AP Dhillon First of a Kind review: Docuseries as catchy and cryptic as his music | Web Series - Hindustan Times
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AP Dhillon First of a Kind review: Docuseries on the Punjabi singer is as catchy and cryptic as his music

ByDevansh Sharma
Aug 18, 2023 06:09 AM IST

AP Dhillon has been an enigma ever since he broke out on the global Punjabi music scene. A new docuseries only emboldens that enigma instead of decoding it.

The trailer of AP Dhillon: First of a Kind, a new docuseries on the Canadian Punjabi singer, told us we “know the musician,” but we “don't know the man.” After watching four episodes of Jay Ahmed's meandering docuseries, I want to ask if the docuseries knows the man either. There's no concerted effort to discover, or at least, disseminate more info about who Amrit Pal Dhillon, the man behind AP Dhillon, actually is.

Anew docuseries on AP Dhillon is now streaming on Prime Video India
Anew docuseries on AP Dhillon is now streaming on Prime Video India

(Also Read: AP Dhillon and rumoured GF Banita Sandhu arrive together for his docu premiere, fans hope 'they're really dating')

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AP Dhillon, the singer

The docuseries kicks off well, juxtaposing AP's hometown of Gurdaspur in semi-rural Punjab against the first-world scenes of Victoria, Canada. The razor-sharp rushes from the cold, concrete Canada, set against a tense score, make for an audio-visual shock after taking in the lush green, rustic locales of Punjab, serenaded with ambient sounds.

When AP says he felt like a fish out of water after his father sent him to Canada, you feel it with all your senses. When he forms an instant bond with his Run Up Records collaborators Gurinder Gill, Shinda Kahlon and Gminxr because they're all ‘brown mundes,’ you get an intimate sense of their brotherhood. We see that ‘Brown Munde’ is not just a song or a catchphrase, but a subscription to the larger brethren of South Asians making it big in the world. It's also the group's huddle scream before every concert. From passers-by on bikes to school kids in India, they all greet AP with “Brown Munde."

That song, however, is arguably the only anthem that broke out across the globe because of what it stood for. The other crossovers, like Insane and Excuses, became popular more because of the sound, than the lyrics. Not every non-Punjabi has access to those lyrics, which is why AP Dhillon could never have as far-reaching an effect as a songwriter as he did as a singer or composer.

His sound is what truly makes him the First of a Kind. But given that achievement, there's such little insight into the creative process of AP Dhillon. Sure, he's shown jamming with his friends at an isolated, stunning lap-of-the-nature property on Vancouver Island. There are fleeting references to how they merge rustic Punjabi vocals with House or Trap music. There is handheld archival footage of AP crooning in all his raw, acoustic glory in a car or in a makeshift studio. But how he blends the rawness of his throat with his ear for modern Western music is never explored, barring a passing mention that AP is from the generation that grew up with a smartphone and was hence exposed to global music right from the formative years.

AP, the performer

It doesn't take a music historian to establish the vast difference in the skillsets of creating and recording music within the confines of a studio and performing live in front of thousands at packed arenas. AP's transition from an independent singer to an electric live performer is never explained. He admits he's very shy, but the hesitation never surfaces when he's owning the stage at every concert.

There are hints that like many natural live performers, AP also sourced his energy from the live audience. But for a man to travel from the isolation of an island to the hustle-bustle of metro cities, that switch doesn't happen without a lot of unnerving experiences. There's only one good bit where AP says he has PTSD of meet-and-greets at concerts from India. He received threats as soon as he returned to perform on his home turf. “I tried to be the version of AP Dhillon they wanted to see,” the singer says in a rare confessionary moment.

A large part of the last two episodes, in fact, are invested excessively in how AP and his team pulled off humongous concerts without the crutch of experience and sans the aid of big music labels. That's certainly no mean feat, but then this docuseries could've been a concert film instead of promising to delve deeper into the man AP Dhillon is. Again, organising concerts of this magnitude involves a lot of people skills but AP pulling them off smoothly is just casually attributed to his go-getter streak.

The only insightful bit in that part of the docuseries is to see him put his foot down on not calling off an act that got flak online. The sequence on stage sees AP dance intimately with a woman while singing, and that received abundant trolling from his core audience of young patriarchal Punjabi men. But AP insists that it's just an expression of art, both his and the dancer's.

Amrit Pal, the man

The biggest disappointment is that the docuseries, despite making tall claims, never tries to unearth who Amrit Pal Dhillon is. It starts off with him returning to his village, but the homecoming never feels like one because there's so little we know about him even three episodes into the docuseries.

Amrit mentions his father had a major influence on his music. We see his father break down early on as he welcomes his son with a shayari. But AP Dhillon feels the weight of being both a young global influencer and a Punjabi boy coming of age. He apologises as soon as he cries, by saying words like “My bad.”

AP needed to be told that it's fairly refreshing to see a music talent of his stature to cry when he's about to do his biggest show. He explains him holding back his tears then as putting up a strong front for his brothers who are performing with him. But AP wipes his tears desperately even when he speaks of the bond with his biji (grandmother). He says that he had a single parent (no mention of what happened to his mother whatsoever) and the family faced hardships when Punjab was in crisis (no details, again). He was raised by his biji so when he reunites with her, who's now extremely frail, he naturally breaks down talking about the moment — only to hold himself back yet again.

If the docuseries doesn't go deeper into the man AP Dhillon is, it doesn't bother to put him in the context of the roaring Punjabi music scene either. He admits he was shook by the murder of Sidhu Moose Wala, and feels responsible to take his legacy forward. This grit is palpable, but only to the extent of what AP allows it to be.

AP Dhillon: First of a Kind is very much unlike him. It's not first of a kind. But it's very much like his music: catchy (you can't help but groove every time any of his tracks plays), but also cryptic. We just admire the sights, sounds and vibes of the man from a distance, but never get to decode the poetry embedded in his music. The barrier here isn't the language, but a two-fold conditioning: that Brown Mundes don't cry and that a Gen-Z influencer must project, instead of actually laying himself bare.

It's probably too soon for AP Dhillon to go through those motions, given it's been only three years since he started out. Sure, take your time. But then don't let a docuseries on you commit to telling us more about you than we already know.

AP Dhillon: First of a Kind is streaming on Prime Video India.

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