The Punjabi music scene has been raging and raving for many years. The songs are not just about sleaze anymore. We have singers and songwriters who talk about youth, politics, the drug menace, and the social system. One of the Punjabi singers that broke out from this scene and enthralled music lovers with his brooding voice and his songs about love, life, and “brown munde,” loosely translated to “brown men,” is AP Dhillon, aka Amritpal Singh Dhillon.
What Happens In The Documentary?
This four-part documentary series spoke right from the beginning about AP Dhillon’s journey to Canada and his subsequent music career that took off. He was never a one-man army. He was surrounded by people who worked, collaborated on, and produced some of the chartbusters. AP Dhillon has gained fame in the last two years through a YouTube channel. This proves that social media plays a crucial role in improving the visibility of many independent musicians. AP’s team included Shinda Kahlon, a songwriter; Gurinder Gill, Gminxr; and producers Kevin Buttar and Herman Atwal, who were very vocal about how many music labels weren’t willing to give them a chance because they did not see potential in them. This forced them to utilize avenues that required spending only on equipment and recording studios.
AP Dhillon became a sensation in 2020, not just in the South Asian diaspora but also in the Indian subcontinent, because the songs had a Western touch with proper desi sensibilities. Their first India tour was successful but taxing, both physically and mentally. AP Dhillon and his team underestimated the character of the crowd in India, especially in plenty of two-tier cities. Even though AP and his team of talented artists had achieved success, they were still striving for more. This is the hallmark of great artists, as they constantly want to push the boundaries of their art. There is an entire episode dedicated to the conceptualization of AP Dhillon’s most popular song, Brown Munde. It is endearing to watch an Indian singer talk about the brown-skinned population that has become a major part of society in Western countries and the kind of sacrifices they made to secure a life for themselves and their future generations. “Brown Munde” resonated with every single person of subcontinental origin, especially those who are first-generation NRIs living across the world.
AP Dhillon, just like every other Punjabi singer, had huge respect for the very talented late Sidhu Moose Wala. AP dedicated a portion of his episode to Sidhu and spoke about how his work meant a lot to musicians and many other artists. Sidhu’s death also made him contemplate whether his art was worth giving up his peace of mind. The last two episodes of the documentary series are extensively dedicated to the North American tour of live concerts by AP Dhillon and his team.
Arena concerts have always been meant for supremely popular artists. For the first time, an independent artist like him was performing at two famous arenas in Canada. All of them have fond memories and tiresome experiences because they made this concert a huge success. The entire team came across plenty of roadblocks because many of them were handling a concert of this scale for the first time. Despite their constant worries, most of the concerts were a success.
In one of the episodes, AP Dhillon defends his move to get an artist to perform a rather sensuous dance, for which he received a lot of flak. AP stuck to his decision to retain the dancer for that song until the end of the concert tour. He emphasizes the fact that the audience should consider her an artist who showcased her skills.
From AP’s finger injury to his suffering from a throat infection during his Lollapalooza festival, nothing could stop him or his team from giving their best to the people who consider themselves to be his biggest fans. The entire team, including Dhillon himself, learned a lot during their journey up until now. They started their lives producing songs in a garage in Vancouver. AP Dhillon and his team have come a long way since then. The documentary series also speaks about his connection to his homeland and family and their contribution to making him a hardworking individual. The documentary ends with the hope that AP Dhillon has the potential to become a global superstar and not just an artist that caters only to the subcontinent crowd or the South Asian diaspora.
Is The Documentary Worth Watching?
AP Dhillon: First of a Kind is a Prime Video Original, directed by Jay Ahmed, which was released on August 18, 2023. This is probably the first time Prime Video India has dedicated an entire documentary to an Indian-origin Punjabi rapper who has created a sensation across the globe. The South Asian diaspora from around the world is impressed by his songs and success because they represent them on some scale.
This four-part documentary series takes us through the life of AP Dhillon, who is so far considered very aloof and is famous for not having given any interviews to the news media despite his phenomenal fan following since 2020. Jay Ahmed takes the viewers through the internal workings of the team that has given some great songs, namely “Brown Munde,” “Excuses,” “Insane,” “Summer High,” “Dil Nu,” and many others. It is interesting to watch a rather introverted singer or artist speak from his heart about his love for music and how he intends to push its boundaries. He claims that art needs to be improvised at various stages. He is willing to see many singers, rappers, and songwriters come out of Punjab to represent their country and identity.
The entire documentary is shot in Punjabi and English, which makes sense because AP Dhillon and his team are known for producing only Punjabi songs. AP Dhillon will remain Amritpal for his family. He will always be known as AP by his team in Canada and the fans. What works in this documentary is the passion with which every artist speaks about their dedication to making their songs the best, and wanting the concerts to be a huge success. All the songwriters, singers, and producers speak extensively about their writing process and their inspirations, which eventually resonate with people in their culture. A lot of aspects of the documentary work are clichés, but they still leave an impact because of the emotion attached to them. We get to see AP Dhillon tear up on two different occasions on camera. This speaks about how men like AP are willing to break stereotypes and be vulnerable on screen. This documentary only spoke about his music production and their successful North American tour, followed by a triumphant gig at Lollapalooza in Mumbai.
What does not work in the documentary is the maker’s and the protagonist’s reluctance to speak about their lives before heading to Canada. There was a deliberate attempt not to speak about AP Dhillon’s past. We only get glimpses into his personal life, which was restricted to his father and grandmother. It would have been interesting to understand who his childhood inspirations were and what made him pick music as a career option. AP Dhillon is at the pinnacle of his success, and there is nothing that could stop him from becoming a global superstar. This is the element that the documentary focused on. Overall, it felt as if this series was a PR move to get a glimpse into who AP is and how Amritpal has a different identity that he embraces while he is back home.
Most of his team members were of Indian origin and passionately spoke about retaining their culture through AP’s music. This seems like a generic term used by men and women who live abroad and are trying to find a connection with their roots. It seems the word “culture” was repeatedly used to attract the attention of the diaspora audience. The NRI population is looking for a person, a place, or an entity that represents their heritage. AP Dhillon does exactly that without instilling any guilt in them for leaving their country. The emphasis on the “Brown Munde ” single and what it signifies is an appealing ode to the brown-skinned people who migrated to countries around the world. The problem lies when Punjabi singers write songs that glorify white skin and how women with fair skin are considered beautiful. This is where their hypocrisy shows up. The hype around “Brown Munde” negates the fact that many brown-skinned men and women from around India are rejected and ridiculed for the color of their skin. The impact of this song is only surface-level.
Despite its obvious issues, AP Dhillon: First of a Kind is engaging because of its visuals, direction, and mesmerizing songs by Amritpal Singh Dhillon. Give this documentary a watch because we feel it is high time that representation on a global scale starts to matter.