For far too long — nearly his entire career, in fact — director Imtiaz Ali’s cinema has been described as being overly self-serious. Some of this overcommitted earnestness has rubbed off on his fans, who’ve formed a cult so strong that even he, their leader, can no longer control it. But for perhaps the first time in two decades, Ali appears to be having some fun on screen. Ironically, however, the subject matter of his latest film, Netflix’s Amar Singh Chamkila, might be the heaviest that he has ever dealt with. If any movie called for a serious telling, it’s this one. Militancy collides with artistic integrity, freedom of expression challenges religious intolerance as one man’s life story is given a biblical retelling.

In Amar Singh Chamkila, the famously introspective Ali seems to be discovering new truths about the singer as he goes along, and in the process, rediscovering himself. His most formally ambitious film, Amar Singh Chamkila reflects on the reverberating relevance of the Punjabi singer — a folk hero of sorts, who was gunned down alongside his wife Amarjot by unknown assailants at the age of 27, ostensibly for corrupting society with his raunchy songs. Was he a simpleton or a ‘social darinda’; a rebel without a cause or a ‘ganda sa banda’? Because the movie bears an outsider’s gaze — the drama doesn’t flow internally from the hero, but is embellished and embossed by a group of external observers — it invites various interpretations of Chamkila’s motivations before allowing Ali to arrive at his own conclusion. Chamkila wasn’t a rebel or a rabble-rouser, Not just those who know about Amar Singh Chamkila but also those who do not know anything about this Punjabi singer will surely enjoy this film, as it is narrated in an entertaining and informative manner. The back-and-forth screenplay is gripping for the most part and is filled with songs throughout.

If you are not aware of this singer, you will likely enjoy the film even more, as the story will shock and amuse you at the same time. A singer gets abundant love and hate from the public for his choice of songs. According to him, he is right in his own way since there are people who enjoy his work. But a few oppose him, saying that he is spoiling society and objectifying women. The film raises questions like what qualifies as art and who gets to decide that.

The film doesn’t romanticize Amar Singh Chamkila. It presents the story from multiple perspectives without any sugarcoating. Imtiaz Ali leaves it to us to decide if Amar Singh Chamkali is a legend or not, which is the best part of the film. Things like the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and how Amar Singh’s songs provided respite to Punjabis are well presented. The movie neatly depicts the various challenges Amar Singh faced.

Diljit Dosanjh is brilliant in the titular role and lifts spirits with his mesmerizing performance. As Diljit is a singer by profession, his performance seemed very natural. He portrayed various emotions in a stunning manner. Parineeti Chopra does a very good job as Diljit’s wife. This role is very challenging for Parineeti, given that she is performing alongside a renowned singer (songs are recorded live through the voices of Diljit and Parineeti). The actress did her best to match up with Diljit.

Songs are an integral part of the story, and they drive the film forward. You need to be more attentive and follow these songs; otherwise, there is a chance that you may get disconnected, too.

As the entire film is based on songs, a few scenes might seem repetitive and boring. The team could have removed a couple of song sequences to make the movie look even better, and doing so would have increased the film’s reach. At times, the pacing dips in the mid portions.