Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood's Bad Boy chronicles a life stranger than fiction
The genius of this unauthorised biography of Sanjay Dutt lies in in its choice of subject: A headstrong young man born to parents who were the nation's darlings (Nargis and Sunil Dutt) and went tumbling down a hedonistic spiral, collecting (and discarding) lovers, addictions and dangerous acquaintances along the way
In a thinkpiece for Firstpost, Yasser Usman — the author of the recently published Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood's Bad Boy — listed all the reasons why the era of 'bad boy’ superstars was at end in the Hindi film industry.
Not only were today's social mores far more relaxed than at the time Dutt regularly made headlines, but also Bollywood itself had become very image conscious, run by PR professionals who jealously guarded access to celebrity clients. Moreover, as Usman pointed out, Dutt himself was unique — a genuine 'Frankly my dear I don't give a damn’ star when it came to the public perception about him.
It turns out that the star — or at least the Dutt of 2018, who has been through two prison stints and is (seemingly) a family man who loves nothing more than spending time with his wife Manyata and twins Shahraan and Iqraa — does give a damn. On the same day that he announced a new film called Blockbuster, it was reported that Dutt was considering legal action against Juggernaut Books, who had published the unauthorised biography of the star.
Incidentally, the Dutt book isn't the first unauthorised biography Usman has written — previously there was the popular 'Untold Story’ of Rekha, and also Rajesh Khanna. The Sanjay Dutt biography follows a formula similar to the others: examine the life and work of a controversial celebrity, dig through everything that's been said by/about them in the past, and provide a concise narrative of all the scandalous ups and downs they've been through. The information these books contain is not new per se; there is no 'great reveal’ — at least not for those who follow Bollywood gossip with (some degree of) interest. Instead, where they succeed is in neatly packaging all the 'scoops’ about a star in a compelling tale — after a sufficient passage of time from when the events originally transpired, so there's some interest in refreshing one's memory about them.
The Dutt book does this spectacularly well — and there's no reason why it shouldn't. Its genius lies in in its choice of subject: Born to parents who were the nation's darlings — Nargis and Sunil Dutt — a headstrong young man who went tumbling down a hedonistic spiral, collecting (and discarding) lovers, addictions and dangerous acquaintances along the way. It isn't that other Indian celebrities haven't had troubled lives, but the self-destructiveness of few has been on public display in the manner of Sanjay Dutt’s.
Chronologically, the book begins well, at the beginning, when a tremendously happy Nargis and Sunil Dutt welcomed their first child. He was named 'Sunjay’ (with the 'u', he changed it to 'Sanjay’ when he began working in films) based on suggestions readers sent in to a film magazine. It seems Sunjay had a penchant for rule-breaking early on, for it was decreed that he be sent to The Lawrence School in Sanawar to be disciplined. Several years of initial misery (especially at being parted from his mother) and some attempts to run away later, the boy finally settled into the school, making close friends but not distinguishing himself academically.
Then comes the part about his days as a young man — moving back home to Mumbai, chafing under parental guidance, experimenting with and becoming increasingly dependent on drugs, and also making his way into the film industry. The milestones here include his debut in Rocky — and the heartrending deterioration and eventual death of Nargis to cancer.
The narrative for the years that follow have a rinse, lather, repeat quality: Sanjay’s personal life and career would be in the doldrums for a while, and then something — a striking onscreen role, a new relationship, his father — would pull him back from the brink. Then there would be a some new turbulence, a slide into unhappiness, and again, a reprieve.
The events that stand out here include his stints in rehab in the US; mostly rocky relationships (alleged or otherwise) with Tina Munim, first wife Richa Sharma (their whirlwind courtship and marriage, followed by her return to the US and cancer diagnosis, the many bitter years locked in divorce litigation and custody battle over their daughter Trishala are all detailed here), Madhuri Dixit, second wife Rhea Pillai; a career that saw Dutt being written off several times, only to script a comeback that made critics believe that there was more to the actor than they'd previously believed. If there are any constants, it is the presence of his father Sunil Dutt, sisters Priya and Namrata, and friend/brother-in-law Kumar Gaurav.
Where this cycle would have ended is open for conjecture — and whether Dutt’s arrest in the 1993 Bombay Bomb Blasts case marked a progression of this spiral or its abrupt halt is open for debate too. Usman delves into the events that led up to the actor's procuring weapons from Abu Salem, ostensibly to protect his family during the Mumbai riots in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition.
The book gets interesting here because it examines the widely expressed narrative in detail: were Sanjay Dutt’s actions those of a naive boy-man who just didn't know any better? Shatrughan Sinha’s response to a question about whether or not Dutt knew in advance of the planned attack on the Bombay Stock Exchange —“Don't be ridiculous; Sanjay doesn't even know what a stock exchange is” — is quoted in the book to exemplify what the general consensus in the film industry was. There are enough protestations from his peers and industry insiders that Sanjay “wouldn't hurt a fly”. But Usman doesn't take those assertions at face value, choosing instead to probe deeper and pose some thought-inducing questions.
As readers and Bollywood fans, we know what's coming next: a jail stint, followed by another go at his film career — most significantly the Munnabhai films, marriage to Manyata, then a return to jail and eventual release. Amid these events is the sad demise of Sunil Dutt.
Not that one needed a biography on his son to realise it, but it is Dutt senior who towers over these pages. One can only imagine his anguish as a parent, pulling his son out of one scrape after another, losing his beloved wife but trying to hold his family together as best he can.
What also strikes you is the number of chances at redemption one human being — Sanjay Dutt — seems to have got.
While it is firmly on Sanjay's side, Usman's biography isn't 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. The biography will also have you comparing Dutt with Bollywood's other 'bad boy’ (the use of 'boy' instead of 'man' is definitely more than just alliterative) Salman Khan, and have you pondering the cult following that has sprung up around these two (as also what it might indicate about the male fans who're emulating them).
Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood's Bad Boy is a light read — it's just around 250 pages, and the pace and tone never flags. Deft handling of an already interesting subject makes this a book you will finish reading in one sitting (a couple of hours is all you'll need). It also covers pretty comprehensively the transformation of one individual — from the brash star who spoke forthrightly about his drug habit and love life to a more circumspect (and mature?) celebrity.
As Usman writes: "Sanjay Dutt’s life is a story of epic proportions. This book is an attempt to tell that story — the good, the bad and, at times disastrously absurd; the conflicts, the mistakes, the many heartbreaking tragedies, and the overwhelming triumphs. A life that is sometimes difficult to comprehend... (and) often, stranger than any fiction."
Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy is authored by Yasser Usman and published by Juggernaut Books
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