You don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that I'm a person singularly lacking in swag. The Urban Dictionary defines swag as the new generation's alternative word for cool. Well, I wasn't cool even when cool was cool. Which is one of the reasons why I'm so intrigued by the poster boys for swag – Diljit Dosanjh and Badshah.
Both of them are ferociously talented, hugely successful, multi-hyphen artists. Diljit is a singer-actor-composer-social media superstar. Badshah is a rapper-musician-producer-entrepreneur. Both work hard at what they do. They also work hard at cultivating cool.
I first met Diljit in April 2016. Udta Punjab hadn't released yet. In fact the promotions hadn't even begun. I had seen his music videos and Anurag Singh's film Punjab 1984, in which Diljit gives a terrific performance as an ordinary villager whose life is destroyed in the aftermath of Operation Bluestar. Diljit spoke with refreshing candor about his humble background, about being an 'urban pendu,' how exciting it was to work with Kareena Kapoor and his obsession with the Yeezy 350 sneakers. I had of course never heard of these before this chat and I struggled to keep up as Diljit gave a direct message, into camera, to Kanye West about making the shoes more easily available.
I met Badshah later but every interview also doubled up as a master-class in cool. He recently educated me on the sneakerhead sub-culture and expanded my vocabulary. I learned that a 'Plug' is a person who sources hard-to-find sneakers, 'RP' means rare pair, 'CP' means common pair and a 'hype beast' is someone who follows trends and goes with whichever brand is currently being hyped. Badshah said that he has approximately 350 shoes. He cleans them after each use himself.
There is something both ridiculous and endearing about grown men expending so much energy and passion on style. But the look is an essential part of the larger narrative. The in-your-face materialism makes them aspirational. As Diljit so insightfully put it, even the city folks want to be pendus because now the pendus have swag.
You might find their work problematic or pedestrian but both Diljit and Badshah have sidestepped the rules of the entertainment world with panache. They've built larger-than-life personas and are steadily working toward world domination – Diljit told me that his ultimate aim is to learn English and work in a Hollywood film. Badshah is already producing films, original shows for streaming platforms and has a clothing line called Badfit. I must here sheepishly admit that I once bought a smoothie mixer because I saw Diljit whip up a healthy concoction with it on Instagram. I've used it once. But I'm a sucker for their fairy tale ascent to stardom. It makes me happy that two regular guys with zero connections are now massive stars who compete about who has the sexier sneakers.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, Swag is All.