In my books, 2021 will likely go down as the year of Diljit Dosanjh. 

From releasing his long-awaited album ‘Moonchild Era,’ to seeing him on the big screen for the first time in nearly two years in Honsla Rakh, it was hard to go anywhere in Surrey without hearing about or seeing images of the mega superstar this year. 

So much so, that you actually couldn’t board a flight out of Vancouver or catch the bus in Newton without seeing Diljit’s face plastered all over the city. 

What was also hard to miss in both of his major projects this year was the overwhelming presence of my hometown, Surrey. Whether it was the fact that he recorded his entire album at Intense’s music studio in the heart of Surrey, or that a kid from Surrey shot Diljit’s ‘Umbrella’ music video. Surrey was shining bright.

But when I finally got a chance to catch his film Honsla Rakh in theatres, I couldn’t help but feel that, while Diljt’s comedy was great, Sonam’s outfits were bomb, Shinda was incredibly cute, and Shehnaaz added wonderful dimension to the film, it was actually Surrey that was the real star of the show.

Honsla Rakh was mostly a Surrey-based effort. From Decibel Entertainment supporting the production crew, Blue Ruby Artistry providing the makeup, the likes of Manjot Bal and Royal Academy of Bhangra dancing behind Sonam and Sheehnaaz, Gurnaz on an on-screen date with Diljit, to all the locations and venues the film was shot at. While most will call it a Vancouver-based project, Surrey was woven through and through the entirety of the film. 

I left the movie theatre feeling incredibly proud of Surrey.

It was confirmation of something that I had known about for a long time, which is all that Surrey is and has to offer. 

Not only is Surrey home to wonderful on-screen talent, but there are a ton of talented creatives all across the city who are incredibly capable of pulling off internationally recognized and acclaimed projects in more capacities than one. 

Not to mention, Surrey is basically the hot summer vacation spot for the biggest Punjabi superstar in the world. 

And yet, despite Surrey being a growing hub for arts and culture, music, film, and tourism, there is not enough municipal, institutional, and systemic support needed to help local artists to grow.

Most of us still have to leave Surrey to have fun, catch a concert, host a music festival or art installation, or look elsewhere when applying for grant money to kickstart our creative projects. 

It’s still tough to find paid gigs for creatives in the city and many city-led events, such as the City of Surrey’s Canada Day celebration, which have historically grossly underrepresented BIPOC talent. But the systemic and institutional racism doesn’t stop there. 

While being home to the largest urban Indigenous population in the province, our municipal council has historically voted against progressive acts of reconciliation, such as Indigenous land acknowledgements. 

Despite a ton of passion, overwhelming talent, and creativity waiting to be harnessed -- time and time again we see that there is tremendous lack of support for Surrey-based artists and creatives from our local governing bodies.

Despite Surrey shining in such wonderful global projects like Diljit’s album and latest film, the shine is still not on Surrey. 

It doesn’t stop there. 

Most of the mainstream media coverage of the city often paints Surrey as a dangerous place. Mainstream media is quick to cover crimes such as shootings and gang violence in Surrey, but seldom do we see coverage portraying Surrey in a positive light. 

This is also the case now, as we see the overwhelming success and reception of the Surrey-based film Honsla Rakh making news all across India and North America. 

Despite being home to a film that broke records after it became the highest opening Punjabi film ever, grossing US$5.1 million in its first 11 days, and despite the film being only one of two South Asian films to ever enter the top 10 films list in North America at 7th place, mainstream media coverage about how a team of locals from Surrey came together to set new records is incredibly scarce. While every major news outlet in Metro Vancouver is quick to report on crime in Surrey, very few of them have chosen to spotlight the film, interview local talent from the film, or speak on the new records the team has set.

To quote a popular track from Diljit Dosanjh’s previous album ‘G.O.A.T’ (which was not a Surrey project, but it may as well have been), Surrey was “born to shine” and so are the creatives who are beaming with talent. If 2021 was the year of Diljit Dosanjh, it was also the year of Surrey. 

And perhaps what it can also be is a year of asking questions, so I ask once again: while Surrey is obviously shining, where is the shine on Surrey?

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Harpo Mander

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