Munnabhai chale jail: Four lessons from Sanjay Dutt's conviction

"It’s a sad day for the industry", director Kunal Kohli, told news channels after the Supreme Court upheld the sentence on Sanjay Dutt. Let’s not get carried away. If it’s a sad day for anyone, it’s for the Dutts.

Bollywood will be fine. The Munnabhai franchise, if it must go on, can wait.

The Supreme Court was unimpressed by Dutt’s record of reformation or all the charitable organisations he’s been involved with since his old wild days. They reduced his six year sentence to five years (of which he has already served 18 months) but it’s still a sentence. Sanjay Dutt has to go to jail.

Watching the old 1993 footage of the lean, long-haired, bad boy Sanjay Dutt and comparing it with the cropped-haired, puffy-faced Munnabhai going to jail now, one does feel a twinge of sympathy. Yesterday’s Khalnayak has settled into paunchy middle age like so many of us. He’s obviously not the same guy he was back in 1993. But when a case crawls along for two decades, that’s true of everyone involved. And the past has a habit of biting us in the butt.

If there are any lessons to be learned from the downfall of Sanjay Dutt it’s these:

Do the fully Ponty Sanjay Dutt was cleared of terrorism charges but finally convicted of possession of an AK-56, an illegal assault weapon that he apparently got from the Abu Salem of the Dawood Ibrahim gang, the mastermind of the 1993 bomb blasts. It’s a crime and he’s being punished for it. But for the aam aadmi, possession of illegal weapons hardly feels like the most shocking of crimes these days. In 1993 most of us had not even heard about Ponty Chadha. That Chadha farmhouse shootout played out wrote Lakshmi Chaudhry “like a scene from The Godfather – except this one is subsidised by hard-earned tax-payer money.” The weapons allegedly included an AK-47 which private guards are not allowed to carry. So the insinuation was that police officers were acting as personal security officers for the liquor baron. The AK-47 disappeared from the charge sheet. Now if Sanjay Dutt had only gone to the “good” guys for his guns, instead of the Mafia don, it might have been an entirely different story. The moral of the story – please bribe the police instead of treating underworld kingpins as a one-stop shop for all your contraband.

Reuters

A 1994 file photo of Sanjay Dutt when he was arrested. Reuters

Stick to the Blackbuck If you are a filmstar and you need to act out in public, try and avoid national security risks. Blackbucks, pavement dwellers, security guards at Wankhede stadium, diners at the Taj, Farah Khan’s husband are all legitimate targets in our society for shooting, mowing down, abusing, or slapping. Those are “errors” you can get away with. Mahesh Bhatt will not be summoned to talk shows to discuss whether any of that is a “sad day for the industry.” That kind of acting out and hi-jinks is regarded as par for the course for a bona fide entitled film star.

Say No to Drugs Poor Sanjay Dutt had a hard time after his mother’s death and spent quite a few years sowing a substantial amount of wild oats. Now he might be Mr Charitable Organisation, but it’s hard to dispel the memory of all those druggie days and rehab stints. Drugs are bad enough. Guns and drugs are a bad combo. In 1993, of course, we had no Twitter. Now when a celeb wants to act out in a drug or booze-induced rage, he can just get it all out 140 characters at a time. Next morning he can even delete the tweets. The “troubled child” image works for a while but not into middle age.

Be the King Honcho Sanjay Dutt might be the big star in his movies. But alas, in this national security drama that just unfolded he’s been reduced to the small fish. Dawood Ibrahim, the mastermind, is living the good life in Pakistan or wherever he is hiding in plain sight. And the big film star is playing the role of chhota. Even though the television channels kept calling him the “most high-profile” of all the folks sentenced in the 1993 case, the fact is the big film star was pretty much the bit player here. Apparently the old adage is true – you always look larger than life on the screen.

More than anything else the images flashing on our televisions of the Dutt from 20 years ago and the Dutt now remind us of how far we’ve come. Since 1993, we’ve seen the killing of Gulshan Kumar, the cold-blooded murder of Jessica Lal, the gunning down of journalist Jyotirmoy Dey. We’ve seen attacks on the Opera House and the Taj hotel.

A 2012 report said there are an estimated 40 million guns in the hands of Indian civilians. Only 6.3 million of these are registered.

“Every bigwig now wants his own personal army as a marker of his status, and that includes not just politicians, but also industrialists and Bollywood celebrities,” wrote Chaudhry. In this time of personal armies and gun-toting warlords, Sanjay Dutt’s AK-56 sounds almost like an odd reminder of a more innocent time when in the public imagination gangsters just funded movies, had molls named Monika and hosted star-studded bashes in Dubai.

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