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Awesome Men Throughout History: Daler Mehndi

Okay, you know what? Indian pop music is awesome. It’s bouncy and percussive and the music videos are choreographed to the level of mania. Over in the States, we’re stuck with 22-year-old rich ex-Disney Kids or art school graduates who act bored with music after their first year on the road. Indian pop music, by contrast, is joyous. Everyone from the always-bearded male singers to the attractive-yet-respectably-dressed female dancers looks like he or she is having the time of his or her life up there on stage. It’s a real breath of fresh air after growing up in a post-modern cultural footrace to see who can be more unimpressed and detached from everything.

I bring this up because there is an Indian pop singer who’s best known in American for one of his music videos going viral, but he turns out to be a pretty cool guy. So please allow some room in the Awesome Men Throughout History uber-palladium for Daler Mehndi.

Mehndi is a Bhangra pop singer (meaning he fuses folk music from his home country with Western instrumentation) as well as a playback singer for several Hindi movies. He’s best known in the States for the ridiculous video for “Tunak Tunak Tun,” which became an Internet sensation due to Mehndi’s slick dance moves and green screening – in fact, his was the first Indian music video to use a green screen.

Actually, the story behind that video is an interesting one; basically, Mehndi got tired of hearing that people only liked his music because of the beautiful women in his videos, so he made one where he dances with three digitally-inserted clones of himself who, in the video, fall to Earth from outer space. If there’s a better way to respond to critics, I’d like to hear it.

But all silliness aside, Mehndi is a well-trained singer and multi-instrumentalist who began training when he was six. He moved out to San Francisco as a young man, where he drove a cab for a while before going back to India to try his hand at a music career. His first solo album and subsequent record deals broke industry records in India, and I think he still holds the record for best-selling non-soundtrack over there, which is a pretty big deal. He’s even toured the United States before, which is something I wish I could have seen.

Mehndi is also something of a philanthropist, particularly when it comes to earthquake relief. Mehndi has built houses in areas damaged by earthquakes and did a concert series in Pakistan to raise money for victims. He’s also committed to reducing pollution in India, and has established the Daler Mehndi Green Drive to move native green efforts forward.

But even if you don’t agree with or care about what a do-gooder he is (although you should), one cannot help but give props to a guy who, despite being pudgy and middle-aged, became a wildly successful pop icon because of his talent and vision, and his unyielding commitment to having fun. I mean, just look at him go.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at

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