Sanjay Dutt, Vidhu Vinod Chopra's association goes beyond films: It's a friendship that's endured the test of time

Abhishek Srivastava

June 24, 2018 15:41:58 IST

Suketu Mehta’s Pulitzer Prize-shortlisted Maximum City chronicles the author’s two-year stay in Mumbai. Apart from dealing with the underbelly of Mumbai, the book also gives a detailed account of the time when Vidhu Vinod Chopra was involved in the production of his ambitious Mission Kashmir. The book also gives an insight into the life of Sanjay Dutt when he was involved in legal proceedings because of his involvement in the 1994 Mumbai blast case.

Though Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Sanjay Dutt's first collaboration happened as late as 2000 with Mission Kashmir, the seeds of a deep friendship and an unwavering support for each other were sown in 1993 when Dutt was booked for the first time under TADA. The journey that started with Mission Kashmir, in the later years covered films like Munna Bhai MBBS, Lage Raho Munna Bhai, Eklavya, Parineeta and PK. With Sanju, Chopra and Dutt have only gone a step ahead as this time though the film does not feature the actor, it’s all about him.

Sanju poster. Image via Twitter

Ranbir Kapoor in and as Sanju poster. Image via Twitter

It all started in 1993 when a clarion call was given by industry producers to boycott Dutt and prevent him from signing films after his involvement in the Mumbai blast came to the fore. It was also the period when Parinda had released a few years back and Chopra was busy with the shooting of 1942 A Love Story. Not pleased with the way the actor was being subjected to the highhandedness of industry mandarins, in a blitzkrieg, Chopra announced his decision of making a film with the actor. Not only was it a defiant step against various film bodies, it was also a slap on all those who had wanted Dutt to go further down the dumps.

“When Sanjay went to jail for the first time, I did not know him. After I announced a film with him, I too was blacklisted by the industry. Later when Dutt came from jail, he met me and reminded me of the film that I had announced with him. I only told him that there is no such film and it was a just a stand that I had taken as I firmly believe in the notion that everyone is innocent until his guilt is proven,” recalled Chopra at the trailer launch of Sanju.

Vidhu Vinod Chopra (with mic) along with Hrithik Roshan and Sanjay Dutt during Mission Kashmir press event. File picture. Facebook

Vidhu Vinod Chopra (with mic) along with Hrithik Roshan and Sanjay Dutt during Mission Kashmir press event. File picture. Facebook

It was a gesture that warmed the cockles of Sanjay Dutt’s heart and soon he was to return back the gesture. The cinematic association of Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Sanjay Dutt started with Mission Kashmir and it might come as a surprise to many that both Dutt, as well as Hrithik Roshan, were not the initial choices to play the lead roles. Several meetings with Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan had earlier transpired at Chopra’s residence. When nothing materialized, Dutt had to eventually step into a role that was to be essayed by Bachchan. It's only ironical that Mission Kashmir and Mohabbatein released in theatres on the same day in 2000. Mission Kashmir faced a stiff competition from the Aditya Chopra-directed film which incidentally featured the two superstars who once were slated to play lead roles in Vidhu Vinod Chopra's film.

The period between 1993 and 1999 was also a phase when Dutt was knee-deep involved in his court proceedings and the Dubai-based mafia was slowly making inroads into the Mumbai film industry. When extortion calls to film fraternity members became a menace in the mid-90s, a meeting of leading producers of the industry was convened by the then Maharashtra Home Minister Chhagan Bhujbal. One of Chopra’s close associates who was overseeing the Mumbai blasts investigations had earlier warned the filmmaker not to attend the meeting. The sleuth believed that most of the producers who were slated to attend the meeting would be those who already have deep-rooted connections with the Dubai mafia and also that every detail of the meeting will be promptly conveyed to the mafia moguls.

Despite the warning, Chopra attended the meeting and the inevitable happened in the form of a death threat. A scared and frantic Chopra made most of his connections and even called up as high as LK Advani. An assurance was given for his protection. But it was only later when Chopra got a call again from Abu Salem saying “you are like our brother”, realization dawned upon him. As per Mehta’s book, it was Sanjay who had pulled the strings by calling his old colleague based out of Dubai informing him that Vinod is like his brother and he stood by him when he was in jail.

Poster of Munna Bhai MBBS. Facebook

Poster of Munna Bhai MBBS. Facebook

The next progression was Munna Bhai MBBS, which was more like a God-sent opportunity for Sanjay Dutt as it changed his image forever. The film brought about a complete transformation in people’s perception — from a ‘traitor’ Sanjay Dutt to a lovable Munna.

By this time, their fondness for each other had grown so much that when Chopra offered Dutt the role of Zaheer (the role was eventually played by Jimmy Shergill), he had given his nod even without reading the script. The fact that he hadn’t read the script soon got exposed after Chopra offered him the lead role of Munna Bhai. Dutt's reply was ‘yes, I am doing Munna Bhai’. He again proved his friendship as the film was earlier rejected by both Anil Kapoor and Shah Rukh Khan. He starred in films like Eklavya, Parineeta and PK which didn't revolve around his character, yet had a pivotal part in the narrative.

All the films that Dutt did for Chopra happened at a time when he was fighting legal battles to prove his innocence. Needless to say, it also says a lot about Chopra’s faith in the actor. The friendship apart from strengthening with time has also endured a phase when one of them was going through the most critical phase of his life. Though neither of them has openly spoken about this camaraderie at public forums, one can read between the lines.

After Sanju, Chopra and Dutt are all set to reprise their Munna Bhai franchise with the third installment, once again under Rajkumar Hirani’s baton.

Updated Date: Jun 25, 2018 07:32 AM