There has been a change in the trajectory of stories presented in modern television shows and movies. As mentioned in my Shehar Lakhot review, many filmmakers have moved away from the Hindi heartland and are exploring other states. Punjab is one of the states that many writers and directors have been focusing on. Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab opened a Pandora’s box of stories, and there has been no end to it ever since.
Tabbar on SonyLIV broke all the records for being an out-of-the-box story, while Netflix originals Kohrra and CAT did not shy away from showcasing the gritty side of Punjab, the image if which was once dominated by beautiful farms and warm, welcoming people as per Yash Chopra films. Chamak, created and directed by Rohit Jugraj, is the story of an artist who comes back to Punjab from Canada only to uncover mysteries about his family. Chamak is a Sony LIV original and was released on December 7, 2023.
The six episode miniseries is set in two timelines, 1999 and 2023, in Punjab. The makers follow the story of Kulvinder Singh Gill, aka Kaala, who has run away to Punjab from Canada after committing a felony. Kaala, upon reaching his hometown, is exposed to a mystery surrounding his parentage. He also learns that his father and mother were popular singers, and over two decades ago, they were brutally murdered by assailants while performing on stage. No one is aware of the actual perpetrators of the crime, and it remains a mystery long after the investigation was closed without any evidence or a suspect to arrest.
Kaala is also an aspiring artist in Canada but has been forced to leave the country. He continues pursuing his passion in Punjab, hoping to get a chance to showcase his talent. Tied between hunting down the killers who murdered his parents and wanting to be a popular artist amongst a sea of talent, Kaala is trying to find a balance, and, in that process, he’s made many friends and foes. Was Kaala close to nabbing the murderer? Will he achieve the glory he is seeking?
Chamak is loosely based on the death of the controversial yet influential Punjabi singer Amar Singh Chamkila. In an assassin attempt, the singer and his were brutally murdered on stage. There are still multiple theories on who killed the couple and the motive behind the killing. The writers and the director of the show expand on that story and offer an additional tale of a long-lost son who comes back seeking answers.
Many writers have worked on this show, yet thankfully Chamak does not become a victim of too many cooks spoiling the broth. There are essentially seven writers in it, and all of them are working towards only one goal, which is to provide an engaging screenplay and direction. Chamak begins on a shaky note, and the director does not have a grip on the narrative as it looks flaky. The segment involving Kaala escaping Canadian law enforcement is not executed in a tidy manner. The writing and direction pick up as the story progresses towards a decent narrative, which involves Kaala running into many people who have affiliations with the Punjabi music industry.
The tackiness, which is evident in the first episode, transitioned into a sensitive take on how toxic the music industry is, and how the people associated with it are selfish, narcissistic men and women who seem to want only fame. Kaala is confused and wants to choose the right path. He eventually finds a way out that would be an answer to his countless questions. Sadly, the road to reaching his final goal is filled with obstacles. These aspects of the storytelling have been covered extensively by the writers and the director, but the overindulging is evident, and after a point, the makers are beating around the bush. The subplot does not move forward.
The screenplay also feels disjointed after a point, as it is difficult to tell where the makers are taking us. The confusion is evident as the story unfolds. There is also a lack of emotion and depth in the screenplay for a tale such as this one. The journey to find the killers is supposed to be effective and include a haunting narrative. Sadly, the makers did not dive into these details and left the scenario flaky. The romance between Kaala and the women in his life is also confusing because the writer did not establish any of the relationships in the right manner. It is difficult to comprehend why was Kaala’s juggling between two women. The writers are at fault for not having established a definite arc about Kaala. He is the lead, and his character is not crafted with finesse because he seems to be adopting several roles at a time without anyone noticing. He is a backup singer and a lead vocalist. Soon, he also becomes a murderer after claiming to have left behind his life of crime in Canada.
The writers Rohit Jugran, Geetanjali Mehlwal, Fakira, Avinash Singh, Vijay Narayan Verma, and Jatinder Lall have managed to create a mixed bag of a show with no clear goal in sight. Chamak is on the right track until the penultimate and final episodes. The storytelling was all over the place, narrative-wise. There were many other subplots just abandoned midway through. Gurpal Singh, a dejected journalist who is helping Kaala, is forgotten half way through the show. Meanwhile, Jazz’s role is reduced to that of an angry ex-girlfriend. The makers could expand on her arc by discussing her struggles with being noticed and becoming a star.
There are plenty of cameos made by the stalwarts of the Punjab music industry, and it is endearing to see them being a sport by talking about the music industry and how it makes and breaks people. The makers of Chamak did an excellent job of portraying dysfunctional family dynamics, which has become a staple in every Indian drama that is released on various OTT platforms. Indian filmmakers have aced the dysfunctional family trope because most of us have lived that life. There is also a mention of domestic abuse and people being helpless in that situation. This minor subplot is raw and realistic.
Families from the subcontinent region constantly argue about lifestyle choices and ideologies. The same has been presented here in this show. Pratap Deol, one of the suspects Kaala is tracing, has a difficult relationship with his kids, especially the younger son, Guru. Guru is openly gay, and his father vehemently disapproves. All these characters have moral shades of gray as they have changes of heart as the series progresses. Unfortunately, these arcs do not have any emotional impact on the larger scheme of things, which is the main premise of the show. A lot of characters were not fleshed out well; for example, Jugal Brar, who could have been a key to finding out the motive behind the brutal deaths of Kaala’s parents, was not fleshed out correctly. Jugal, played by the amazing Suvinder Vicky, is not given enough meat to work on his character.
Chamak is a show about music, and the makers made sure to churn out some amazing compositions for it, and they delivered. Every song is an earworm. The show has a healthy mix of old folk songs and renditions that the current generation enjoys. A lot of music mirrors the songs Kaala is raised on and acts as a catalyst in his quest to find out who the killers might be. The ending is rather dull and predictable, but it sets the stage for the next season.
Direction is all over the place because of a muddled screenplay. There are plenty of continuity errors easily spotted. Rohit Jugraj tries to bring a lot of the writing under one roof, but soon loses grip over it. The lackluster buildup to the ‘Peer Ka Mela’ is supposed to be an important event for Kaala, but the ending is lukewarm. The build-up to find out who the killer might be is forgotten in this process. The direction could have saved this entire scenario from blowing apart if a crescendo had been created. Rohit missed out on an opportunity to make Chamak a great show about music and the dark alleys that aspiring musicians must take to become successful. The cinematography by Sandeep Yadav is amazing, for the camera gets the mood Chamak right.
The performances of many actors are shaky, and only some of them were able to deliver. Paramvir Singh Cheema’s inconsistent performance as Kaala affects the viewing experience. There are times he is clueless, as his eyes indicate, and, only in some scenes can he deliver the right kind of emotions. His performance as the artist seeking closure could not hold Chamak for very long. Suvinder Vicky, actor extraordinaire, is given nothing to work around in the show, and that is a travesty.
Manoj Pahwa, the patriarch and owner of the music company, is good only in certain parts. He is a stereotypical father with cliched layers given to perform. There is nothing extraordinary about his role as a toxic father. Isha Talwar as Jasmine “Jazz” had the potential to become a strong female character, but the writers did not give her enough screen time to project her angst. Mohit Malik as Guru Deol is excellent as the younger son of Pratap Deol, played by Manoj Pahwa. His heartbreak, followed by his emotional arc of wanting his father’s validation, is kind of a tearjerker. The surprise package in the show is Mukesh Chhabra as Dimpy Grewal, the producer, who is desperate for a successful song and movie. He is an impatient yet generous man who quickly brought Kaala under his wings. It is a pleasant surprise to watch Navneet Nishan in a web series after a long time.
Chamak had the potential to be an excellent series if not for a sloppy screenplay and story. Chamak on SonyLIV is a mediocre thriller.