What contributes to Diljit Dosanjh's pan-India appeal? Probably his ability to make fun of himself

Diljit’s standing doesn’t depend on his status in Bollywood. He is his own best judge and critic and doesn’t seek approval from anyone.

Subhash K Jha January 06, 2022 16:09:14 IST
What contributes to Diljit Dosanjh's pan-India appeal? Probably his ability to make fun of himself

File image of singer-songwriter, actor and television presenter Diljit Dosanjh. News18

As Punjab’s best pan-India investment after lassi turns a year older I can’t but smile at how affable this man-child is in person. Supremely blessed–out in his space, Diljit gives a damn about Bollywood. Whenever he shoots in Mumbai he keeps to himself and doesn’t attend parties.

I once asked him why. His reply made me chuckle. “Yeh log angrezi mein baat karte hain ji. Woh bhi badi fast English. Main bada odd feel karta hoon.”

When Abhishek Choubey’s Udta Punjab brought Diljit into pan-India attention Diljit was not much impressed. “I have my own fan following in Punjab. My fans come to see me on stage. I like connecting with them directly.”

Diljit Dosanjh calls himself a farmer at heart.

Hal and tractor chalana har Punjabi ka janm-sidh adhikar hota hai,” he once told when we were discussing his close proximity to his roots. Diljit, like so many sons of the soil in Punjab has pitched in his might with the protesting farmer, raising his voice to make it heard right across the corridors of Parliament House.

I’ve known Diljit from long before he was seen in a Hindi film. His stardom in Punjab is unparalleled by any other actor from the state of fighters and farmers. During my visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar a young autorickshaw driver, when he got to know that I wrote about cinema, asked if I knew Diljit i. When I answered in the affirmative the young chap’s eyes lit up. “When you speak to him next tell him he is my hero.”

Not Dharmendra? I teased.

“Dharam Paaji super hero hai, he-man, lekin yeh banda asli hero hai hum mein se ek, ” the driver replied.

What contributes to Diljit Dosanjhs panIndia appeal Probably his ability to make fun of himself

Diljit Dosanjh in Good Newwz

I didn’t know what he meant back then. But today I do. Diljit Dosanjh fits into the heroic mould effortlessly. He doesn’t need to flex his muscles or post cosy pictures with his mother to flaunt his metrosexuality. On the contrary, Diljit makes fun of his own lack of upper-classiness. When he doesn’t follow what you are saying he doesn’t pretend to go along. He will stop you and say, “Ji main samjha nahin.”

“Sir yeh gregarious kya hota hai?” he interrupted me once. Diljit is comfortable with Hindi, as we all should be. He is even more comfortable with Punjabi his first language and his first and most enduring romance. He once confessed to me that his primary and most vital concern as an entertainer is to never let down his fan base in Punjab. “Main bhale hi Bollywood se alag ho jaoon lekin Punjabi filmein Punjabi gaanein aur Punjabiyat mere liye sabse keemti hai (I don’t mind moving away from Bollywood. For me Punjabi films songs and culture are of utmost importance).”

Diljit’s standing doesn’t depend on his status in Bollywood. He is his own best judge and critic and doesn’t seek approval from anyone.

Diljit can’t bear to see farmers being insulted. He is a farmer himself. And a bigger hero than the fake Bollywood superstars who only believe in being generous when the cameras are on and who forget their promises of generosity once the cameras are switched off. Charity for Diljit begins at home. His home Punjab.

“I have been singing and acting for ten years. Singing remains my first love. I can live without acting. But I can’t live without singing. My live concerts are my lifeline. When I’m there on stage I feel the direct and immediate love of my fans. On stage when I perform I feel I am communicating with my audience. It’s a feeling that no other form of expression can replace.”

Diljit has no qualms about being a turbaned hero. “I know I am a turbaned Sardar I can only play Sardar roles. Either that or producers should be willing to alter the script to accommodate my physical appearance. But I won’t call this a restriction. It is my good fortune that I am the first Sikh to be playing lead roles in Hindi films. There was a time when turbaned heroes were considered unwelcome in movies. Now that has changed. I take great pride in being a turbaned hero. Rather than the turban being a limitation for my acting career, it is my USP. Today little kids want to tie the turban and be like me. And when Bollywood stars like Akshay Kumar don the turban I feel very happy.”

It was a matter of immense pride that Diljit was venerated at Tussaud’s with a statue. Beaming with delight, Diljit had said to me, “The only other Sikh who has been honoured at Tussaud’s before me was the great Milkha Singh ji. However, his statue does not have him wearing a turban. I’m going to be the first turbaned Sardar to be featured at Tussaud’s. I am humbled by all the love that I have received from the Indians all over the world!”

You can take a Punjabi out of Punjab, but you can’t take Punjab out of a Punjabi. Diljit Dosanjh proved it. By standing up to speak up for the agitating farmers just when he needed to speak, not a day before and not a day after, and by taking on the biggest bully of Bollywood, Diljit proved himself the monitor in a class of life’s most laidback students.

Honsla Rakh, Diljit.

Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based film critic who has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out. He tweets at @SubhashK_Jha.

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