family history. So, Kaala starts digging into his past and Tara’s connections to Pratap Deol, Jugal, and Baldev by honing his singing skills.

Kaala’s story in Chamak is pretty easy to follow. He is suffering from unresolved trauma. He wants to be a singer. But his criminal inclinations keep him from unlocking his potential. He is thrust into a situation that will help him unpack his trauma and force him to achieve his dreams. In addition to that, he can avenge his dead parents, who were probably victims of casteism. So, this allows the writers to talk about discrimination in the Sikh community, which is a topic that is rarely discussed, at least in mainstream Indian cinema. They get to show the inner workings of the music industry in Punjab. And they have the opportunity to script a path of vengeance that ties both of these aspects together, which is, at the cost of sounding repetitive, something that’s rarely seen in movies and shows in India. However, the issue is that both the plot and the commentary aren’t fleshed out enough to span hour-long episodes. So, by the time Kaala reaches a point where he is worse off than he was before, it seems like he hasn’t developed at all. That stands in stark contrast to the stories of other cinematic losers, whose character arc feels more meaningful than their beginning and ending points. I think the writers were aware of that. That’s why they fluffed up the subplots of Jazz, Lata, and Guru. That said, since their stories don’t add to the central narrative in any meaningful way or say something interesting on their own, they make the entire show seem like a drag.

On a technical level, Chamak is competent. It’s a good-looking show, courtesy of DOP Sandeep Yadav, editor Mandar Khanvilkar, production designer Aparna Raina, costume designer Priyanka Mundada, DI colorist Niraj Mundra, and art director Kunal Pawar. I know it’s a low bar to clear, but, given the state of Indian web series, it’s refreshing to see that every frame has proper lighting and color in it. There’s a variety of camera angles that’s used for coverage, and editor Mandar Khanvilkar sometimes puts them to good use, and sometimes he overdoes it. The VFX is great. All the songs are truly incredible. The work done by Sunny M.R., Manna Singh, Parth Parekh, Anirban Sengupta, and Rohit Jugraj himself is worthy of all the applause in the world. There’s not a single moment where it sounds out of place. In fact, the singing and the music are so soulful that it makes everything else look pale in comparison. There’s a huge difference between Jugraj’s handling of the music-driven scenes, the dialogue-heavy scenes, and the scenes where he has to, you know, further the plot. He is at his most comfortable and confident when he is informing us about a character through music. Without that, he resorts to the most generic flashbacks and montages in the name of visual storytelling.

When it comes to the performances in Chamak, I think that Mukesh Chhabra (who is acting in the show as well) and his team have done a good job of hiring talented actors. But it seems like all of them are being restricted from truly opening up due to the direction and the writing. For example, there’s a long take between Paramvir Singh Cheema and Isha Talwar. It’s a tense moment. Their characters are on the brink of being done with each other. This conversation they are about to have is going to end it all for them. However, it doesn’t work at all. The dialogues, the tempo of the back-and-forth, the camera work—none of it is impactful. There’s no way to say what actually happened on the day of shooting, but you can assume that the actors didn’t rehearse enough, Jugraj didn’t do enough takes, and things just didn’t come together. This issue of “artistic choices” is prevalent throughout the show. Cheema clearly has the ability to nail Kaala’s loser-but-ambitious tone, but it’s hampered by the presentation. Isha, Manoj Pahwa, Mohit Malik, Prince Kanwaljit Singh, Suvinder Vicky Pal, Akasa Singh, and the rest of the cast are talented. Sadly, they don’t get to do anything remotely memorable that adds to the bigger picture, thereby making the viewing experience pretty bland.

On paper, Chamak is a good show. It has all the right ingredients to tackle themes that are rarely talked about while giving us a protagonist who is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Well, okay, you can see shades of Jordan from Rockstar and Tommy Singh from Udta Punjab in Kaala. Still, he is hapless enough to be relatable and make us root for his need to avenge his parents. But, over the course of six very long episodes, Rohit Jugraj loses his grip on him as he gets busy with every other character in the show. I know I have said this before, but since studios are greenlighting one show after the other, I have to repeat it: every story doesn’t need to be a web series. Some stories don’t have that much meat on their bones to be episodic in nature; however, they are important enough to justify their existence in the public domain. So, as a writer or a director, if you can’t crack the art of episodic storytelling, try the feature-length format. Who knows? Maybe it’ll help your characters and your craft shine better. Seriously, everything doesn’t need to be a show.


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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.

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On paper, Chamak is a good show. It has all the right ingredients to tackle themes that are rarely talked about while giving us a protagonist who is unlike anything we’ve seen before.'Chamak' Review: Sony LIV Show Tries To Tackle Casteism, Revenge, & Music With A Hapless Protagonist