Has Diljit Dosanjh changed Bollywood?

Topics Bollywood | Punjab | Sikhs

Authentic. The one word that describes Diljit Dosanjh better than any other. Why? Because Dosanjh is the first Sikh actor to wear a turban on screen in Bollywood … and carry it off with pride, and dignity. Even in Punjabi films, heroes have over the years shunned the turban to broadbase their appeal, especially with the non-resident Indian diaspora. Dosanjh broke that mould in the incredibly successful Punjabi blockbuster Soorma was just what it was supposed to be: Euphoric highs of meteoric success alternated against heart-rending pain. A dramatic performance. With the turban well in place.

Dosanjh has been as much in the news recently for his championing of the farmers’ agitation in Delhi (including a Rs 1 crore donation “quietly” made for the farmers to buy warm clothes), as also for besting the irascible Kangana Ranaut in a Twitter spat, with the likes of Mika Singh, Angad Bedi and Harbhajan Singh egging him on. Gurdas Maan, in fact, chose to partner him to sing his epic Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari, with Fatima Sana Shaikh too has attracted good reviews, especially for his Punjabi liveliness and goofy charm. He is on an incredible roll. Actor, activist, singer, song writer, humorist, TV judge and more. The Sardar with Swag.

Dosanjh’s light-hearted banter, and “clash” with virtual assistant Alexa won him over 1.5 million views during the lockdown; also during the containment, the down-to-earth homebound actor shared his tempting step-by-step recipe of a very scrumptious Pindi chhole-aloo, with a side of hilarious jokes, on Instagram. And thus was born the “imperfect celebrity chef” who could make fun of himself. That is the real Dosanjh — all humility, all fun, no pretences. Dosanjh, with 4.4 million Twitter followers and 10.8 million on Instagram, has continued to climb rapidly on “Likeability”, a very important force multiplier for human brands. And that is what makes him special. The TIARA Research earlier this year scored Dosanjh very high on Rugged and Energetic; gave him high ratings on Sexy, Charming, Heart-throb, Loved-By-All and Likeable; and not surprisingly rated him above average on Distinctive, Trendy and Cool.  

I was in Punjab recently. Driving around the state, as you whizz past small towns and kasbas, you see Dosanjh everywhere: Especially on the Coca Cola signage that adorn all dhaba frontages. There is no Ranbir Kapoor anywhere in sight, only him. In Punjab, the singer-actor really is the currency for “cool” …the currency for commercial success. No wonder, then, Flipkart, and even the Kabaddi League have used him as an endorser.

So, is Dosanjh for real? For an 11-year-old who was sent off to train under an uncle so that he could earn a livelihood by learning to recite the Gurbani, Dosanjh (who hails from a village in Punjab by the same name) has done pretty well. His Lak 28 Kudi Da has become a cult song in Punjab. He is a five time winner of the Best Actor award in Punjabi films, and narrowly missed his first Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actor last year. And now his star as a budding activist (if not politician) seems to be on the ascendant … following in the footsteps of comedian-turned-politico Bhagwant Mann of the Aam Aadmi Party.

Retaining his Sikh identity in mainstream Bollywood must not have been easy for him. And I admire him for that. Hindi cinema has always thrived on familiar stereotypes, and few have ever dared to challenge or change them. Dharmendra Singh Deol remained clean-shaven throughout his six-decade long Soorma too.

Dosanjh has the distinction of being the only turbaned Sikh to have got a wax statue at Madame Tussauds. This year he even found a place on billboards at Times Square. Methinks Diljit Dosanjh has changed Bollywood. And some of its antiquated thinking. Because for years and years, a real Sikh could not play a sardar. Thank goodness, with Dosanjh, finally Singh is King.   


Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel