Sanjay Dutt biopic: Ranbir Kapoor's act as the troubled star should make for great viewing
Of all the firsts attached to Sanjay Dutt (and yes, there are a few), perhaps being the first Hindi film star to be immortalised in a biopic while still being an active actor would be the one that truly stands out. The Rajkumar Hirani-directed Sanjay Dutt biopic has been in the news ever since it was announced as were the rumors about possible cast members and speculation about the no-go areas that could make the whole project fizzle out. The shooting began a little while ago with Ranbir Kapoor ready after bulking up to become Sanjay Dutt and now with the news of Manisha Koirala joining the cast as Nargis, it seems that the first of its kinds Bollywood biopic is finally underway.
This week (21 February 2017), photos emerged of Ranbir, in his 'look' as Sanjay, with Paresh Rawal in his Sunil Dutt avatar.
The chequered life that Dutt has led is just the kind of stuff biopics are made of.
His drug addiction and later rehabilitation, his super strong comeback from the brink of disaster, his involvement in the Bombay serial blasts, arrest under TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act), his incarceration and ultimately his release more than suggest that had Dutt been in Hollywood there would have already been a spate of books or a television special by now.
In an Indian context and especially 'Bollywood', a biopic would always be a risky proportion considering its penchant for keeping everything hush-hush within the so-called extended family. There have also been instances where private lives of people in the industry have partially inspired films — the story of Kishore Kumar and his first wife, Ruma Devi or Pandit Ravi Shankar and his troubled marriage with Annapurna Devi being the basis for Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Abhimann (1973) or the feelings that Guru Dutt was said to have harboured for Waheeda Rehman being the inspiration for Kagaz Ke Phool (1959), the real-life emotional turmoil undergone by Mahesh Bhatt being the fount for Arth (1982), etc. But by and large, the concept of the biopic in the true sense does not exist in Hindi cinema.
The closest that Hindi films have come to imbibing the traits of a biopic is the inclusion of real-life situations in the context of films such as the famous first Raj Kapoor-Nargis meeting where she was kneading dough when she answered the doorbell and greeted him. Nargis ran her hand through her hair and there was aata all over her head and Raj Kapoor refashioned this for the scene where Bobby (Dimple Kapadia) and Raj (Rishi Kapoor) meet for the first time in Bobby (1973) or Raj Kapoor sending a telegram saying, ‘Bol Radha bol, sangam hoga ki nahin’ to Vyjayanthimala and to enquire if she would do his film, Sangam (1964), and later using that as a song in his film.
There is much that makes the Sanjay Dutt biopic a captivating concept. Legend has it that Hirani and Dutt’s chats during the films that they worked together on were instrumental in inspiring the filmmaker to take a stab at the biopic. Of course, Dutt’s life is exactly the kind of story that would make a brilliant film but this writer has believed that irrespective of the great dramatic elements the said biopic could also have been designed as an exercise to keep brand Dutt alive during the time of his imprisonment. Needless to say, Dutt’s brand vis-à-vis Hirani and the Munna Bhai association does not need any help; not at least for the proposed third and final installment, tentatively titled Munna Bhai Chale Amrica, which the filmmaker has already confirmed.
But the delay in Sanjay Dutt’s return film — once upon a time the Sidharth Anand directed official Hindi remake of Rambo or later a project called ‘Marco Bhau’ but now finally Omung Kumar’s Bhoomi with Aditi Rao Hydri and Shekhar Suman — and the wait for the third Munna Bhai film, which would begin only after the biopic is over, makes the biopic an interesting proposition for Dutt to even be a part of. While Paresh Rawal is now playing Dutt’s father, Sunil Dutt, in the film there was speculation that Dutt himself could play that role. A while ago there was news of Aamir Khan portraying the role of Sunil Dutt but nothing happened and while the filmmakers have denied Dutt playing his own father, it would have been a fascinating thought.
Much like the MS Dhoni biopic, MS Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016), the Sanjay Dutt biopic, too, might be the first instance of a film based on an Indian film star that is not only an ‘officially’ biopic but also one where the real subject, Sanjay Dutt, could almost be a part of the reel story. In fact, the manner in which the fine line between the ‘reel’ and the ‘real’ was blurred and shifted per convenience in Fan (2016) where Shah Rukh Khan played a superstar, Aryan Khanna, that was modeled on him and his doppelganger Gaurav Chandna, a die-hard obsessive fan of the star. Fan used real-life footage of thousands of fans thronging to Shah Rukh Khan’s house in Mumbai and images of the real Shah Rukh Khan to establish the onscreen character he was playing. Even though, in a sense, the experiment might not have worked as well as imagined, it was an absorbing ploy and added a layer to the narrative. In the case of the Sanjay Dutt biopic, the difference between reel and the real would be the highlight of the film. Hirani has said that this wouldn’t be “a film about guns, drugs and the underworld”, but “a feel-good film about a father-son relationship…”
In a sense, it could also be amusing to see how the say the onscreen meeting of Salman Khan and Sanjay Dutt would be juxtaposed with the urban legends that surround the two stars. There has been some debate about the degree of Madhuri Dixit’s presence in the screenplay following the diva’s rumored request to Dutt asking him to remove all references to her in the film. A report also said that Sonam Kapoor would play “one of the women Sanjay has fallen in love with.”
All things considered, the Sanjay Dutt biopic truly gives Bollywood a great chance to think fresh. Besides the biopic genre the film could also set the standard for playing real-life characters where the actors playing them have grown up around or know as well as family, but most importantly, it gives the director to come up with a narrative on how to tell a story compellingly enough when the entire world already knows it. And, add to that the audience that you cater to, knows what you would be keeping out.