Sidhu Moose Wala
For long, Punjabi pop numbers were known for groovy beats, catchy lyrics and the artistes' swag. But the murder of Sidhu Moose Wala in May 2022 brought to the forefront the underbelly of the Punjabi music industry. Over a year-and-a-half since Moose Wala's untimely demise comes Chamak, a musical thriller that tells the story of a Punjabi singer shot dead in broad daylight. When we get on a call with creator-director Rohit Jugraj, he says that the series doesn't flinch from looking at the underbelly of the Punjabi music scene. "Punjab is a land that reveres music the most. There, music is big, and the amount of money singers make is shocking. When money increases, crime follows. I have seen extortion of artistes. The underbelly of Punjab and crime are age-old issues; people are only hearing about it now. The biggest Punjabi stars don't live in the state, they live abroad. This is not because of Sidhu Moose Wala's [murder]. It has been happening since 1986, two years before folk artiste [Amar Singh] Chamkila was killed. Artistic jealousy is to the point that they can kill each other. Artistes have been shot dead while performing at shaadis, like Dilshad Akhtar was in 1996. What boils my blood is that people didn't know about it till a global icon died."
The SonyLIV series - starring Paramvir Singh Cheema, Mohit Malik and Isha Talwar - tells the story of pop star Kaala, who returns to India from Canada to unravel the mystery around the death of his father, who was a popular singer in Punjab. It's evident that the story is not inspired by Moose Wala's killing. But his death had a huge impact on the project. "We spoke about him every day on set. Not a day passed when we didn't listen to his music or think of him," rues the director.
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The late pop star was originally to star in Chamak. The director recalls, "I had reached out to Sidhu bhai for a cameo in the second episode. He had said, âVeere, yeh karenge!' But it wasn't meant to happen. When [his murder] happened, we were yet to take the show on floors. I have to give it to Saugata Mukherjee [head of content], Danish Khan [business head] at SonyLIV that they decided to make this show. After Sidhu's death, I thought they would back out. But they went all in and said, âLet's make it well.' They gave me the freedom to tell the story unabashedly. And they decided to retain his mention in the series as well."
Another reason why the show matters is the timing of its release. Coming amid the strong anti-Khalistani wave from peace supporters across the world, the show takes us into the psyche of Punjabi musicians. Major pop stars like AP Dhillon, Shubh have had to cancel shows due to the hate directed at them. With Chamak, Jugraj has tried to show that the sanctity of music and the passion for uniting people through art is the core essence of Punjabi artistes. "The music of Punjab is pure. There are two states in India that focus on culture more than religion - Bengal and Punjab. Punjabi music is far bigger than politics. Artistes, musicians, filmmakers have all strongly condemned terrorism of any kind. No one stands by that thought process."
The director hopes that Chamak will have a second season, in which he wants to capture Punjabi music's impact on the global scene. "This is the year Diljit Dosanjh played at Coachella. His attire, his music are now a phenomenon, and that has been highlighted in the show." So, has Dosanjh made a cameo in the upcoming show? "Maybe," he signs off with a grin.