‘Amar Singh Chamkila’: An Ode to a Punjabi Folk Hero

Diljit Dosanjh stars in the Imtiaz Ali biopic that isn’t afraid to embrace the violence and vulgarity of the real-life story behind it.

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Parineeti Chopra and Diljit Dosanjh in 'Amar Singh Chamkila' (2024)

Meher Manda


April 17, 2024


9 min

Death can render an interesting life extraordinary. And when the life in question is that of a Dalit singer-songwriter who rose to prominence in Punjab singing perverse songs only for assailants to gun him down at age 27, then we have the story of a folk hero. Imtiaz Ali’s Amar Singh Chamkila, a biopic on the voice of vice, opens with death if only to declare: this is a remarkable story not only for the life he lived, but especially for how it ended.

At the very outset, an emcee declares Punjab “the land of lovers, saints, and prophets,” which could equally be referring to Chamkila’s story. A sizable crowd of men have gathered to hear him sing; the women, too, are listening, from roofs at a safe distance. As his car pulls in, the crowd erupts in applause, but death comes quickly. A bullet hits Amarjot (Parineeti Chopra), Chamkila’s wife and duetting partner, in the head. Chamkila (Diljit Dosanjh) takes several bullets to his body. Immediately, Ali switches to a shot of Chamkila in song, declaring love for his brother’s wife. We see young Chamkila witness the unbridled zeal for life in rural Punjab: men lust after women, women put their woes to verse, and hidden romances bloom. Here, a young artist finds themes moral custodians will call vulgar. For him, it’s just life.

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