Diljit Dosanjh in a still from Imtiaz Ali’s Amar Singh Chamkila.

Post Credits Scene: In director Imtiaz Ali’s cinematic rendition of the life of the slain singer, Amar Singh Chamkila emerges as a figure reminiscent of Jesus, embodying profound personal significance for Ali. This portrayal marks Ali’s most intimately connected film thus far.

For a significant duration, almost throughout his entire career, the films of Imtiaz Ali have often been characterized as excessively solemn. Some of this intense seriousness has influenced his admirers, forming a devoted following so strong that even he, their leader, seems unable to control it anymore. However, for the first time in approximately twenty years, Ali seems to be embracing some levity on the screen. Ironically, though, his latest film, “Amar Singh Chamkila” on Netflix, delves into one of his weightiest subjects yet. If any film demanded a serious treatment, it is this one. It delves into the intersection of militancy and artistic expression, grappling with issues of freedom of speech versus religious intolerance, all while presenting one man’s life story in a monumental narrative.

In “Amar Singh Chamkila,” Imtiaz Ali, known for his introspective approach, appears to be unearthing new facets of the singer’s persona as he progresses, thereby rediscovering himself in the process. This film, perhaps his most ambitious in form, contemplates the enduring significance of the Punjabi singer—a figure akin to a folk hero—whose life was tragically cut short at 27, along with his wife Amarjot, allegedly for challenging societal norms with his provocative songs. Was he merely naïve, or a “social menace”? A rebel without a cause, or a controversial figure? The film, observed from an outsider’s perspective, allows for diverse interpretations of Chamkila’s motivations before Ali presents his own conclusion: Chamkila wasn’t a rebel but a poet of the masses. Herein lies the realization that Imtiaz Ali has been crafting a film about himself all along.

Parineeti Chopra as Amarjot Kaur, Diljit Dosanjh as Amar Singh Chamkila in Amar Singh Chamkila.

By veering away from his usual autobiographical narratives, Ali paradoxically delivers what may be his most intimate film yet. Beyond merely sharing Chamkila’s artistic insecurities, Ali seems to project his own anxieties onto the singer—a figure with a largely undefined persona. While Chamkila’s musical performances are well-documented, anecdotes about the man himself are predominantly passed down through oral traditions, leaving ample room for speculation.

The film seamlessly incorporates archival footage and stills, breaking the barrier of ‘reality’ to emphasize Ali’s perception of Chamkila and, by extension, himself. This stylistic choice, evident from the captivating opening credits sequence, imbues the film with the essence of musical theatre, akin to “Hamilton,” offering a prolonged tribute to the singer.

Parineeti Chopra as Amarjot Kaur, Diljit Dosanjh as Amar Singh Chamkila in Amar Singh Chamkila.

While some theatrical elements are subtle, others, like Chamkila’s confrontation with his father or his dialogue with Amarjot, are rendered with heightened drama, underscoring Chamkila’s internal conflicts and existential struggles. Through Chamkila’s narrative, Ali grapples with themes of artistic integrity, societal judgment, and the relentless pursuit of validation—a sentiment he himself understands all too well.

Ultimately, “Amar Singh Chamkila” transcends the boundaries of a mere biopic, presenting Chamkila not just as a singer but as a symbol—a testament to resilience, defiance, and the enduring power of art. As the film draws to a close, Chamkila emerges not as a fallen musician, but as an immortalized figure, whose legacy continues to shine brightly: “Chamkila, illuminated thus, forever shines.

In our column, we analyze new releases each week, paying close attention to context, craftsmanship, and character development. There’s always something intriguing to delve into once the initial excitement has passed.

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