Diljit Dosanjh the star from Punjab who is making quiet inroads into Hindi movies and the minds of Hindi film audiences is in a happy frame of mind as Punjabis often tend to be, by his own admission. Polite and cheerful despite an entire day of promotional activities, an essential part of an actor’s life, Dosanjh with his outing in Udta Punjab and Phillauri got the industry to sit up and take notice. His humility and congeniality have only helped matters.
He corrects me cheekily when I plead that my knowledge of Punjabi is quite sad. “Punjabi sad nahin hote.”
Originally from the village of Dosanjh Kallan in Jalandhar district, he says his mother wanted him to go to town for better opportunities – ‘Kahin aisa na ho, ki kuch kar nahin paaye zindagi mein.’ Dosanjh left home for Ludhiana at the age of 11 for his uncle’s house but with a heavy heart. He recalls sitting in the bus with a sinking feeling.
Despondency soon turned into resentment. The ouster from home made him feel that he was not wanted and that his younger brother was loved more. Little did he realise that his mother wanted him to avail greater opportunities than what the village had to offer.
“Main kuch ek-dedh saal naraaz raha tha,” recaps the actor.
In fact so deep was his sense of hurt that he gave up celebrating Diwali, which was a big festival in Punjab, celebrated with much fanfare. People would go to various dargaah, temples and gurdwaras to light diyas (lamps) but Diljit, who was feeling lost and dejected, refused to celebrate Diwali as a mark of protest. He does not celebrate the festival even today.
To mark his rebellion further he even began to bunk school and watch films as his mother had warned him against it. Bobby Deol’s Soldier was the first film he watched followed by Bade Mian Chote Mian, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Vaastav.
As he lost himself in the imaginary world of films, little did he know that soon he would foray into the movies and music himself.
Dosanjh wears his success lightly but his foray into singing and performing started at a young age when he would go for tuitions with his sister.
“Ek masterji the Sharmaji jo padhate the—woh kavita likhte the. Unhone kaha ki jo kavita yaad karega usko sabse pehle jane denge. Maine sabse pehle yaad kiya, bina dekhe, suna diya. To phir chutti ka ek tareeka ho gaya mere liye. Phir log aate the ya competition hota tha to woh mujhe le jaate — ki chal kavita sunana. Who karate karte sab log bolne lage kalakaar to mujhe bhi laga ki main kalakaar hoon. Agar woh mujhe shuru nahin karwate to shayad mujhe pata nahin chalta.”
His musical influences include the Hindi films music he grew up listening to along with his sister and the Punjabi music his father would listen to. Kuldeep Mann featured prominently in his life because his father thought him to be the penultimate singer, but it was after Dosanjh launched his own musical career with an album that he woke up to the magic of live performances. He realized that they helped the artist establish a closer relationship with his listeners. It was also around the same time that he discovered the work of Gurdas Maan. He confesses that he had not heard of Gurdas Maan earlier but once he heard him, he carried out extensive research on each of his songs, every stage show that he had performed. He wanted to understand Maan’s popularity. As luck would have it, the two singers eventually collaborated for Coke Studio.
Dosanjh has shared both screen space and stage with several big stars ever since. Among his illustrious co-stars from Hindi movies, he remembers Kareena Kapoor Khan rather fondly as on the very first day of the shooting of Udta Punjab, she put him at ease by requesting him for a photograph with her staff! The actor cherishes the memory of that warm gesture from a co-star who went out on a limb to break the ice with a newcomer.
Besides Kapoor-Khan whose work he admires, his list of favourite heroines is a surprising mix—it includes Saira Banu, supermodel Cindy Crawford, Pamela Anderson from her Baywatch days and Kylie Jenner. His comments on Jenner’s Instagram photos have provided fodder for much speculation in the media.
Despite his impressive rise to stardom in music, Punjabi films and now Hindi films, his family he says does not discuss his film career with him. According to him, they are happy that his work keeps him busy and on his feet. If there’s one thing that life has taught him through the constant swing between failure and success, it is that neither good times nor bad times last. It’s critical to just keep looking ahead.
“Good time aaye to woh bhi sirf utne hi time ek liye aata hai phir agle project ek barey mein sochna hota hai. Ab tum kar paoge aage? Ya tumne sahi choose bhi kiya hai ya nahin? Aage ki baat karna hai,” he muses with a warm smile.
After an endearing performance in the just released Soorma, he certainly has a lot to look forward to.
Priyanka Sinha Jha is a senior journalist, author, and digital-media specialist.