MUMBAI—His innings in Mumbai have had no commercial success: “Udta Punjab” was critically acclaimed, “Phillauri” and “Welcome To New York” were disasters, and even his song in “Raabta,” another catastrophe, was far from something memorable.
But Diljit Dosanjh stands out as a musician and superstar from Punjab, the only turbaned Sikh who has been a hero in Hindi films. He points out that he hopes the film gets to be seen by all and is not hankering after figures (as in crores of business).
The turban is not just his USP but also something of importance to him, which is why he nixed an offer from a director who is his favorite that needed him to be clean-shaven. “This is my identity with fans both in India and overseas, and even families love me for what I am,” he explains. “As for working with the filmmaker, there will be another time!”
Releasing this week is “Soorma,” Shaad Ali’s new film that is a biopic on Haryana’s hockey ace Sandeep Singh, who was accidentally shot in the back by a misfired bullet and paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair when he was 20. He had already distinguished himself in the sport – he was in a train heading to join the Indian team for the World Cup in Germany. With sheer will-power and family support, Sandeep not only began to walk again but also resumed his sport and won medals. In fact, he is also a member today of the Haryana police force!
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: Did you grab the offer when it came to you, considering the story?
A: No, I was reluctant only because hockey was the central point. The story was so real, so convincing and unique. A man paralyzed gets up again and even sets a world record. This was one masala movie that had to be made.
Q: Why were you hesitant because of the hockey?
A: I was never into any sports, though my dad played a bit of hockey. I barely have any interest in or knowledge of any sport as I was completely into music. Over the years, I have watched heroes playing the guitar and piano in films so unnaturally that for someone like me, it looked terrible. I thought that I would look equally bad and fake playing hockey! But then, Sandeep paaji and his elder brother Bikramjeet paaji came in to coach me. And it became easy.
Q: What about feeling the pain Sandeep went through?
A: I am no method actor, but I think I did it fairly well – Sandeep paaji is happy with what he has seen in the trailer. If I put in my 100 percent and touch you, that’s enough for me! And that is what acting is all about. I have to be the character, and learn whatever is needed, even if it is about learning to drive a tank!
Q: What about Sandeep’s legendary back-flick?
A: Oh, Sandeep paaji and Bikram paaji made me practice that every day on the sets. Bikram paaji is now like my elder brother too and was present all through. I still talk to him almost every day.
Q: What about singing in the film?
A: I never had any hunger to be a playback singer in Hindi films and have never asked for a song to be made for me as actor or as singer. Here, there was a song that was already ready, with its rough vocals dubbed by Shankar (of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy), that they got me to sing.
Q: We hear that Sandeep Singh has been a big fan of both your music and acting.
A: Yes. He watched me first in 2006 when he was paralyzed on a wheelchair and has since heard and seen all my work. And he had only one precondition – that he would want a real Sikh to play his role.
Q: What is your takeaway from the film and your character?
A: As Sandeep paaji puts it, youngsters give up too early today. But the battle is always with yourself alone. The film must inspire you enough to think that small problems are not problems at all. If you cannot be defeated by yourself, no one can defeat you. The message is, simply, “Never give up.” And that’s not just in hockey but in life.
Paaji’s family took no action against the man who shot him, and there was no demand for justice. They said, “We have to make our son stand up gin.” At his peak, Sandeep paaji was on a wheelchair. That was so terrifying and inconceivable. The only point was I was ashamed that I had heard of Sandeep-paaji but never knew about all this and what he had achieved and was achieving, like his world record!
Q: What are your criteria for signing Hindi films, and how do you divide your time between your music and your films even back in Punjab?
A: I am open to any good Hindi movie. I am doing “Arjun Patiala” and one more film. I like to do one Punjabi film every year, but that has not happened so far this year. Between music and films, I cannot decide—music is my own thing, so if a friend offers me a good movie, I can always keep it aside for a while.
Q: How did you learn music?
A: I would be found in gurudwaras, doing seva and then sitting with the priests to learn the harmonium and tabla in the evenings.
Q: Would you like to star in a musical?
A: Not really. Music is something I do all the time. I would like to do films that have scope for acting.