In the first week of December, a large part of India Twitter asked this of their timelines as they retweeted actor-singer Diljit Dosanjh’s Punjabi tweets transliterated in English.
Dosanjh, an affable artiste with nary a controversy to his name, had jumped into a Twitter joust with actor Kangana Ranaut.
He slammed Ranaut for a now-deleted tweet on the micro-microblogging platform where she had allegedly misidentified an elderly Sikh farmer participating in the farmers’ protest against the new agricultural bill as the Shaheen Bagh activist Bilkis Bano. Ranaut had further alleged that the elderly farmer was participating in the protest for a paltry sum of Rs 100.
Acha Te DIL Ch rehan Walian Maava Nu Tu 100 100 rs Wali das di an..Tere sarey Daa Pech Jaanda Mai..Bharat tere… https://t.co/BV6ojQvgrS
— DILJIT DOSANJH (@diljitdosanjh) 1607002705000
The two exchanged verbal blows for the next three weeks during which several celebrities from the Punjabi entertainment industry took to Twitter to prop Dosanjh, while regular Twitterati chimed in with translations of his witty Punjabi tweets for the uninitiated.
Dosanjh eventually disengaged with the actor on Twitter, but the episode inadvertently expanded his existing social media clout beyond the Hindi-and-Punjabi-speaking community on the internet.
On December 7, Dosanjh’s Twitter account racked up approximately 17% week-on-week growth in follower count compared to the average 1% growth rate, as per estimates from influencer data analytics firm Qoruz.
For the same period, actor Ranaut’s Twitter account recorded a 5% week-on-week follower growth, as per data from Qoruz. Since she actively started tweeting only in August this year, there is insufficient data to ascertain her account’s average week-on-week follower growth rate.
However, Ranaut’s relatively new Twitter presence compared to Dosanjh’s makes their follower growth from that week all the more interesting. New celebrity users tend to have a higher growth rate than existing popular users across social media platforms.
A comparison of their search terms’ interest scores between December 1 and December 7 on Google Trends for India shows that Dosanjh garnered an average interest score of 39 as against Ranaut’s 30.
“As a brand, Diljit has been able to extend his base of familiarity and added a new dimension to his persona,” says Keerat Grewal, partner at Ormax Media, a celebrity and entertainment content tracking consultancy. Grewal said that those who followed him post the Twitter spat are not essentially fans of his movies and music; they followed him for he took a stand.
He did not take a political stance. He took a stance against fake news, she adds.
“I think I clicked the follow button because the way he went about the exchange was fascinating in a strange way. Like, ‘I’m not putting you down lady, I’m being the better person here’ vibe,” says Subha J Rao from Mangalore.
That she didn’t understand Punjabi was not a deterrent for Rao, an entertainment journalist covering Kannada and Tamil cinema. “[It was] even better because he probably tweets best in the language of his heart. And it helped, too, because the target of her attack were Punjabi farmers. It got us all to quickly gather the full import of what he said,” Rao adds.
Yet, there’s a surprise factor attached to his recent Twitter activity, say people close to him.
“Diljit is a neutral person online, he doesn’t take sides. But this was a unique situation,” says a person who has closely worked with Dosanjh but doesn’t wish to be named.
“In Punjabi culture, people are taught to respect their elders. Elderly women, even if they’re strangers, are addressed as “bebe” or “maata” — terms of endearment for motherly figures — and not as “aunty”. Someone insulting an elderly lady from the community angered a lot of people and it must have triggered him as well,” this person adds.
While Dosanjh received plenty of love from the Twitterati for his stand against Ranaut’s allegedly misleading rhetoric, he was also trolled by pro-Kangana Twitter, some of whom said the move may affect his career.
In the short term, brands may not want to engage with him to steer clear of controversies, says Grewal.
Dosanjh is a brand ambassador for the likes of Coca-Cola, Flipkart, Maggi, and boAt, among others. Most of them did not want to comment on “his personal views on social media”.
His manager did not respond to a request for an interview with him.
There could be repercussions, but had he not spoken up, he would have risked losing respect in the Punjabi community here and the world over that has made him so big, says his associate quoted above.
“There’s so much anger around this issue that Punjabi artiste Jassie Gill, who starred opposite Kangana in the movie Panga, was trolled on social media for not speaking up against her actions.”
Meanwhile, we hear that a bunch of Punjabi artistes are planning to reference the entire Twitter incident in their upcoming songs.
The other social side
The Twitter conflict is not the first instance where Dosanjh has made new fans for something other than his music or his movies.
Earlier this year, he also gained popularity on social media for his earthy and entertaining imperfect-cooking videos on Instagram.
Among other things, veteran chef Sanjeev Kapoor had tweeted then that his mother thoroughly enjoyed watching those videos during the initial months of the lockdown in India.
Angad Manchanda, CEO of ad agency Chimp&Z, says that Dosanjh’s Instagram following grew three folds as a result of the culinary videos and led many people into picking up the ladle at the time.
For Bengaluru-based Vaidehi Murthy (@ButVai) it is his replies on American celeb Kylie Jenner’s posts. “Even though I don’t understand Punjabi, I can manage to guess the gist from its proximity to Hindi. His replies are funny and appear genuine,” says the content professional.
Murthy feels there’s a certain authenticity about him that works for him on social media.
But that hasn’t always been the case.
Two years ago, when an old video of him falling on-stage during a performance resurfaced on the internet, Dosanjh was massively trolled.
For the moment though, a section of the internet is buzzing with the one-liners popularised by the Punjabi artiste on social media through the course of this year.
There is “I need my spoon” from his experiments with food. And more recently, “Desh tere kalli da ni” (The country is not yours alone) from his Twitter spat with Ranaut.
Mid-year, Dosanjh released a music album titled ‘G.O.A.T’ alluding to being the greatest of all time. Later in an interview with film critic Anupama Chopra, he admitted he is not, in fact, the “greatest of all time” and that the album title was a marketing call.
Post the Twitter chapter, though, many say he has proved he is worthy of the title.