Sanju chronicles 'One man... many lives'; but which of Sanjay Dutt's lives may Rajkumar Hirani overlook?

Gautam Chintamani

May,23 2018 12:34:15 IST

In Hollywood, the biopic might be considered a tired genre but when it comes to popular Hindi cinema, it is just about to shift into top gear. In what could be the biggest boost for the genre, Rajkumar Hirani’s Sanjay Dutt biopic Sanju with its teaser has sent audiences into raptures, and rightfully so, at least if you were to see it from the point of view of the film’s lead, Ranbir Kapoor.

Sanju poster. Image via Twitter

Sanju poster. Image via Twitter

The film’s tagline – "One man… many lives" – is both fascinating and misleading. The former makes all the sense as Dutt’s led just the kind of life that would warrant an excellent biopic but it is the latter that needs to be examined closely because which life of Dutt’s would Sanju chooses to highlight can change the perspective.

In 2013, when Dutt went to jail to finish the remainder of his five-year sentence for illegal possession of weapons, the media and the film industry compared his journey to the Yerwada jail to the one undertaken by Mahatma Gandhi decades ago. The reason was simple – Dutt as Munna Bhai in the film Lago Raho Munna Bhai devotes himself to following the principles of ‘Gandhigiri.’

Even in 1993, when Dutt was first arrested for his alleged role in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts, most of the leading men and women in the film industry took out protest marches with placards that proclaimed their love and support for him. The support for Dutt and his popularity both soared even when books like S Hussain Zaidi’s Black Friday- The True Story of the Bombay Blasts and numerous investigative articles across publication including The Indian Express spoke about his involvement in great detail.

Cinema, Martin Scorsese felt, is as much about what is in the frame as it was about what is not. In the past, this writer was skeptical if the Dutt biopic would ever get made considering the many truths behind the many lives that the superstar has led. Unlike most biopics in India, Hirani’s film has the advantage of tracing Dutt’s journey from an unparalleled vantage point – Dutt’s official involvement. Add to that Hirani being an insider, who has worked with Dutt on three of the five films that he has made, and it does not get more inside than this.

Of course, at this stage, as the film has not released, one is not sure about the degree to which it could or would talk in detail about how Dutt could have unknowingly aided the perpetrators of the blasts. But if one-time co-stars, such as Madhuri Dixit, have reportedly asked the filmmaker to keep certain things such as her rumoured affair with Dutt out of the film then the prism from which some of the many lives being spoken about here would be skewed.

One of the things that make any biopic, and especially the one about a film actor, stand apart is its ability to break through the façade of the industry that it operates within. In 1993, the placard-carrying Bollywood brigade might not have an idea of what Dutt was guilty of as it were truly early days but even after Supreme Court finally convicted Dutt, nothing could change their stance. Dutt was 34 when he first got embroiled in the case and 57 when he finally finished his sentence and those 23 years are the meat of his life’s story but for a big chunk of people or media, nothing seems to have changed in the interim.

In 2013, the industry’s campaign to seek mercy for Sanjay Dutt was joined by the likes of a former SC Judge and the then Tourism Minister, Chiranjeevi. Many felt that the dropping of terror charges against Dutt left a lot to be questioned but without going into the details of the verdict, the same approach, in a way, could be operating in the narrative of Sanju.

The teaser of the film has Ranbir Kapoor getting Dutt eerily right to the tee but once you get over the initial euphoria, you realise that the treatment is a very Munna Bhai-esque. It is almost as if Kapoor is playing Dutt as how people now see him – in the Munna Bhai avatar – and the manner in which one of the versions of the actor stops the other for mentioning ‘AK-56 rifle’ and chastises him for starting the story from the middle appears to suggest that the focus here is could be elsewhere.

The recently released unauthorized biography of Dutt by Yasser Usman recounts many incidents that were reported in news magazines and film glossies that reveal facets of Dutt’s persona that have since been forgotten or replaced by others events from the superstar’s chequered life.

Sanju might include some such incidents of his devil-may-care attitude, his largess, or the experiences in the matters of the heart that Dutt himself spoke about in television shows such as Koffee With Karan, but would it conveniently give the actor a pass on certain issues such as national security that remain unanswered?

A few weeks ago, there were rumours that Dutt was not too keen to share the screen with Madhuri Dixit, who had replaced the late Sridevi in Karan Johar’s upcoming production Kalank, but apparently Johar’s magic words – let the past bury itself – made Dutt comfortable enough to change his stance. In Bollywood, the past can be many things but it is never bothersome. At least, not when it comes to making official biopics.

(Also read — Will Rajkumar Hirani's signature lighthearted treatment dilute darkness of actor's troubled life?)

Updated Date: May 23, 2018 12:34 PM