New star on the block

It’s just one of those lucky happenstances: after the accidental bullet in the back at a railway station in 2006, when he was travelling to join the Indian team to Germany for the World Cup, hockey ace Sandeep Singh was paralysed. And there seemed no hope for the man who had already carved a global niche in hockey. By sheer willpower and moral support from family and friends, Sandeep not only got out of the wheelchair he seemed to be confined to for life, but returned to hockey. 

When filmmaker Shaad Ali of Saathiya and Bunty Aur Babli fame decided to make Soorma, a film on his life, Sandeep wanted only a true-blue-turbaned-Sikh to play the role. And lo and behold, Diljit Dosanjh, the Punjabi musician and actor, had just begun his Hindi film career. 

 “It’s a sheer coincidence that he has been among my biggest fans as well, and has never missed my songs, videos or Punjabi films. Now, just based on the trailer, he tells me that I have done complete justice to the role,” says Diljit. 

Preparing for the role

A plus point for Diljit was that the coaching in hockey was done exclusively by Sandeep and his elder brother Bikramjeet. “For me, the main hesitation was the sport itself. But with Sandeep paaji and Bikram paaji teaching me, it became very easy.”

He elaborates, “Dad used to play hockey, but I was never into any sport. It was always music for me. I would be found in gurudwaras learning music in the evenings. When I used to watch heroes in films faking it with a guitar or piano, as a musician, it looked terrible to me. So, I thought I would look equally atrocious playing hockey on screen.”

Diljit makes it clear that the story had gripped him. “It was so real and convincing, it was a unique story. A man so good at his game, who had set a world record, had suddenly been hit by a bullet and paralysed. Instead of taking action against the man who had fired the gun, his family decided to focus on the seemingly impossible — that he should start walking and then playing hockey again.”

Diljit concedes that though he can only imagine what the man went through, it was not all that difficult to become Sandeep Singh and replicate his struggle. “That’s my job as an actor,” he says. “I do not know the ‘M’ of method acting, but if my role needs that I have to drive a tank, I would learn to do even that. And if I can convey anything of what he went through and the audience is touched with my effort, it will be a victory for me.”

Having said that, Diljit clarifies that hockey, for this film, is still incidental in the larger message Soorma sets out to give the society. “The message is about not ever giving up,” he explains, “The battle is with yourself. Sandeep paaji told me that youngsters today tend to give up too easily, and the film must inspire them enough to make people feel that small problems are not an issue at all.”

Balancing act

Summing up his own credo, Diljit says, “If you cannot be defeated by yourself, no one else can defeat you.” How does he decide how much music he must make, and how much he should act? “Where do I decide? Music is my home ground. I can always set it aside for a while when someone wants me to do a good film.”

At home with the music he makes back in Punjab, Diljit has no ambitions to be a singer in Hindi cinema. “I have never asked for songs to be filmed on me, or sung by me either. By chance, I was given a composition that Shankar Mahadevan had already recorded as a rough track. There is no hunger for Hindi songs within me.”

He confesses that while he tries to do at least one Punjabi film every year, he has not done so in 2018.

In Hindi, after Udta Punjab, Phillauri and Welcome To New York, he is now working on Arjun Patiala. ‘‘There was a big-name filmmaker who wanted me to do his next film, but without my turban. I had to turn it down. Khair, koi nahi (Well, never mind). We will work together some other time.”

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New star on the block

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