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Diljit Dosanjh appears unaware about most of the extravaganza around the Hindi film industry, and he likes it this way. Bollywood is also not the be-all and end-all for the actor-musician, who is currently a superstar in Punjab and among the most popular musicians in the country. Two-film-old in Bollywood and with an ‘increased staff’, Diljit isn’t finding it difficult to adjust in the industry, except that he is learning to deal with the gossip that’s written about him and is also trying to get used to walking on red carpets, which he finds ‘extremely uncomfortable’.
In an interview to indianexpress.com ahead of the release of his Punjabi film, Super Singh, the actor talks about his future Bollywood aspirations, and why he is cautious that his success here doesn’t affect his connect with Punjabi audience, who he believes has the ‘first right’ on him.
Going back to doing a Punjabi film after two back-to-back hit Hindi movies, did you feel any difference?
No, nothing at all. (Even though) I shot Super Singh after Phillauri but didn’t feel any change.
It’s a bigger industry, it’s functioning is quite different from Punjabi cinema. So, in that sense did you see any change in yourself or something you were required to do?
That way, the only difference is that my staff has increased. Nothing else. I don’t really need any staff, I am a self-sufficient man but just luxury utha rahein hain thodi (I’m trying to enjoy some luxury).
Hindi movie stars are said to have glitz and glamour attached to them. How much of it has rubbed on you?
Is it like that? I don’t know. There’s nothing of that sort that I feel. There’s a struggle every day. I keep searching for music, subjects… Now, there are no more stars. Stars were when Rajesh Khanna ji, Dilip Kumar ji were there. Today, every artiste wants people to relate with them. So, how our we stars? During Dilip Kumar ji and Rajesh Khanna ji’s times, there was a mystique, people didn’t know where they lived. Internet wasn’t there. Now, that time has gone. Today, the more people relate with you, it’s better.
But now, when you visit Punjab, the audience there don’t look at you in a different way, that here’s our guy who has become too big.
I have no idea if that is the case, nor do I think like this that they should treat me differently. I don’t think about that baggage. I, in fact, always try that my Punjabi audience never feels that I went somewhere else. They shouldn’t feel for a single moment that my connect ever broke with them. They should not feel that even for a day that he was someone else’s not ours.
How are you dealing with the increased attention? Bollywood filmmakers have such nice things to say about you, they want to cast you and people are more than willing to watch you.
(Laughs) So, the thing is that in Punjabi films, I can make whatever I want to make. I wanted to make a superhero film, and I made it. It took time to get funds. It’s budget is more than that of a normal Punjabi film but we made it. Whatever we think, we achieve it. Right now, my position in Bollywood is not such that I can do what I want to. Right now, I don’t have this option. Of course, I get offers every day, calls keep coming but that’s not my choice. I try to find the best out of what I get offered. But, that doesn’t mean that is what I want to do. So, I wait… After Udta Punjab, I got Phillauri in a short time. That I did but post Phillauri, I rejected every film offered to me during last year. I have said no to almost six-seven films because I don’t want to do those kind of movies. Even today, the offers that I am getting… I want to do some different type of work.
So, what kind of films are your choice?
Something that is new. It shouldn’t be like I am from Punjab, so, I am doing Punjabi characters only. I am trying to stay away from that. But then I look at this from another perspective, that I am lucky that I am even getting this much work. I am not even worthy of this. This is enough. But… it’s fine. Whatever is happening, is happening for the good. I anyway don’t have great expectations. Besides this, I have music to work on, Punjabi films. This is where I can do my choice of work.
How ambitious are you about your Bollywood career? Does Bollywood doesn’t feature in your long-term plan?
I am fine if I get some good roles. Then, I will see what to do next. I can’t do the same thing again. If you think I can do Bollywood films at a stretch for years, that won’t happen. This is not my life. But, I suppose if I do two Hindi films, then I need a break and make music for at least three-four months. Then I would do Punjabi films. I want to keep switching between different things. If I get a good offer on TV, I would take that up. I would get bored if I have to do only Bollywood films.
Unlike most actors, it looks like the Bollywood bug hasn’t really bitten you.
No, it hasn’t. There’s a life beyond films. This (Bollywood) is not how I want to keep myself busy. I have a lot of other things to do.
Your co-star Sonam (Bajwa, in Super Singh) says Bollywood has made you busier than ever.
(Laughs) Sonam is a naughty kudi. There’s nothing like that. Anyway, this is the right time to get busy but there is no such intention that I have to start a (Hindi) film as soon as possible. I have my music, which in fact gets very less time. The moment I get free, I get into making music. Super Singh releases on June 16 and my next film will go on floors on July 1. I have 10 days in between, I have already booked my ticket for the UK, where I make my music generally.
In your past interviews, you have said that you would play roles that bear similarities with your real self. Do you still believe that or are you now ready to explore and experiment with the characters?
When I said this, people thought that I meant, I would do those roles that are like me. But that’s not what I meant. For example, this recent film Hindi Medium, Dinesh Vijan ji (film’s producer) showed its trailer to me. I was like, ‘This is what I relate to’. I have seen that problem around me, it hasn’t happened with me but I have seen. Now, things which have never happened around me, that are fictional, for those characters I will have to work really hard, prepare for them properly.
So, what I meant was that things, which common people relate to, are what I connect to most. Like, my brother doesn’t do drugs (referring to his Udta Punjab character), but because I have a brother so, I could connect to my role in the film. Also, drug problem is prevalent in Punjab so, I connected with Udta Punjab on that level already.
What made you choose Phillauri, where your role was fictional?
In Phillauri, I related to the climax, which showed Jallianwala Bagh incident. When I started singing, my first song was on this incident. So, I connected to the film through the climax. I had no clue how it would turn out. I knew Anushka ji was in it, so, I felt she would have thought something good only. My screen time in the film and everything else was secondary, for me the high point was the climax.
It seems your professional decisions are emotionally guided.
Absolutely, they are. I don’t put any math while taking these decisions. I don’t do things because I will be getting more money. If something touches me emotionally, then I will do it even if people tell me it will be a loss. I will say it’s fine, life mei acha experience mil gaya, bohot hai (A good experience in life is a good enough reason).
No, that’s not true. I also heard this rumour. I keep hearing rumours. But I prefer to stay quiet because I have realised when you go on explaining about it, things become worse. You will react, then someone else will say something, then again you will have to talk about it.
But Kanneda with Anushka Sharma is your next, right?
(Smiles) When a film goes on floors, only then we should talk about it. There’s no use talking about it in advance.
Coming back to your ongoing experience in Bollywood, is it difficult to remain grounded when suddenly everyone wants a piece of you?
I feel like a struggler. Every day I search for songs, composition, I keep checking what other musicians are up to. Everyone from regional artistes to international musicians. I also keep a tab on the UK chart, who is leading it… Who is on number 1 in the US chart… Every morning, I check whose video is there on number 1. I feel, right now my struggle is going on. Abhi woh time nahi aaya hai (The time has not come yet). I don’t know what people are thinking about me.
So, what will make you feel that you have arrived?
I think there are still 30 years or so left to arrive at that point. Then, I might be able to say that I am fine and I am no more a struggler.
Don’t you read about yourself?
Not much. There’s so much written about me which is not true. This has only increased after coming to Bollywood. Initially, I used to like it. Later, I felt like whom do I tell that this is not true, that these rumours are fake? Then finally, I decided to let it go. These things come along with (success).
There must be some big difference between the set-up of Bollywood and Punjabi film industry? Which atmosphere are you more comfortable in?
There is not a huge difference but many small differences like here in Mumbai, when you come out of your vanity van, there’s a red carpet rolled out for you, while in Punjab there’s nothing like that. Here, there are many departments (in filmmaking), within those departments there are several others. Back home, we don’t even know if there are a few departments.
To me, good work is important. If work is fine then I don’t have any problem working anywhere. Then I feel good wherever I am taken. If I am getting the work of my choice, and it’s going good then all is well. And if the work is not up to the mark, then even the luxuries fail to impress. People are going to watch your film, not which vanity van you stayed in, how much staff you have. They are going to watch the film and get entertained. That matters more than the paraphernalia around the actors.
The limelight of Bollywood, has it ever made you uncomfortable?
When there are a lot of people and they are talking loudly, then I become quiet. That unsettles me. Like, I went to this famous restaurant in Canada, it is a very nice place but there was loud music and people were too loud, then I feel suffocated. So, this is my problem. When I see a lot of people standing, looking at me, I become hesitant to go there. This happens with me even in a gym, when I enter and there are already a lot of people, I feel weird. If I enter first and then people start coming in, I am fine with that.
But that doesn’t look like when you are on stage, perhaps because that is your ‘field’?
Yeah, stage is my place, my comfort zone. I am comfortable there, there’s no tension on that front.
And red carpet appearances, award functions?
Oh yes, that is something weird. My team takes me to these functions, but I don’t like walking on the red carpets. I find it extremely uncomfortable. I used to do shows at weddings (in Punjab), there also I would enter from behind and exit like that.
There’s a whole team working behind the appearances of a star, telling them what to do. You don’t feel the need?
My team will never tell me to even try this because they know I will never do it. Social media has made it easier to stay connected with your fans. I think earlier, artistes didn’t really have the need to stay in news. And I feel if you are connected with your fans via social media, you don’t need any image-building exercise. In fact, I strongly feel one should never fall under the trap of image. No one really cares if you are a nice person.
If you don’t shock people, then it won’t be fun. I, myself, won’t enjoy watching you if you are not entertaining me, despite you being a nice person. I will watch you one day, or maybe a few days but then that’s it. If someone is entertaining you, regardless of how he or she is, you will watch him or her. So, for me what’s important is if I am entertaining my audience not that I portray an innocent, nice guy image.
So, when you put videos and posts on Instagram and Snapchat, where you are quite active, what’s your thought process like?
I don’t put any thought in this. It is always spontaneous. I want people to think when I put something. People should think why did he do this and how did he do this. It shouldn’t be predictable.
Talking about it, a lot has been said about your fixation with the Kardashians. Recently, you commented on one of the Instagram videos of Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner. There were mixed reactions. While some found you endearing, there were others who felt you shouldn’t be so publicly in awe of other stars, being one yourself.
How did you react to all the attention around Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner?
I liked both types of reactions. I want attention of both kinds of people, so I was happy. It doesn’t bother me, I do what I feel like. In fact, there wasn’t even any such plan. I was in US then. I woke up and checked Instagram, where I saw that Kim Kardashian was going live. I was in a very good mood and wrote, ‘Aur kidan?’ (How are you?) After that I closed it. I didn’t write to get a reply from her. I wrote in Punjabi. Just to make my fans happy, I took it’s screenshot and I put it on snapchat. The idea was to make my fans say, ‘Look at this fool, what he is up to now!’ The only intention was to make them laugh. Rest, what people said about it, I don’t care about that.