Sanju: Will Rajkumar Hirani's signature lighthearted treatment dilute darkness of actor's troubled life?

Devansh Sharma

Apr 24, 2018 15:00:37 IST

Rajkumar Hirani will unveil the title and first look of the Sanjay Dutt biopic on Tuesday, 24 April 2018. Just like the various leaked images from the sets, a couple of titles have also surfaced on social media. The initial name doing the rounds, that even Ranbir Kapoor admitted was a tentative title, was Dutt. But the latest buzz is that the long awaited biopic is titled Sanju.

Ranbir Kapoor and Sanjay Dutt

Ranbir Kapoor and Sanjay Dutt

While Sanju and Dutt allude to the same phenomenon that is Sanjay Dutt, both the names sound like they carry contrasting connotations. Sanju sounds like a typical Raju Hirani film. It is cheeky and gives an impression that it does not want to be taken very seriously. The titles of his other films are of the same tonality — Munna Bhai MBBS, Lage Raho Munna Bhai, 3 Idiots (inspired from a more solemn-sounding Five Point Someone) and PK.

On the other hand, Dutt has a certain gravitas and grittiness. It is an unlikely departure from the auditory aesthetic of Hirani's filmography, but embodies the life of Sanjay Dutt; which is stranger, and graver, than any tale of fiction.

His life has pretty much been an open book which Hirani will interpret, probably in his signature lighthearted style. A stint in rehab, countless extra-marital affairs, early loss of his mother Nargis to cancer and a prolonged jail term — it is dream material for the Anurag Kashyaps or the Sanjay Guptas. Hirani helming a biopic, encompassing all these major life-altering instances, is like a Taika Waititi (director of the tongue-in-cheek Thor: Ragnarok) taking charge of Christopher Nolan's cerebral The Dark Knight.

However, in Hirani's case, he is not dealing with an imaginary crusader with a conflicted moral compass. He is chronicling the life of a living personality, a professional still active in showbiz and most importantly, a close friend. After all, it was Hirani who helped revamp Dutt's career, and clean up his bad boy image, through the Munna Bhai franchise. Hirani depicted Dutt as a transformed gangster, a close-to-real-life trope cashed in by the likes of Mahesh Bhatt (Naam) and Mahesh Manjrekar (Vaastav: The Reality), but treated his flawed character with a dollop of salt that only made his questionable acts in the film more palatable.

Additionally, Hirani has based his script on the recorded conversations between him and Dutt, where the actor has shared the little known aspects of his life. Thus, the narrative becomes uni-dimensional, solely from the perspective of Dutt. Though the actor has been surprisingly vocal about even the low phases of his controversial life; relying entirely on any one, even if that is the horse's mouth, runs the risk of veering into hagiography.

Whether it was MS Dhoni: The Untold Story or Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, recent biopics based on living personalities in Bollywood have been criticised for being too much in awe of their subjects. The darkness in Dutt's life could get diluted too, if Hirani falls prey to the regular trappings of the genre, since it is also his first biopic.

Hirani has often admitted that multiple scenes, and even characters, in his films are borrowed from real life. His keen eye has translated reality into fiction but in case of a biopic, those real life instances are accessible to all. Dutt's life has been chronicled by not only newspapers and film magazines but also the BBC, through its documentary To Hell and Back. 

Recently, veteran journalist Yasser Usman wrote an unauthorised biography of the actor, Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood's Bad Boy. Rohini Nair, while reviewing the book, points out that Usman's is not a hagiography. "It may not condemn Dutt's questionable behaviour (of which there is plenty) or toxic masculinity (the actor admitted to being a chauvinist), but it doesn't idealise these either. Or at least not too obviously," she writes.

Merely days after the launch, Dutt sent a legal notice to Usman, asking him to withdraw the book, alleging that it relies heavily on "hearsay and gossip". But the events spelled out in the book do not come as a surprise to those who have been following the actor's life since his debut, or childhood days. The book steers clear of glorifying or empathising with Dutt. For the otherwise passive actor to have an objection to the book's content may probably indicate his insecurities.

Or is he trying to bury a narrative that could eclipse the sunniness of Hirani's story? While the filmmaker is most likely to surprise and win over the audience with his compelling storytelling style, it would also be interesting to watch how he directs Ranbir Kapoor in the film. Will it be the Ranbir of Rockstar who will be at his edgy best in Dutt or will it be the innocent Ranbir of Barfi!, putting forward the mischievous side of Sanju?

The first look, and even the much-anticipated title, will answer a lot of questions. Whether titled Sanju or Dutt, it is certainly a film and a life difficult to ignore.

The Sanjay Dutt biopic also stars Sonam Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Manisha Koirala, Paresh Rawal, Boman Irani, Vicky Kaushal, Karishma Tanna, Dia Mirza and Jim Sarbh. It is co-produced by Hirani, Vidhu Vinod Chopra Films and Fox Star Studio Hindi. It is slated to release on 29 June.

Updated Date: Apr 24, 2018 15:02:55 IST