Imtiaz Ali's controversial 'Chamkila' to premiere on Netflix

Film showcases the true story of Punjab’s original rockstar Amar Singh Chamkila, often referred to as the 'Elvis Presley of Punjab'

Diljit Dosanjh plays the lead in Chamkila (photo: @Bollywoodrank/X)
Diljit Dosanjh plays the lead in Chamkila (photo: @Bollywoodrank/X)

Subhash K Jha

Imtiaz Ali's latest directorial Amar Singh Chamkila, starring Diljit Dosanjh and Parineeti Chopra, will premiere on Netflix on 12 April. The film showcases the true story of Punjab’s original rockstar of the masses, the highest record-selling artiste of his time, Amar Singh Chamkila, often referred to as the 'Elvis Presley of Punjab'.

Shot in real locations, the film promises to transport audiences to the vibrant and rhythmic world of Punjabi folk music, right to the rustic akhadas (live music performances in villages) where Chamkila’s voice would once roar.

The film has Parineeti playing Amarjot, Chamkila’s second wife and singing partner, while A.R. Rahman scores the music and Irshad Kamil pens the lyrics. Diljit and Parineeti have lent their voices to some of the songs. For the first time, the film will showcase live music recordings done on location, capturing the rawness and the exuberance of each moment as Diljit and Parineeti sing live in the akhadas.

Talking about the film, Diljit said, "Playing Amar Singh Chamkila has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life, and I am thrilled to be returning to Netflix with yet another exciting story. It has been a pleasure to work with Parineeti and the entire team that has worked extremely hard to bring this beautiful story to life. To be able to sing to Rahman sir's exemplary music was a meditative experience and I hope I have been able to do justice to his vision. Thank you Imtiaz bhajee for believing in me for this role."

Chamkila ruled the musical landscape in Punjab from 1979-88 with songs whose lyrics ranged from a commentary on village life to substance abuse, gun violence, adultery, dowry, alcoholism and the notion of Punjabi masculinity. One of his major themes was the rising spectre of terrorism in Punjab post-1984, and calls for Khalistan.

Often raunchy, unpolished, suggestive, and hard-hitting, Chamkila’s lyrics were considered vulgar by many who supported or were part of contemporary insurgent outfits, and he often received anonymous death threats, causing him to hide for days in friends’ homes.

However, those same lyrics made Chamkila one of the highest paid singers of his time, wildly popular among his numerous fans, and frequently travelling to countries like Canada and Dubai for stage shows.

His larger than life existence came to an abrupt end on 8 May 1988, when Chamkila and Amarjot, scheduled to perform in Mehsampur, Jalandhar, were gunned down by three unidentified men on a motorcycle. Chamkila was only 27 at the time of his death, and three of his accompanying artistes were also killed in the attack. No FIR was ever registered in the case, and the culprits remained at large.

While many think Chamkila and Amarjot were eliminated by insurgents at the behest of local artistes who had been rendered jobless by his immense popularity, others say the two fell victim to honour killings by Amarjot’s family, who had never accepted her marriage to the Dalit singer.

With inputs from NH Entertainment Bureau

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