"A marvelously written film on paper that ends up choppy on the celluloid."
Mehsampur is an Avante-Garde film (radically different). Its a film exploring the idea of Amar Singh Chamkila in the form of a ‘docuception' (documenting a documentary about him and his assassination). However, different is not necessarily great.
This is not a biopic on Chamkila but an exploration of his philosophy. The film always mentions him in the third person, portraying him only through footage without audio or dialogue. In doing so, the film stays true to the words, 'to each their own interpretation' while comparing artists and their methods. It is also a first-hand, 'true grit' experience at filming a documentary in Punjab, best described as bizarre.
Chamkila was not a fancy rapper in exotic cars. He was a genuine and authentic folk artist, unlike his haters. The film creates a world resembling these traits.
The film begins as a skillfully woven tale depicting a realistic world where crops don't dance in the wind. It uses non-vivid shots to bring the gritty and rustic town of Mehsampur out. The peppy 'Udta Punjab' texture is missing and fascinatingly ‘musician' is pronounced as ‘magician'. People here are conservative and avoid Chamkila even three decades after his death. A dialogue decodes this tragedy articulately - ‘Chamkila, vo toh marr chuka hai' (Chamkila is dead and forgotten).
It also briefly talks about the idea of identity and how it's easier for those involved with art to lose the sense of reality. Surinder Sonia's character shows the crisis of artists who have lost their relevance. The remarkable thing here is the subtlety with which the film deals with this theme. There's a scene with a minor character, a bar singer who performs Celine Dion's - 'My Heart' with a Punjabi accent.
"Chamkila's chamak" moments :
- The film with etches out characters like Lal Ji, Kesar Singh 'Tikki' and Surinder Sonia (played by the same people from Chamkila’s real life) with nuance. These are the people who infuse an amiable aroma in the film.
- Elements like beedi and rasbhari (alcohol – substance abuse In the name of artistic enhancement) and
- The film uses innocence and humor for engaging the viewer.
- Camerawork (resolutions, color schemes, Shot choices ) and real locations as set pieces, actually take us to Mehsampur.
- This film is brave. A scene uses humorous wordplay, showing a bigger production house, ‘Bantom pictures’ (‘Baa’ se ‘Bantom’) make a film about Chamkila.
- The footage of Chamkila's performances. The way these clips are shown is deeply connecting and impactful. The film uses this footage even for exposition (the opening shot).
- There's just something about Tikki ji. A scene where he re-enacts himself from the night he dissociated with Chamkila, is both, hilarious and endearing.
"The film is full of contradicting themes, ideas, tones, characters and cinematic choices. This leads to a muddled screenplay."
This film loses the charm when a female character is introduced using a french quote from Proust and imagery of burning crops along with death metal music. It is irrelevant and redundant as the film’s narrative had already established her character. The film gets wild with its choices. A shot of Devrat after his car gets mobbed and a roughly shot sex scene have issues. The sex scene is a connection as well as a parallel between the protagonists of both, the movie we watch and the film that's being made within that movie.
"The problem is that these characters, the new age filmmakers wish to make a film on Chamkila, but their methods betray the idea of the artist that Amar Singh Chamkila is."
Scenes where Chamkila’s assassination and other moments are re-enacted, resemble films like ‘Rang De Basanti’. It had subtle flashbacks to portray freedom fighters while this film absurdly employs reverse looping scenes, heavy rock music, and sharply cut imagery. The transitions happen on a metaphysical level, portraying Devrat's state of mind while mending the gap between his reality and Chamkila's story (his documentary which Devrat films dishonestly). He counterfeits staged scenes as actual footage, harasses a female actor and bribes people using alcohol.
A scene in the film talks about the power of a camera and its connection with a gun (anyone having it thinks that they have the license to shoot!). Devrat is the medium for this commentary.
This film reminds me of my exam answers. They were relevant but left teachers annoyed due to bad handwriting (This film has frail syntactical clarity). Navjot's weird behavior, crew’s camera getting stolen, greedy search for a dholak, an unnecessarily self-indulgent silent film style scene and a shocking death (also a ghost angle), all feel too awry.
The film aptly points out that when intermingled together, deceit and art always blend into a concoction of tabooed tales and phantoms (pun not intended) of the past. These characters don't understand Chamkila's philosophy. They're greedy, desperate, afraid and end up meeting a terrible fate. History repeats itself to ‘haunt' us as a Bhindranwale sticker on Devrat's car warns – ‘Lagda Ae Menu Fer Aana Pau' (perhaps I need to come back).
#5StarNahiDoonga - "It's about a star's tragedy."
"Through the 2 lenses of my Spectacles"
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