The life of Sanjay Dutt is one for the ages. Every Indian worth their salt knows of the drugs, alcohol, abuse and terror that is associated with the name of this man. Born to Nargis and Sunil Dutt, the young man has been embroiled in controversy since the day he came into the spotlight. The reel ‘Khalnayak’ (that’s an anti-hero for you non-Hindi speakers) was no less of a Khalnayak in real life as well. Sanju attempts to tell the story of the man who suffered pain, humiliation, accusations and hate to become one of India’s most beloved and acclaimed actors, but whether that character is true to the man himself is up for debate.
Sanju starts off in 2013 when the result of Sanjay Dutt’s case is announced and he is sentenced to 5 years in jail. This comes just after a certain D N Tripathi is chased out of his apartment for drawing inverse parallels of Bapu and Baba, comparing the polar opposites in the ethics of the two men. Sanjay enlists a biographer, Winnie Diaz, to write about his life story, to influence the public into believing his innocence and to correct his image, that has been tarnished by controversies, courts and coitus. The film then rewinds back to the days of Rocky, and our main story starts.
What Sanju tries to do is absolve Sanjay Dutt of his crimes
Sanju overplays the misunderstood misjudged trope, using it on every decision the actor takes. The entire film seeks to push the blame of the actor’s misgivings onto everybody else, be it the shrewd drug dealer friend, or his girlfriend’s father. Rajkumar Hirani directs the film with half the sincerity he applied for his previous ventures such as the Munnabhai series or PK, resulting in a film that seems less like an honest body of work compared to a desperate attempt of a man trying to clear the name of his friend. The outcome of this is that Sanju comes off as a dishonest portrayal of a man whose crimes are available to the public domain for one to see. Hirani aptly manoeuvres the script in order to manipulate the audience into liking and rooting for an abusive,misogynist,harmful and despicable human being, whether be it when he strands his girlfriend at the marriage office and humiliates her despite breaking off her own marriage for his sake or when he starts injecting drugs into his system, hallucinating moments before his mother’s death. While I would generally take the time to applaud the skill required to pull such a feat of filmmaking off, I really cannot help but not be disappointed that one of India’s finest filmmakers resorted to such a cheap tactical propaganda.
Sanju also fails in the sense that it completely ignores three key sections of the Sanjay Dutt narrative. His rejection of bail and subsequent jailing, His strained relationships with his sisters and His first two marriages. For the first, It is no secret that Dutt was jailed for a long period of time due to the court’s rejection of his defence that he had a rifle, given to him by an underworld operative, in one of the strictest gun controlled countries on this planet, for his own safety. Debatable theories also include that he held three licensed pistols before that incident and that he also received grenades. The issue here is that the film peddles the defence theory as the official one, completely disregarding what put him in jail in the first place. Such distortions are unacceptable in a biopic, which also suffers from two fictional characters created to promote the ‘Sanjay Dutt was innocent’ theory.
Completely unnecessary characters litter the film, wasting talents like Boman Irani, Karishma Tanna and Piyush Mishra while also wasting further talents like Dia Mirza, whose character is no more than an accessory to her husband.
Where Sanju does succeed is in being a good film with awe-inspiring performances
Sanju’s eponymous character is played by the ever-talented Ranbir Kapoor, the first pillar of the film .after a series of critical and/or commercial failures, Ranbir Kapoor finds his foot sternly planted in the foundation of the character, embodying the very image of Sanjay Dutt. Acting upon a living character is no easy task, and Ranbir plays it to perfection, mimicking every small speech variations to body language that we’ve seen in Dutt himself throughout the years. Ranbir may not look like Sanjay Dutt for most of the part(he is the closest any Bollywood actor can possibly get through, maybe besides Ranveer Singh), but he breathes and behaves Sanjay Dutt, with a feisty intensity in every frame he is in, be it joyous or emotional. This is one performance he deserves all the accolades for. Paresh Rawal follows suit being the second pillar of the film, with a nuanced and detailed performance as Sunil Dutt, a great idealist man who juggles the pain of losing his wife and the responsibility of making his son succeed. Rawal injects Dutt with a kind of a determination and pain that elevates the character beyond the basic father figure. Vicky Kaushal is the third pillar of this film with his thick Gujarati accent and a loving principle bound friend. A year for Kaushal, he adds another feather to this cap, often overshadowing those in his path.
Sanju works as a film which is technically sound and entertaining to sit through. While it never glamourises the less than ideal lifestyle and behaviour of its protagonist, that cannot excuse the blatant disregard of public domain and erasure of major events in order to manipulate the viewer into believing this dishonest dramatisation, using others and especially the media as a scapegoat and as a buffer to shift blames. Ultimately the question remains, will the audience think and let it sit at the status of fiction? Or take this as the endgame of Sanjay Dutt’s rollercoaster story, as it blurs the line between reel and real? We shall know this soon enough.
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Jack of many trades, but a master of none. A businessman by profession, but a chef by heart, Dipanjan has his hands dirty with photography and photoshop. He would spend all his day sleeping if he could, and makes the same resolution of losing weight every year(but to no avail) . Also has two daughters, which are actually dogs, but sshhh we don’t tell him that.