Sanju: Hirani shouldn't have bowed down to the pressure of making an entertaining yet socially responsible film

Devansh Sharma

Jul,08 2018 09:21:48 IST

Sanju is a hit. Flowers have started coming in for director Rajkumar Hirani. But for those who have followed his films closely, the connotation attached with 'flowers coming in' is not entirely as flattering as its proverbial implication.

Ranbir Kapoor in and as Sanju. YouTube

Ranbir Kapoor in and as Sanju. YouTube

In Lage Raho Munna Bhai, the second installment of Hirani's cult gangster comedy franchise, flowers in abundance were sent to Boman Irani's character who devised a plot to lay siege to an old age home. Sanjay Dutt, who played the titular character of a friendly gangster, took to Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent ways and in the capacity of a part-time Radio Jockey and requested his listeners to send flowers to Irani's residence since he suffered from a 'bimari' (illness), referring to his corruption-riddled conscience. This was just one kind of ammunition in the arsenal of 'Gandhigiri' which became an overnight rage and was employed as an effective and altruistic antidote to corruption.

Hirani has battled a social evil in each of his five films so far. His weapon of choice in each film has been a conceptual leap on part of the director. From jadoo ki jhappi to All Izz Well, the simple yet profound mantras of Hirani have permeated pop culture like no other director's. However, his latest release Sanju is devoid of any such concept that acts as a vehicle of change or any oppression-crumbling war machine.

A major reason why Hirani was probably compelled to steer clear of his signature magic must be the film's genre. A biopic essentially revolves around one person's life, rather than those of a collective bunch. The reason why a biopic then is of public interest is because the subject is a celebrity or a trailblazer in their respective area of expertise. Sanjay Dutt is neither.

To pit a flawed man who foregoes countless chances of redemption against a social evil of any magnitude is like appointing Vijay Mallya as the face of India Against Corruption. To his credit, Hirani has not shied away from the controversial episodes of Dutt's life, including his drug rehab phase and tryst with terrorism during the 1993 Mumbai blasts case. Given Dutt's rather murky track record, Hirani could not have probably positioned him as a 'saviour' of any sort. The least Dutt could do was to save himself from his own deeds, the blame of which is conveniently pawned off on a number of factors that populated his dishevelled life.

The buck ultimately stops on the media which has been painted as the chief antagonist of the film. While Dutt's account of the press' irresponsible reporting of his case does hold ground, the media bashing becoming Hirani's force-fed takeaway only serves as a bitter aftertaste. Hirani takes a potshot at imprudent journalism through the lens of Dutt's life story. But this veiled attack stems more from Hirani's temptation to stick to his own template of a lighthearted yet socially conscious cinema, than a personal agenda.

If a typical Hirani entertainer has to be deconstructed, Boman Irani, lighthearted humour, a liberal dose of drama and a life lesson to take home will be the key ingredients. Hirani's radar picks up a problem area in each of his outings, provoking his creative genius to come up with a conceptual juggernaut for the battle lines to be drawn. But in the case of Sanju, while there was little scope for conceptual freedom, there was no need for a social issue to be addressed in the first place.

Interestingly, the medium through which Hirani disseminates his unerring way outs ends up becoming the problem area in the consequent film. For example, in Munna Bhai MBBS, Hirani exposes the red-tapism and lack of empathy in medical services, a profession that inherently demands a balance between clinical detachment and treatment with love and care. His cure is a jadoo ki jhappi, a bear hug to the patient or any person buoyed down by physical or emotional pain. Ironically, Munna Bhai, the gangster-turned-do-gooder who spreads this philosophy in a medical institute is, in fact, admitted to the same through cheating.

Then, Hirani takes on the plague of cheating and corruption in the sequel Lage Raho Munna Bhai, particularly focusing on the real estate sector. The remedy to the rampant corruption here is Gadhigiri, circulated through education via radio. Hirani then makes his accomplice in this film, awareness and education, his target in 3 Idiots where he confronts the menace of depression and anxiety among college students. The means to his noble ends in this one is inculcating faith through a self-aware protagonist's repeated assurances that All Izz Well. No brownie points for guessing that faith is the problem area in PK. Hirani takes the battle head-on under the guise of a naked extra-terrestrial creature's allegations that all agents of God are 'wrong numbers', with the aid of a news channel.

Poetic justice suggests media and its everlasting bittersweet relationship with ethics had to be the focal point of Hirani's next film Sanju. But the filmmaker should have avoided falling prey to his own trappings given that he was experimenting with the genre itself. A biopic, particularly one of a flawed public personality, is not in a position to question social shortcomings. The first half wisely deals with Dutt's fight against drug addiction by chronicling his quest for a life devoid of substance abuse. 'Kar Har Maidan Fateh', which Ranbir Kapoor says has an 'Eye of the Tiger' feel, serves as an ideal anthem for Dutt's journey. But the second half gets indulgent in celebrating the Rajkumar Hirani brand of cinema by incorporating every possible trope.

Since Sanju meets Munna Bhai MBBS memes in vogue, we ask Rajkumar Hirani, "Biopic hai toh mudda uthana zaroori hai kya?"

Since Sanju meets Munna Bhai MBBS memes in vogue, we ask Rajkumar Hirani, "Biopic hai toh mudda uthana zaroori hai kya?"

In the climax, when Dutt describes media as a 'drug', one man's skirmish with the fourth estate explodes into its ill-effects being projected as a societal menace. The 'Baba Bolta Hai' promotional song serves as the exclamation point. This turn in the narrative is unfortunate, as a biopic, at its heart, is a person's conflicts within and not those with society at large. Dutt's life story was an ideal recipe for a biopic, had Hirani focused more on his internal battles than the superficial ones.

At the trailer launch of Sanju, when Ranbir was asked what he would imbibe from Dutt's troublesome life, he wisely said, "I would learn from the mistakes he made at various points of his life." This writer wishes Hirani could have echoed the same thought and chosen his battles wisely.

(Also read: Is Sanju a better film without Ranveer Singh? Recalling other memorable change in cast that created history)

Updated Date: Jul 08, 2018 09:21 AM