Sunday, June 09, 2024



Imtiaz Ali’s biopic on Amar Singh Chamkila is a wakeup call. The singer, known as the Elvis of Punjab and his singer – wife, who sang wildly popular ‘dirty ditties’ were gunned down in 1988 and their killers were never caught. Chamkila’s detractors accused him of peddling sleaze with his ribald lyrics and raunchy beats, though the man seemed to have prided himself simply on giving the people what they wanted. Which was mostly horny humour and catchy tunes. After all, sex sells. Then, now, and forever more. But back then as is true even today, folks needed to pretend for the benefit of fellow hypocrites that they were committed to worthwhile pursuits that did not include appeasing the demands of the flesh. Few admitted to listening to his music, let alone liking it even as Chamkila’s records were sold at exorbitant prices on the black market. Many continue to mourn his loss and celebrate his legacy, but our collective commitment to false virtue and callousness makes us complicit with the criminals who hounded, harassed, extorted, and excoriated him in life, before inflicting the violence that ultimately claimed his life. 

This senseless tragedy made me wonder about the kind of dubious individuals who consider themselves the guardians of societal morals while committing deeds so far removed from morality that permanent denizens of hell would weep and curse the degree of monstrosity unleashed. Which begs the question… What manner of creatures are these? What happened that left them incapable of compassion or basic human decency? Did their parents hate them and leave them to fend for themselves in foul cellars while they were off dancing up a storm at raves? Or is it more likely, that in the land where the Kamasutra was written, we have the unhealthiest possible attitude where sex is concerned? Which, in turn breeds hell spawn who feel compelled to inflict pain and death on the innocent over their artistic or personal choices.

Sex is considered ick in this country where it is more socially acceptable to piss than kiss in public. We don’t bother with sex education for our youngsters or even creating a safe space for them to address their questions and concerns about their bodies or desires, preferring to leave that irksome job to pornography and pop culture. Forget the youth, so – called adults are very far from reconciling bodily needs against societal stigma and shame even as they obsess over the sex lives of others which ensures that their own is entirely lousy. The overall dissatisfaction and resentment boil over creating a toxic environment ripe for violent deeds.

Then we turn around and blame films and artists for corrupting the minds of murderers in the making and failure to preserve our supposedly pristine culture. Artists are subjected to endless persecution, simply because they are easy targets unlike the many others who are far more deserving of public ire. Such censorship is almost always counterproductive unless it is directed at the self. If we can muster the courage to look ourselves in the eye, we will think twice before turning a destructive gaze upon others. 

This article was originally published in The New Indian Express. 

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