Diljit Dosanjh: The sardar with swag who has won India’s heart

Dosanjh’s epic takedown of Kangana made stans swoon and inspired memes. TOI charts his rise from humble kirtan singer to a star who wears his ‘pendu’ identity with pride

With a Billboard chart-topping album titled G.O.A.T, a new Bollywood release and his face on billboards at New York’s Times Square, Punjabi singer and actor Diljit Dosanjh could claim to have arrived in 2020. But this week he truly hit the popularity charts when his name became a verb. To be Diljit Dosanjh-ed is “when you get into a Twitter beef with an exceptionally badass stud but are blindsided by his comebacks.” Shedding his low-key amiable guy image, 36-year-old Dosanjh took to Twitter to support the farmers’ protests raging on Delhi borders after Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut alleged that protestors were on hire for Rs 100. She also misidentified a senior citizen as Bilkis Bano, popularly called the dadi from Shaheen Bagh.

Diljit Dosanjh: The sardar with swag who has won India’s heart

Dosanjh’s ripostes impressed even those who didn’t get the ‘theth’ Punjabi. With 4.3 million followers on Twitter and 10.7 million on Instagram — significantly more than Ranaut’s — and support from several Punjabi celebrities like singer Mika Singh, actor Angad Bedi and cricketer Harbhajan Singh, it was an uneven match. On Saturday, he even joined farmers at the protest site.

But the move was in character for the self-confessed urban ‘pendu’ (an affectionate term given by his fans to describe a village simpleton surviving in the city). Dosanjh livened up grim days during the lockdown with videos that showed his struggles with Angrezi Alexa (eventually teaching her to address him as jaan) and his earthy humour in amateur cooking videos. 

Film critic Anupama Chopra describes him as charming and authentic. “He never says anything that he does not mean. At a time when all of us have many versions of ourselves, it is very reassuring that there is only one version of Diljit,” she says. His success is even more impressive considering that turban-wearing actors are not a norm in the film industry. “Forget being a leading man in Bollywood, even Punjabi films do not have turbaned heroes,” she says.

Dosanjh comes from a humble background and spent his childhood in the village of Dosanjh Kalan in Punjab’s Jalandhar district. In an interview, Dosanjh talks of his desire to hit the big time in the early days. He recalls going to gurudwaras with the same prayer always, “Hai paramatma main kissko na jaanu, mujhe sab jaane.” (Let me become famous).

At the age of 11, his mother sent him to the city hoping that learning under his uncle, a ragi (musician who sings the Gurbani) would improve his prospects. The move was deeply upsetting for Dosanjh who felt rejected by his family. “After I left home, I was very angry with my mother. I used to love Diwali but after I left home I was never able to celebrate the festival again,” he said in an interview.

But staying with his uncle helped. Not only did Dosanjh learn tabla and harmonium but also honed his voice to start singing kirtans (devotional songs). Soon this paved the way for singing on public platforms and by 18, he had cut an album Ishq Da Uda Adaa.

Diljit Dosanjh

To make the new artist stand out, a producer asked him to change his name from Daljit to Diljit. Years later when the people of Dosanjh Kalan village, settled in large numbers in Canada’s British Columbia, feted him, he added

Punjabi music producer Sukhpal Sukh, who is credited with grooming several young pop stars, says he remembers Dosanjh as a very young, raw talent. Sukh wanted to bring in a Canadian-Bombay finesse to his rustic music, and Dosanjh was a willing pupil. “We helped groom him, from how to wear a more stylish patka (turban) to fine-tuning his performance in front of the camera. We did bhangra rehearsals for a month before we cut the music video,” he recalls. Sukh produced two albums with Dosanjh, Dil (2004) and Smile in 2005 which catapulted the singer to fame and fortune.

Offers for performing at wedding ceremonies, “DJ nights” and live performances in UK, US and Canada started pouring in. In 2011, he starred in his first film Lion of Punjab but it was his third film Jat & Juliet, a record-breaking rom-com, that led people to discover Dosanjh. The singer-actor later collaborated in a sequel with director Anurag Singh.

Singh describes Dosanjh as a very spiritual person who took his time to open up to people. “He embodies the spirit of chardi kalan (eternal optimism and joy). When things were not going to plan on set, he would reassure me. He could always see the positive side to things,” he says.

Udta Punjab director Abhishek Chaubey, who was the first to cast him in a Hindi film, says he knew Dosanjh was perfect for the role as soon as he met him. “In an industry obsessed with appearances, he seemed very real and has a genuine humility about him,” he says.

He also has a great sense of style, carrying off big labels like Gucci and Balenciaga in traffic-stopping hues. But despite the luxury brands and cars, Dosanjh seems to have kept an enthusiasm for work . He dropped a new Punjabi album written and shot entirely during the lockdown which got 115 million views on YouTube, and is currently shooting for a Netflix film. Director Anurag Singh says, “He constantly finds new mountains to scale.” Or in Dosanjh’s own words, “Paise poose bare billo soche duniya, jat paida hoya bas choun vaste” (People worry about money darling, Jats are born to shine.)”

Credit: TOI

Times Of India

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