TILL Diljit Dosanjh, in his black and white kurta and chadra, turle wali pagg and chic yellow gloves got on stage and gave a shout out to the insanely massive crowd – ‘Punjabi aa gaye Coachella oye’, we had no clue what or where Coachella was. Not only did this terrific turbanator make history by performing at the world’s most sought- after music and arts festival, he catapulted a completely phoren place on our (mind) map for eternity.
The first Sikh artiste to perform at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California in April this year, the first to break the barriers of language, culture and geography and open doors for Asian talent, the first Indian from Punjab to perform in Punjabi at one of the grandest festivals in the world, Diljit rocked, and boy did he turn up the heat with his infectious vibe, energy and frequency beat by beat.
“I have performed on all platforms where people knew me. I wanted to experiment with a new place, a new experience, where no Punjabi had performed, where no one knew Diljit Dosanjh. Coachella was it. No artist from India has ever performed there, that too regional! I felt like a student once again, presenting my music in my language…it was exhilarating. It has opened doors for all of us,” says Diljit.
With Coachella, the ‘Dosanjhawala’ delivered Punjabi music to the world. Barely seven when he started performing in his village, Diljit gets candid about the time, when he would accompany his sister to tuition, and just to avoid it, would recite the teacher’s poems. “I started singing them, and a teacher at school would address me as kalakaar. And I am one today.”
Personally, he says, he hardly gives interviews. “But a lot of people and money is attached to a film, and I am here for them,” he says, here along with his leading lady, Nimrat Khaira for his upcoming film Jodi that releases this May 5. Easy going, honest to a fault, Diljit, who “is his own stylist” carries with him an enviable streak of simplicity. Maybe that’s why trolls, especially post-Coachella and its ‘he disrespected the Indian flag’ controversy didn’t frazzle him. “I’ve been in this industry for 20-plus years. These things would disturb me in initial years but I’ve grown past them. I believe in the truth, and that makes me fearless,” says Diljit, whose comment in Punjabi was misinterpreted. “I spoke of music, how it connects and belongs to all of us, and we should stay away from negativity.” He also pointed out the ‘singling out’ of Punjabi music, and its lyrics. “Guns, violence, casteism…it’s there in films too, Hindi included, why don’t we talk about that. Criticism has to be in balance.”
The years have induced a maturity that’s meditative and calming in Diljit who never lets the success to go to his head. “I never get offended, my team gets a little cautious, but I am in a space where I have decided to do one Punjabi film in a year. I cannot go to the set every day!” Which brings us to Jodi, directed by Amberdeep Singh, a tale of love, romance, music and humour, and “a story nowhere close to Chamkila. It’s not Chamkila’s biopic, I’ve done the proper biopic with Imtiaz Ali.”
Interestingly, the singer-actor had decided not to take up films after his first Punjabi film flopped.
“I believed the producer when he told me that the reason for the failure was that the youth don’t want to see a turbaned hero. I had no clue about films or film business, and had my second film, Jihne Mera Dil Luteya, not been a superhit, I would’ve stopped acting.”
The only turbaned actor, after the late Jaspal Bhatti, to make an impact in Hindi film industry, Diljit consciously chose roles that did not reduce Sardars to a joke. He bagged Udta Punjab after the makers saw him in Punjab 1984. “The only difference I feel between Punjabi and Hindi films is the language, rest hardwork is the same.” He is optimistic about Punjabi cinema, that it will grow phenomenally, and adds how the music industry too is getting better.
“For the first five years, I hardly made any money in music. I remember Charanjit Ahuja telling me how HMV was perhaps the only label that earned the maximum royalty from Chamkila’s music. Today, times have changed. Artists know about contracts, royalties, and their rights.” That technology-like artificial intelligence will overtake musicians is something he replies lightheartedly — “AI is not a threat, because live music will always be there — AI can’t come on stage!”
He carries Punjab in his heart, but strangely doesn’t feel a sense of belonging to any place, nor does he strike a relationship with any person or place. “It’s just who I am,” smiles the ‘kalakaar’ to whom the entire world is attached.