Diljit Dosanjh had us at Oye

He wears his culture, his ‘Punjabiyat’, on his sleeve

I thought 2022 was the year of Diljit Dosanjh. The Punjabi actor-singer took his ‘Born to Shine World Tour’ across the globe, filling up stadiums like no other Indian had before him. Then I thought last year was his year; Dosanjh became the first Indian to perform at Coachella, the revered music festival in Colorado. We are only half-way into 2024, and Dosanjh has become the first Indian to perform live on the popular American show, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

Have we lost possibly our greatest artiste to the west? Far from it. You know the old chestnut: You can take a Punjabi out of Punjab but you can’t take Punjab out of a Punjabi? Dosanjh is a son of his soil, who takes his home wherever he goes. He wears his culture, his ‘Punjabiyat’, on his sleeve. Punjabiyat loosely refers to a love for the Punjabi language and traditional dress, but it is more of an attitude, a sort of tub-thumping regional pride.

When Dosanjh appeared on Karan Johar’s talk show Koffee With Karan, he wore an off-white T-shirt and Balenciaga sneakers. He showcased his penchant for international luxury labels by identifying them as Johar was pulling them out of a suitcase. But as his stature has grown globally, the Punjabi-speaking performer (he speaks no English) has asserted his roots. At Coachella, he wore a black kurta with a lungi (known as tamba or tent in Punjabi), and his signature turban. His traditional attire—these are not clothes he wears every day—was a tribute to his home state.

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On Fallon’s show, he wore an all-white ensemble: a kurta, tamba and turban again. He sang songs that spoke of his home-state: ‘Born To Shine’, about a local boy who made it big, and ‘Main Hun Punjab’ from his last film release, the stellar Amar Singh Chamkila. He also wore a string of fat pearls, gold hoops and a shimmering Audemars Piguet wristwatch custom-set with diamonds, perhaps a nod to the rappers’ rizz that the US is renowned for. In an interview with film journalist Sucharita Tyagi a few days ago, he said, “That attire to me was more important than the songs, and only these songs matched the attire.”

On Fallon, Dosanjh wore Raghavendra Rathore, the Jodhpur-based designer better known for his menswear. Rathore tells me he was commissioned to design for Dosanjh only three months ago. “It was for his tour (Dosanjh is on his ‘Dil-luminati’ tour of North America), I didn’t know he would be wearing it on Jimmy Fallon,” he smiles. The designer met Dosanjh over Zoom as the actor-musician’s schedule would not allow for an in-person meeting.

“Within a minute we knew exactly what he wanted. He was looking for a classic, but something cultural as well. He was interested in keeping the traditional flag flying. Within a month we had about 30 outfits ready for him,” Rathore says. He says his office is now taking orders from all over the world for the Diljit-style slim kurtas with slim sleeves. Rathore had also designed for Dosanjh’s performance at the Ambani pre-wedding in Jamnagar.

Dosanjh is unlike his Punjabi-international contemporaries like Sidhu Moosewala or AP Dhillon. Moosewala brought the anger and frustration of the Punjabi youth to his lyrics. Dhillon is more of a loverboy-lite with no politics. Dosanjh’s music is a genius mix of Punjabi folk with modern styles, especially hip hop and rap. He is political, but speaks of his Punjab as a place of love, music, and hope.

Diljit makes your heart sing.