‘Amar Singh Chamkila’: A Story of Defiance Not Disrespect

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Poster of Imtiaz Ali's controversial film 'Amar Singh Chamkila'
Poster of Imtiaz Ali's controversial film 'Amar Singh Chamkila'

Why is it that Imtiaz Ali’s ‘Amar Singh Chamkila’ on Netflix is such a rage, not just in India but also abroad? Believe it or not, this very popular singer from rural Punjab, whose voice was shunned to the dungeons of death to ensure silence, seems to have caught on the fancy of contemporary pop culture.

We are a generation that has been living with a ban on art that is even remotely associated with being, either inappropriate or politically incorrect. Every other day the common man is in the news for doing something or saying something that seems to have offended the powers-that-be. And if that common man happens to be an artiste, there is no looking back! Immediately people around him/her will start questioning his very dedication to his craft or finding misgivings with microscopic lens. Social media trolls will be on the prowl for blood.

The real life Amar Singh Chamkila (left) and his reel counterpart
The real life Amar Singh Chamkila (left) and his reel counterpart

Here was a man who made money by performing to lyrics that were full of sexual innuendos. He met fame, women and money along the way. But whom he didn’t expect to meet were murderous rivals within the fraternity, orthodox religious leaders and violent terror groups ready to take lives on the mere pretext of cleaning up society.

Yet, this was a man who dared to defy them all. With full support of his wife Amarjyot Kaur. An artiste who was not scared of the invisible. A couple who decided to move over fear, set it aside, dwell little on it and finally kick it out of the window. For an artiste his audience is his god! And that is what Chamkila did — listened to his god. He performed to songs that his gods liked and left them asking for more! He kept being an artiste till the day he was killed, not only because he loved his craft but chiefly because he stopped caring about others who didn’t give him enough respect.

He kept being an artiste till the day he was killed, not only because he loved his craft, but chiefly because he stopped caring about others who didn’t give him enough respect. (A still from the film).
He kept being an artiste till the day he was killed, not only because he loved his craft, but chiefly because he stopped caring about others who didn’t give him enough respect. (A still from the film).

Across the world, the moral police are scared of such artistes. Simply because they don’t bow down to their authority. Chamkila decided to be more of a businessman than a pawn in the hands of such moral policing. He put his mouth where the money was. He didn’t care about anything else.

A folk artiste making an honest interpretation of society through his songs, was too much for a strife-torn Punjab to take in. Why allow village folks to control the narrative? He threatened the class barriers with the enormous influence he had had on his audience, which was largely growing globally. A folk artiste from Punjab that was largely battling the demons of the Emergency, where no one dared to call a spade, a spade. Just him, only him! How dare he!

Diljit Dosanjh, a popular folk singer from Punjab himself, as Amar Singh Chamkila
Diljit Dosanjh, a popular folk singer from Punjab himself, as Amar Singh Chamkila

Meanwhile, karma had other plans. In his ability to defy, Chamkila became a hero. And in this peculiar ability to create art out of a story of sheer defiance, Imtiaz became a bigger hero. Defiance is largely looked upon by many as a mark of disrespect. Surely, it is also a mark of bravery. What we don’t realise as a bunch of going-with-the-flow humankind is that all three can co-exist —– respect, bravery and defiance. One need not work in isolation of the other. All three can be welcomed with an open mind at any point in time.

Historically speaking, the world has never been kind to the defiant, the reason being a sheer lack of sensitivity. From DH Lawrence to Amar Singh Chamkila and the many others, we have not heard of yet, defiance incites violence. Period.

What then is the cure? A wider spectrum of the radars of the mind is probably the only thing that can bring in such dollops of sensitivity in our society.

P.S: Listen to the liberals.

All Images: Google

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