Actor and singer Diljit Dosanjh was already a star in the Punjabi film industry when he made his Hindi cinema debut in 2016, with Udta Punjab. He has since established himself as a versatile talent in Bollywood, without cutting ties with Punjabi culture. He speaks to BulBul sharma about how acting and music are two sides of the same coin for him.
Q. You have already done a variety of roles, in films like Udta Punjab (2016), Phillauri (2017) and Soorma (2018). What’s your ambition for your Bollywood career now?
A. I believe in doing films and characters that people like to see me in. There is no point in doing films and playing characters which the audience is not able to enjoy.
Q. You were already a star in the Punjabi film industry when you entered Bollywood. Did Bollywood seem like the next logical step after succeeding on your home turf?
A. I didn’t decide it. I only took up the roles because I was approached by the filmmakers. I didn’t try to shift to Hindi cinema; it just happened. I didn’t ask for roles from anyone and I didn’t struggle at all here. It was just a natural progression and I took the opportunities as they came. No PR company was involved, and I had no contacts in the Hindi film industry.
Q. Your latest release, Arjun Patiala, is also your first comedy film in Bollywood. How was your experience of working on this film?
A. It was good. But at certain places, I felt that I would have enjoyed cracking those jokes more in Punjabi. Whenever I watch any Hindi film, I feel that it would have been better if the dialogues were spoken in Punjabi.
Q. The film belongs to the spoof comedy genre, which is quite new to the Indian audiences. Did you ever worry about the audience’s reaction?
A. That happens with every film and I am not apprehensive like that. I am usually quite relaxed and I believe that if some film hasn’t worked, I can always do better with my next film.
Q. How did this film happen?
A. I liked the script. And the writer of the film, Ritesh Shah, has written some amazing scripts, like Pink, Airlift, Kahaaniand Raid. So when he called me to discuss the idea, I thought he’d called me to make a serious social issue-based film. But when I met him, he told me that he had written enough serious films and that he now wanted to experiment with a different genre… Also, I wasn’t getting many comedy films in Bollywood. I was only being offered serious films. That is why I signed Arjun Patiala. Ritesh Shah is one of my favourite scriptwriters in Bollywood, and the production house [Maddock Films] has also made good films, like Hindi Medium and Stree, in the past. So I thought that they were nice people to work with and that it would be fun to work with them… For me, what matters are the people I am working with. I don’t generally think about the commercial success of the film. I am not very analytical like that.
Q. Your on-screen equation with actor Varun Sharma has been appreciated by the audience. How was the experience of working with him?
A. I have a different way of doing comedy and his is a very out-and-out way. So it is a good mix and has come out amazing in the film… Also, in comparison to female actors, I am more comfortable around male actors. I am a reserved person and I really can’t do anything about it.
Q. Films set in small towns are doing good business these days. Even Arjun Patialarevolves around the life of a cop who lives in a small town. Why do you think this trope of small-town lives has struck a chord with the audiences?
A. It all depends on the script. Sometimes the script demands relatability, and sometimes people also enjoy a fantasy that is far from reality.
Q. Your recent statement on the problematic portrayal of turbaned men in Hindi films has found resonance with many. What has been your personal experience with this issue?
A. When I came to the Punjabi film industry, I was told by producers that there have been no turbaned heroes. They advised me to not do films… Whenever I watched Hindi films, and the caricaturish portrayals of Sikh men in them, I would always think that this is not how we speak or act. I used to feel upset back then. But now I think there has been a change and the industry has become slightly more sensitive and this has been a very important change as well.
Q. What are your thoughts on your previous film, Welcome to New York, which did not do well? Are you being more cautious now about the kinds of films you choose?
A.. Welcome to New Yorkwas a blunder. I have done a total of four Hindi films to date, and this [Welcome to New York] is the only one that was weak script-wise. So the percentage of good films that I have done is better… You do certain things as a favour to the people you know and to your seniors. I have learnt now that it is better to speak the truth when you are not sure about something. There is no point in becoming a part of projects you are not confident about, because the responsibility of their failures will eventually fall on you.
Q. Your latest Punjabi film,Shadaa, has become one of your biggest hits, and has performed well in both Indian and overseas markets. What inspired the idea?
A. I thought that a full-fledged film on a single man who wants to stay single hasn’t been made. Shadaa [which means a single man in Punjabi] has been talked about in several films but we hadn’t seen a lead character like him before this.
Q. Shadaaand Jatt & Juliet, your other Punjabi hit, were your ideas, which were developed into scripts. So do you take an active interest in storytelling?
A. I haven’t written a story till now. I keep looking for ideas and I don’t mind sharing them with others who can develop them into film scripts. I can’t sit and write. I don’t have that sort of time… In the Punjabi industry, we are not insecure. Once, Badshah [the rapper] heard about one of my albums and he suggested that I should name it Back 2 Basics. So here [in the Punjabi industry] we keep sharing these ideas with each other.
Q. How do you look at the Punjabi film industry today?
A. The Punjabi industry feels more like home to me. And it’s because of the people there. For example, I thought of making a film on Shadaaand we made it in Punjabi. But in Hindi cinema, I can’t do things like that as of now. We can produce any film in Punjab, but in Bollywood it’s different. Hindi films have a greater reach and their production cost is high, too.
Q. The reach and popularity of Punjabi films have increased in recent times. What do you think is the future of Punjabi cinema?
A. Since Punjabi cinema is relatively new, we haven’t been able to explore many themes and subjects in our films as of yet. But I am sure that as time passes and as the industry grows we will be able to address many diverse subjects in our work.
Q. Apart from being a fulltime actor, you are a fulltime singer too. How do you strike a balance between the two?
A. My life is only about doing films and making songs. And acting and singing are the same for me. They happen at the same time for me. I sing in my movies and I act in my music videos.
Q. Does playback appeal to you? Do you like the idea of yourself singing the songs picturised on you?
A. Film songs should look like a part of the film. There is no point in making a super-hit song if it is not related to a film. And this is why it is important to have the director’s input. Luckily, in all my Punjabi films, the decisions have been made with a mutual understanding. However, in Hindi films, I am not involved in the process of making music. That’s not even my forte. Most Hindi films that I have worked in had their songs ready. I have never asked them to include my songs there.
But now I have planned to stop being a part of Hindi songs if I am not involved in the process of making these from the very beginning… I won’t sing songs in the last one-two months after the shoot. I don’t want to get myself involved in this kind of marketing.