Rajkumar Hirani on why Ranbir Kapoor was his first choice for Sanju: 'He is a fantastic actor and open to criticism'
In this candid interview with Firstpost, Rajkumari Hirani opens up on how the story of Sanju fell into his lap, why he feels Aamir Khan and Ranbir Kapoor are so similar, and his free-wheeling relationship with Sanjay Dutt.
Rajkumar Hirani’s office is inspiring, creative and brings in a happy feeling, just like his movies.
As the director is busy with some post-production work on Sanju, his upcoming biopic on Sanjay Dutt (releasing on 29 June), one can either coop into one of the favourite corners of his ADs (Assistant Directors) or spend hours gazing at the memorabilia from his past films on his walls, or the director’s drawing board with several mantras such as: ‘Always find a unique story. 100 years of Cinema has happened. Don’t give the audience the same crap’. But what you can't miss is the pale yellow original Munna Bhai bike placed right in the centre of the huge artistic room.
With just four to five days left for the release of Sanju, the director now seems to be all set to surrender his film to the audience. “I should relax now. We showed the film to a few people and the feeling is good and upbeat. We have been working on Sanju for two to three years. It looks like one more journey has ended,” says Hirani with a warm smile.
Isn’t capturing the life of Bollywood’s then hottest star — whose off-screen life was far more turbulent and eventful than his onscreen adventures — a goldmine for any filmmaker? “Absolutely. Actually I was writing another Munna Bhai film and then I happened to meet Sanju (Sanjay Dutt). He started talking about his life, and the film literally fell into my lap. I kept Munna Bhai aside and told myself - 'Chalo ab isme ghus jao' (Let's get into this)."
While one may feel that Sanju could be the most challenging subject for Hirani to tackle, but instead it was far easier as compared to his earlier films, says the director of successive hits like Munna Bhai MBBS, Lage Raho Munna Bhai, 3 Idiots and PK (Interestingly, Dutt has acted in three of them). “That’s because the most difficult part of a film is writing the story, but here the story already existed. But what was difficult was scripting and structure. If you are doing a fictional story you can change whatever you want to, say the climax, or the way the hero enters. Otherwise it was relatively simple to make Sanju,” says Hirani.
Speaking of stories, one that Hirani can't get out of his mind, is how the idea of making the biopic on Dutt came about. It was revealed the very first time by Dutt’s wife, Maanayata, when the actor was shooting for PK (2014). “Once Maanayata casually told me that I should make a film on his life and I immediately reacted with a ‘No’. I told her that Sanju’s world is very different from my world. Then Sanju came out on parole and one day we were just chatting. He was telling me about life in jail, and as he was talking I discovered another side of the story — the story about friendship, a the story about father-son relationship and there was much more than I had ever thought,” he reveals.
“Most people know his life but there are many aspects that people don’t know, which I have shown, like, what was happening in the Dutt household when Sanju was accused of the crime? What was his father going through? What was happening with his sisters? How were his friends reacting? Later I met his sisters, Namrata and Priya, brother-in-law Kumar Gaurav and US-based friend Paresh Ghelani. All that makes for a very fascinating story,” says Hirani animatedly.
He has worked on an ensemble cast this large for the first time, and also has so many female actors to direct, like Sonam Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Manisha Koirala, Dia Mirza and Karishma Tanna. "The film is not about his romance. It has primarily two tracks, one is the gun story and the other is the drugs story and how he fought these two battles," clarifies Hirani.
Dutt, who is known for his carefree nature, was never once worried or had any apprehensions about what controversies would be unveiled through the biopic. “You won’t believe Sanju hasn’t yet seen the film. Every day I have been calling him, he is busy shooting, but he is such a carefree and trusting soul. When we decided to make the film, my question to him was: ‘Do you want to censor this?’ He said, ‘Nahi nahi yaar, show whatever you want to show..I don’t mind..Why should I? I have already served my sentence’. I felt here is the story of a guy whose life I can show with my own interpretation,” says the director, further adding. “I don’t think anybody alive, forget film stars, would have the courage to show their controversial life out in the open. That is why people make biopics of those who are dead and gone because then nobody is there to question you (laughs). Lots of people ask me why I'm making a biopic when he is still alive; but why should there be biopic of only those who are dead?"
A noticeable thing about Hirani is that he doesn’t tire from talking about Ranbir Kapoor. Not so surprisingly, he compares Ranbir’s dedication and professionalism to that of Aamir’s. “I was very clear that Ranbir will play the part and the reason was that earlier, during his Rocky days, Sanju looked like Ranbir; they had the same height, both were from film families, their fathers are actors, they lived in a similar environment and Ranbir knew Sanju’s life. Also, it isn’t just about matching physicality, you have to feel like him, understand his life. Ranbir was equipped to do that and more than that he is a fantastic actor,” says Hirani.
He continues, “I have been lucky enough to work with some great talent like Aamir and Ranbir. Ranbir’s dedication is like Aamir’s . He surrenders himself completely to the film. He would arrive at 3am; it would take him five hours to do the makeup and it would take one and a half hours to remove it but he never complained once. He mingles around with the unit like an assistant. Anybody can pick up the phone and call him, say whatever one wants to say, he is open to criticism.”
But what tickled the actor was when Hirani told him that his character would be shown to have 308 girlfriends. “Ranbir’s first reaction was — I don’t think I will even get 5 % of that,” laughs Hirani.
When we tell him that there are whole lot of actors who want to work with him, Hirani says, " I want to work with Shah Rukh, Salman, Hrithik, Varun, all of them are fantastic. Individually if you pick up their films everybody has done great stuff."
Here's a question on everyone's mind: would he have made Sanju if he had not known or met Dutt? “If I had the opportunity to know Sanju the way I got to know him, I would have definitely made the film. That is the greed of a filmmaker. You get tempted by subjects, so it has nothing to do with whether you know or you don't know the person,” says Hirani.
What does the director have to say about certain section of people who claim Sanju is "a blatant attempt to clean up Sanjay Dutt's image"? “Kuch toh log kahenge, logo ka kaam hai kehna...You can’t please everyone. You have to be honest to yourself. We live in the world of social media. We live in the world of cynicism. All these things will happen. We have made the film with all honesty and we have to leave it there,” says the director.
As for his muse’s wrong turns in life, Hirani says — “Bad choices make good stories”.
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