Why Rajkumar Hirani's Sanju will be considered a unique film, regardless of its box office fate

Karishma Upadhyay

June 28, 2018 17:55:35 IST

Regardless of its box office fate, Rajkumar Hirani’s Sanju is breaking new ground in more ways than one. What makes the Ranbir Kapoor film unique is that it tells the story of Sanjay Dutt, an actor who is still very much a part of Bollywood.

Ranbir Kapoor in and as Sanju. YouTube screengrab

Ranbir Kapoor in and as Sanju. YouTube screengrab

Just days before the film hits theatres, the first look for Dutt’s next — Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster 3 — was released. Come December, Dutt and his on-screen doppelganger will face off in YRF’s Shamsher. Apart from these, Dutt has four other films — Torbaaz, a remake of Prasthanam, Kalank, Panipat—in different stages of production.

Also read:  Ranbir Kapoor on Sanju: Not a propaganda film but an honest portrayal of a flawed human being

Bollywood has traditionally shied away from telling real stories from within the industry. We’ve had films like Luck By Chance, Om Shanti Om and Khoya Khoya Chand that have the film industry as a backdrop, but tell fictional stories. Even the award-winning The Dirty Picture was preceded by testimonials from its makers that the film wasn’t based on the Southern screen siren Silk Smitha.

Marathi filmmakers have had more success than their Hindi counterparts. The 2009 Marathi film Harishchandrachi Factory is an engaging tale of how Dhundiraj Govind Phalke or Dadasaheb Phalke made India’s first motion picture in 1913. Two years ago, life of the veteran actor Bhagwan Dada was brought to the big screen in director Shekhar Sartandel’s biopic Ekk Albela. The film even has a special appearance by Vidya Balan as Geeta Bali.

Paresh Rawal and Ranbir Kapoor from a scene in Sanju. Twitter/@RanbirKapoorFC

Paresh Rawal and Ranbir Kapoor from a scene in Sanju. Twitter/@RanbirKapoorFC

As the sub-genre of biopics has grown, directors have expressed interest in chronicling the lives of Bollywood legends like Kishore Kumar and Meena Kumari, but have had no luck. The biggest obstacle for filmmakers has been getting the rights to a film personality’s life story. Movie celebrities and their families aren’t keen on presenting the entire picture complete with vices and weaknesses.

What makes Dutt’s story compelling is his struggle with drug addiction, failed marriages and imprisonment. Interestingly, the initial idea to make a film on Dutt’s life is believed to have come from his wife Maanyata.

The other Bollywood biopic in the works is Mogul where Akshay Kumar will play T-Series founder, the late Gulshan Kumar. Directed by Jolly LLB 1 and 2’s Subhash Kapoor, the film is co-produced by the music label. The degree of honesty we’ll see in these films could become the standard for how Bollywood will tell its own stories in the future.

A big challenge for most biopics is getting actors to resemble the film’s subject as closely as possible. The comparisons between real and reel gets even more pronounced if it’s an actor playing another actor on screen. A large part of the conversation around Sanju is about Kapoor’s chameleon-like transformation into Dutt.

Hirani, in a recent interview, revealed that one of the reasons for signing on the young actor was that Kapoor in Saawariya reminded him of Dutt in his debut film Rocky. The younger actor spent six months watching Dutt’s videos and films to learn his body language and his voice. To match Dutt’s physicality, Kapoor gained 15 kgs to play the older actor but that wasn’t enough. A team consisting of make-up artists Ajay Naik and Vikram Gaikwad, prosthetics expert Clover Wootton, hairdresser Aalim Hakim and costume designer Eka Lakhani designed ‘looks’ that helped transform Kapoor.

Hollywood, on the flipside, has had an insatiable appetite for making (and watching) movies about itself.  Robert Downey Jr. played Charlie Chaplin in Richard Attenborough’s Oscar-nominated Chaplin. James Franco won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of James Dean in the 2001 made for Tv movie. The star-studded ensemble cast of Hitchcock had Anthony Hopkins playing the celebrated director, while Scarlett Johansson stepped into the shoes of movie royalty Janet Leigh. The brief life of Bruce Lee has been the subject of eight different movies, documentaries and tv series. Marilyn Monroe, with over a dozen films about her life, is probably the most portrayed movie star of all time.

Still from Sanju. YouTube screengrab

Still from Sanju. YouTube screengrab

Biopics of film personalities feed into the audiences’ fascination with lives of celebrities. No matter how much we know or don’t about Dutt’s life, Sanju is the most intimate peek a fan would get into the actor’s life.

If the promos are anything to go by, we’ll get a glimpse into everything from his bathroom to jail cell. This level of intimacy is unprecedented in Bollywood.

Updated Date: Jun 28, 2018 18:00 PM