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Posted at: Oct 12, 2018, 12:09 AM; last updated: Oct 12, 2018, 11:18 AM (IST)

Presenting Punjab’s Elvis

While revisiting the life of Punjabi singer Amar Singh Chamkila, Chandigarh boy Kabir stumbled upon Mehsampur, a meta-narrative that has put him on the map of experimental cinema
Presenting Punjab’s Elvis
A still from Mehsampur

Gurnaaz Kaur

After its world premiere at Sydney Film Festival and being an official selection at other fests, director Kabir Singh Chowdhry’s Punjabi and English language film Mehsampur will have its India premiere at the 20th Jio Mami Mumbai Film Festival.

“Being selected in the competition section is quite an honour. I’ve been going to the fest for many years now and it really inspires me,” Kabir says. Inspiration is also the keyword behind Mehsampur, a film on Punjab’s Elvis, singer-composer Amar Singh Chamkila and his wife Amarjot, who were assassinated in the late 80s. While making Lal Pari, a film about Khalistan movement with Chamkila in the backdrop, Kabir took up the project of Mehsampur, a meta-film that explores filmmaking.  Is the 98-minute film, titled after the village where Chamkila and his troupe were killed, then a documentary or a biopic or a fiction? Perhaps all, perhaps none, as it melds all these genres and yet stands apart. It is being called a mocumentary and Kabir tells us why. 

“In a way, it mocks a documentary. The characters are real people playing themselves but they are fictionalised. There are also some actors in it. The confusion around the type of this film lets us take it to all sorts of festivals of various genres and spaces. But I would call it pure fiction.” 

And on choosing to have real people playing the characters, he says, “I did think of having an all-actor team but no one could match these real characters. Sometimes actors make the process mechanical while non-actors give you gold dust.”

The real-life characters are Lal Chand, who was Chamkila’s dholak player, Kesar Singh Tikki was his manager and Surinder Sonia who was a singing partner.

As the story goes, there is a filmmaker Devrath trying to make a film on Chamkila and that is what Kabir is filming. “A filmmaker from Mumbai is researching on Chamkila. He is all over the place with his camera. He is looking for money shots and when he does not get them, he starts testing people’s patience, bringing them on edge. He is a reconstruction junkie. We have used shots from his camera as well as mine. This gives two layers to the film,” Kabir shares.

While Mehsampur has reached great heights, it did hit roadblocks and also became a learning curve. “My partner Akshay Singh and I had thought of producing the film on our own but we learnt films are pretty expensive for independent people. It taught us that we can’t go out and shoot till everything is ready, till the point of post production. We had to beg, borrow, steal for this one and I am relieved it’s over. It has made us smarter on how to deal with things. Mehsampur was a film school for us.”

No objection
On what he thinks about his muse, who had equal number of foes as fans, thanks to his double-meaning lyrics, Kabir says, “I grew up listening to him. Chamkila with his partner cracked performance. If he said something off, there was a retort from Amarjot, so it was very balanced. I don’t think his lyrics were objectionable. What he spoke was relevant to that time but truth is always bitter.”


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