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Why a biopic on AMAR SINGH CHAMKILA? (BTC Exclusive Article on Cinema by Bobby Sing)

09 Apr, 2024 | Just In / Articles on Cinema

Casually following the trend of bio-pics prevalent in Hindi cinema since the last decade, we have now started to ‘create’ LEGENDS out of the STARS with great potential for the screen involving controversies. Hence, the moment I heard about the first attempt being made as a docu-drama on the life of Amar Singh Chamkila a few years back, the intentions were very clear as his short, eventful life certainly had all the elements of a musical-crime-thriller with a mystery element perfect for a commercial bio-pic.
However, if one wishes to choose the term LEGEND, then honestly, there are tens of REAL LEGENDS in the history of Punjabi music waiting to be explored, on whom official biopics can be made, names many millennials would not have even heard of. These are the real LEGENDS known for their vast contributions to the legacy of Punjabi music, the inspiring names remembered by all the later generations' stars and icons—with deep respect and gratitude (making a gesture of touching their ears). But since their lives might be too simple to be adapted as a feature film, Chamkila gets the preference resulting in multiple biopics on his life in both Hindi and Punjabi. Elaborating on the same, here are some enlightening facts about the choice that might surprise many.  
The MYTHS and the FACTS

Giving the deserving due, Amar Singh Chamkila was no doubt one of the biggest stars of his time, outselling everyone else and making new records in terms of sales of cassettes and records in the market like never before. He was the most saleable artist, constantly in demand for local live shows (akhadas) throughout the year. As a creator, he had an exceptional talent for writing and composing songs for himself and other artists and was also a brilliant player of Tumbi. Yet, he was a simple, down-to-earth person who was never seen in flashy clothes or involved in any glamorous show-off in his public performances.
At the same time, if someone says he was the only star of those times, then that is a misguided statement unknowingly following the exaggeration of calling him “Elvis of Punjab" - a tag given by a renowned fan. It was not as if he was doing all the shows and everyone else was not finding work. In the years he started rising, Punjabi music already had its famous shining stars, and there were stalwarts duly performing in India and abroad as his seniors and contemporaries. There is a long list of both established and emerging talents who were in their prime in the same years Chamkila gained immense popularity in Punjab. To give you an idea, a young singer, Gurdas Mann, achieved overnight fame after his debut appearance in a Doordarshan program at the end of 1980, and within just three years, his song and a cameo were also seen in a Punjabi feature film. Along with such promising talent, we had the legendary Surinder Kaur, Prakash Kaur, Asa Singh Mastana, Kuldeep Manak, Surinder Shinda, Didar Sandhu, Mohd. Siddique, K. Deep & Jagmohan Kaur, Gurmeet Bawa, Yamla Jatt, and many more widely performing in India and worldwide in the same years. 
Above all, most of his albums had music by the respected veteran Charanjit Ahuja, and anyone who understands music production would know what kind of gigantic contribution a music director makes to a singing star's career and his best-selling albums. 
But since this new biopic is in the news, I have yet not heard or seen even a single person (including the makers) quoting Charanjit Ahuja's name in their writings or videos, showcasing gross ignorance. 
Similarly, Chamkila also sang a few songs (devotionals) written by other lyricists, along with the ones he penned, but those writers again largely remained overshadowed by the deafening noise of his name and fame. 
Then Why Chamkila?

A biopic of Chamkila was more viable for a big-screen adaptation because both his origin and the end are unusual, unique, and engaging, with enough material for a Hindi/Punjabi film's script progression. 
The rising of a lower caste underdog
For the ones not familiar with the lesser-talked-about class divide in Punjab and Punjabis living all over the globe, it is ironically quite similar to all other religions and regions, despite SIKHISM and SIKH GURUS preaching a classless society giving equal status to all. Here, it is not only the ugly gap between the upper and lower class, including Dalits, but a vast divide between the upper class itself, namely between Jatts and Bhapas. In short, the caste division widely existed in Punjab right from the beginning, and Chamkila’s life (real name Dhani Ram) is the story of an underdog dalit rising from the dust, first assisting and then competing with all the upper caste singers of that era. 
To make it clear, there is no film based on Punjab focusing on a talented artist/person from the lower caste, a Dalit, standing against the Jatt dominance in the region and defeating them all. Chamkila is the story of such a rare struggle and victory, which is one of the most potential subjects for a big-screen adaptation. Interestingly, this Dalit uprising is a subject on which many significant projects have been made in South cinema since last decade, featuring their top stars. 
Having said that, I am not sure Imtiaz Ali will be daring enough to prominently feature this caste divide in Punjab in his film about the singing sensation.
The FUN and ROMANCE element in his double-meaning songs and their mass appeal.
Apart from the story of an underprivileged person making it to the top, Chamkila’s tale of success has the desired romance and fun element arising from his popular double-meaning duets, with Amarjot Kaur having a mass appeal. Here, enlightening the young readers, it isn’t that Chamkila and Amarjot Kaur were the only artists singing double-meaning songs in those years.
Stating the fact, double meaning songs is a genre having its own presence in Punjabi music and it was at its peak in the decade of 1980s. So, you will find songs of the genre in his contemporaries’ albums too, for instance, K. Deep and Jagmohan Kaur. No doubt, Chamkila exploited the genre the most taking it to another level, but one must remember that the 1980s is also known as the decade prominently featuring double-meaning dialogues in Hindi films too, strangely rendered by the top most stars of that era. In addition, these were also the years Dada Kondke released all his Hindi films, titles of which openly depicted the genre without any hiding.
This feature of many outrageous double-meaning songs associated with Chamkila and Amarjot Kaur was also one of the key reasons why their shows were in massive demand at weddings and other community functions, as people (particularly the males) used to have great fun listening to their songs together, enjoying a guilty pleasure. Plus, their comparitively affordable rates in the initial years were also responsible for their increasing demand in Punjab.
The subplot of Punjab's extremist movement of the 1980s.
A film about a controversial singer of the 1980s gets another interesting angle if the protagonist is also linked to the tense extremist movement of that decade. Different theories exist about the linkage between Chamkila and the highly active extremists revolting against the establishment during the 1980s, and this certainly serves as an engaging subplot for the film, with a major twist coming in the second half of the script.
Mystery and Suspense elements involving the murder

Lastly, the most striking part of his life, which perfectly works for an onscreen adaptation, is the unsolved case of his brutal murder, which has all the elements of mystery, thrill, and suspense. Chamkila’s unconventional and tragic end eventually converts a musical into a crime mystery thriller with an open culmination, providing another finer edge to the story. As an unsolved murder to date, there are again different conclusions derived by his family, friends, and locals widely in circulation in the last four decades. I am sure Imtiaz will also keep the mystery as it is, avoiding unnecessary controversies.
The above features of his life primarily differentiate Amar Singh Chamkila from his contemporary artists. These are the exact ingredients required for an uplifting musical thriller made to entertain the audience. That is the crucial reason multiple bio-pics (one docu-drama and two Punjabi films) have already been made on the icon in recent times, suddenly showcasing him as a LEGEND.
However, there is another side to the story that should ideally make you stop and seriously think for a while.
There is an old traditional tactic in politics that says,
 ‘Don’t kill a rebel; it will turn him into a martyr.”
The same remains true in the arts stream, too, as another way of creating legends is killing them young. The most appealing part of Chamkila’s life, much more than his talent or success, is his untimely murder by unknown people, which remains unsolved to date. That one aspect of his life has, in turn, blown up everything about him out of logical proportions, resulting in these multiple biopics. But if truth be told bluntly, then had there been no killing involved, you probably would not be reading or watching so much about him, and the story would have been entirely different.
In other words, there is a big difference between A HIT STAR, known for his incomparable sales/shows, and A LEGEND, known for his mastery of the art, flawless renditions, soulful gems and contribution to the world of music or art. 
Moreover, defining the terms in the right manner, in our world ruled by monetary factors, every LEGEND might not be A HIT STAR, and every HIT STAR might not necessarily be a LEGEND.
I think that should convey it all.
Bobby Sing (9th April 2024)
Note: Please do not copy the content for your derived articles and videos following/setting a wrong example for the others. But if you still do it intentionally, at least give credit, duly mentioning the name and the website as the source of your inspired creations. 

Tags : Why a biopic on Chamkila? by Bobby Sing at bobbytalkscinema.com, Thoughtful articles on cinema by Bobby Sing, Imtiaz Ali film on Chamkila
09 Apr 2024 / Comments ( 3 )
Dharma Kirthi

Absolutely engaging write up, dear Bobby Singh. You have enlightened the reader like me, who is clueless about the reality of that time and space. 

You have raised valid doubts about the ability of the makers to explore the reality to showcase.

Thank you Bobby Singh for your tireless endeavour to speak the truth and nothing but the truth. May His Blessings continue on you to keep up the great work. 

Harpreet Malhotra

Very well written article,  Film is good but something seems to be miss,  not satisfying ..

Ashok Goel

Very interesting and informative article.

Ashok Goel


Ashok Dilliwala Show on YouTube. 

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