Little India: Overseas Indian, NRI, Asian Indian, Indian American

Diljit Dosanjh The Flying Sikh

Diljit Dosanjh in Sajjan Singh Rangroot

Toward the end of summer, Bollywood movie Soorma, starring the new blue-eyed boy Diljit Dosanjh released a day earlier in the overseas market. The film raked in a cool $22,232 on Day 1 of its showing across 11 theatres in Canada. Its success was no surprise as the boy from Punjab had spent the summer last year touring Canada and the United States.

His first international live performances, Dream, in Vancouver, Edmonton, and Toronto in Canada and Fresno, Los Angeles, Dallas and New Jersey in the United States played to packed crowds. Recently the star received a coin of honor from Canada’s Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan. Last year, the actor secured top spot along with Katrina Kaif as one of the most popular Bollywood stars overseas, according to a consumption trends study by Spuul, a Singapore based video on demand streaming service for Bollywood. The report, which researched the demographic data and consumption habits of Indians and Indian diaspora abroad, found that Dosanjh was the most popular Punjabi star outside of India. The study also showed that Punjabi films have the highest consumption in Australia followed by the United States.

It is perhaps the first time that in the Americas any Bollywood star besides the Khans has created the kind of stir Dosanjh is generating. Dosanjh is an unlikely hero in Bollywood. In an industry riddled with six-packs and family connections, a turbaned man from Jalandhar in Punjab with a rustic, son of the soil appeal seems all set for super stardom.

Diljit Dosanjh and Neeru Bajwain Sardaarji.

So, what makes Dosanjh so popular especially amongst the diaspora abroad? Is it that the large Sikh community in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada is thrilled to see what could go down in Bollywood history as the first ever turbaned superstar? Or does his modest background and stupendous success story strike a chord with thousands of Punjabi settlers in the West who came from similar small towns, but dreamed big?

The singer and actor has been smartly engaging his global fans. Recently he also released his first Spanish song el Sueno, meaning the dream. The song, shot in the UK, starts with a Spanish line and is a great way to involve Sikh Mexicans in the United States, an otherwise thinning community, mostly based around Yuba Valley in California.

But most of all, what seems to work in favor for the jutt from Dosanjh Kala is his ready realization of his humble beginnings and an almost real, goofy demeanor. After all, it’s not very often that you find a major Bollywood star without qualms about crushing over an international reality TV star. On various occasions Dosanjh has professed his love for American beauty moghul and Keeping Up with the Kardashians star Kylie Jenner. When news of her pregnancy broke on the internet, Dosanjh was asked by his large number of American Indian fans on how he was dealing with it. True to his non-star, guy-next-door image, Dosanjh chose to respond in Punjabi — “Main thik an (I am doing fine).”

If that’s not all, during an interview along with stars like Amitabh Bachchan and Ranbir Kapoor, with film critic Rajiv Masand, he even made the faux pas asking during a conversation who Tom Hanks was. While it might have gone over as another dumb moment in Bollywood history, for Dosanjh it worked well, as it aligned with his image of a simpleton, small boy turned star who remains unassuming about the big world he now hobnobs in.

According to film critics, what may have also catapulted Dosanjh’s popularity in the West has been his collaborations with Yo-Yo Honey Singh and Badshah, the Punjabi pop stars who are celebrated and rooted by the strong Sikh community worldwide. However, Dosanjh was already a singing sensation before he began acting in Punjabi and then Bollywood movies.

The new pride point for Sikh Americans is that Bollywood has found its new Sikh ShahRukh Khan.

Apart from the talents that he effortlessly showcased in his Bollywood debut Udta Punjab followed by Phillauri and now Soorma, there is no denying that what remains his strongest appeal amongst immigrant Indians is the fact that the turbaned guy maintains his Sikh identity as a badge of honor. Daljit Singh, who came to Plano, Texas, in the 1980s admits that the first thing he did to blend in the new country was to let go of his turban. Today, he says: “My heart swells with pride to see a man who thinks that his ‘different’ appearance should serve as no roadblock to making inroads into a new world. I am sure, many Sikhs like me are impressed with him.”

His is a victory for his community, since for the longest time Sikh actors in Hindi movies were often reduced to caricature like performances. Whether it was the cute little Sikh boy in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai or Jhonny Lever as a beardless Sikh in Raja Hindustani, the Sikhs were there for just the humor lines.

Even though Rocket Singh in Singh Is King and earlier Gadar showcased Sikh heroes, for the first time a real Sikh guy is portraying the role. And in a new trend of sorts, a Sikh hero is shown as the new brawny man, women would drool over. The Sikh community in the United States are not letting this moment of spotlight slip them by. So celebrate the new super hero!