The much-talked-about film Sanju not only glosses over actor Sanjay Dutt’s troubled life but it also fails to mention some important people and incidents in his journey.
Sanjay’s life is a story of epic proportions and most of it has unfolded in front of our eyes. He has always lived under the media spotlight. The conflicts, the mistakes, the many heartbreaking tragedies, the disasters and the overwhelming triumphs; his fans perhaps know everything about him.
One evening in 2017, talking with Sanjay Dutt about his life and times, I asked him, when you look back upon your life, what is it that you would like to change?
“Kuch nahi! (nothing),” he replied immediately. “Given a chance, I would like to live the same life again.” I was surprised. His life is full of moments of insanity and is often stranger than fiction. It was interesting, then, that Sanjay wouldn’t change any of it. But I loved this honesty. This quality which made him such a rare bird in Bollywood right from his debut in 1981.
(Clockwise) Manyata, Sanjay, Trishala, Iqra and Shahraan
During the research of my unauthorised biography on him, I realised he is unhesitatingly honest and forthright about his mistakes and goof-ups. Unlike most film stars, Sanjay has always been an open book. He’s been very forthcoming, for instance, about his addictions: “Whatever drugs there are in the book, I’ve done it. But I preferred cocaine and heroin.”
You sniff cocaine, you smoke heroin, you can inject it,” he once said. (Indeed, his doctors at rehab in the US were surprised that Sanjay was still alive given the extent of his addictions.)
Right from his debut, Sanjay seemed unconcerned with people’s reactions and was transparent on controversial matters such as his views on women working after marriage. When he married Richa, he said, “I wanted her to give up her career (for) me, our children and our home. She agreed; she was not of the ambitious kind anyway.” Later he would say, “I would not want my wife to be an actress... I would not like to come home in the evening and find out that she has gone to a night turn. If you just want to call me a Chauvi (chauvinist), I’m just one.”
Tina Munim and Sanjay
About his love affairs and philandering, he said, “I was in three relationships at one point of time.” When asked how he managed this, he said, “You need to be clever... one shouldn’t know what is happening with the other.” On another occasion, Sanjay gave an unorthodox answer to the question of how to impress a woman. He said, “If you like a woman, then make her feel like your mother... become a little boy... let her feel protective about you. And you are scoring, buddy!”
Can you imagine other Bollywood stars saying these things, especially today, when Bollywood is an altogether more guarded place? Stars of today follow carefully choreographed scripts and are not allowed to deviate in any way. Sanjay Dutt, I believed, was the most honest star we have ever seen. That’s why I simply expected that Raju Hirani’s biopic on him would of course be honest. What’s there to hide after all?
Everything about him is well documented and out in the public domain. But as the biopic unfolded on the big screen, I was in for a surprise and disappointment. Despite Ranbir’s brilliant performance and Hirani’s superior talent of storytelling, Sanju felt like a multi-crore PR exercise to whitewash Sanjay Dutt’s life and crimes. Something he had never tried before in all his interviews and actions in the past.
Rhea Pillai and Sanjay
As someone who has researched on his life and times and written a biography on him, I was disappointed to see that several crucial characters and episodes from Sanjay Dutt’s life are missing from Sanju. How many people know, for instance, that almost a decade before the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case, Sanjay, angry after breaking up with girlfriend Tina Munim, was involved in a shooting spree in posh Pali Hill for which he was even arrested?
It was Sanjay’s first serious relationship and he was an extremely possessive boyfriend. When Tina was working with Rishi Kapoor in Subhash Ghai’s Karz (1980), there were strong rumours of them being romantically involved. This enraged Sanjay so much that he went to Rishi’s home, intending to beat him up. Sanjay asked actor Gulshan Grover to accompany him to Rishi’s house. “Sanjay and I were like brothers so one day he told me, ‘We have to go to Chintu’s (Rishi’s) house to beat him up.’ We went to do that but his fiancée Neetuji managed to convince us that Chintu was not having an affair, so we left,” recalled Grover.
Despite her busy film career, Tina lent Sanjay able support throughout the dark drug phase in Sanjay’s life. But gradually Tina was heartbroken too. There was no hope in sight. She moved on. However, there is no mention of Tina Munim in Sanju.
Sanjay Dutt’s sisters Namrata and Priya, were pillars of support during the various tragedies in his life (drug addiction, mother’s death, Richa’s death, the 1993 case).
Sanjay Dutt’s sisters Namrata and Priya, strong characters, were very close to Sanjay and pillars of support during the various tragedies in his life (drug addiction, mother’s death, Richa’s death, the 1993 case). In Sanju, the sisters just appear as background extras without even a single dialogue.
The film has the character of Manyata, his present wife, but in its attempt to project a simple family man, it totally forgets to even mention his first wife Richa Sharma. It was widely reported that Sanjay started having an affair with a famous co-star of his when Richa was battling cancer. Richa herself gave an explosive interview from the hospital in the US and said, “Where did I go wrong? I just fail to understand what he wants in life. A pretty chick who’s skinny?” Sanjay and Richa have a daughter Trishala (now a 30-year-old) but the film doesn’t even mention her name.
The first wife, Richa Sharma, died tragically young of cancer. But the makers don’t think she deserves a single mention in Sanju. Likewise, his second wife Rhea Pillai and their much publicised separation is also missing. Either the makers of Sanju felt these events never happened or they felt it was too frivolous to even mention them.
His third wife Manyata was at the centre of a Dutt family feud from the moment she stepped into Sanjay’s life. In 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Sanjay announced that he will contest on a Samajwadi Party ticket. An angry Priya said that it was Manyata who was responsible for Sanjay’s straying from the Dutt family’s political credo: “She (Manyata) manipulated my brother into this situation to further her own ambitions.” Priya, in an attempt to distance Manyata from the Dutt legacy, continued, “She is not the daughter-in-law of Sunil and Nargis Dutt. She is just some woman who has trapped my brother.” Sanjay would later try to wrest the legacy back, roaring, “There’s only one Mr and Mrs Dutt on Pali Hill and it’s me and Manyata.” This event was of course not suitable to the grand PR exercise called Sanju.
Sanjay with his first wife, Richa Sharma
But the biggest sanitisation exercise was reserved for the second half and the climax of Sanju. Everyone knows that in 1993 Sanjay Dutt became embroiled in a serious crime: the Mumbai serial blasts. He aquired an AK56 rifle from the underworld and then tried to destroy it. It was proved in the courts and he was jailed for the crime.
But in Sanju, the media is held responsible for Sanjay’s involvement in the case as if Sanjay got involved in that crime only because the media was after him — not because he had dodgy dealings with the underworld or stored guns and grenades at his home!
By the end of Sanju, the only feeling I was left with was that Sanjay Dutt, who I considered the most honest star, completely missed this opportunity to tell his story honestly. We have seen that through all the storms in his life, his emotional bond with audiences and fans kept growing and has endured for almost four decades. After every tragedy, every upheaval, Sanjay managed to make smashing comebacks because his fans don’t give a damn. They love him unconditionally. Then what was he scared of? What stopped him from telling the complete truth? Only Sanjay Dutt can answer.
(The writer is a journalist and author of Sanjay Dutt — The untold story of Bollywood’s bad boy)
A misleading narrative
While Sanju has been doing great on the box-office, many are not happy with the movie’s narrative which shows Sanjay Dutt as an innocent man who kept getting into trouble because of others. Right from falling fall prey to a drug peddler to being arrested on charges of possession of arms to being targetted by the media, Sanju whitewashes one of the most controversial Bollywood celebrity. Here is what the people from the film fraternity think about the movie
Sanju is a cover-up job
The biopic of a celebrity is supposed to be inspirational like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Mary Kom or Dhoni. What’s the inspiration the young should draw from the white-washed, fictional, one-sided story of the wayward son of celebrity parents? Whatever wrong this entitled son of Sunil and Nargis Dutt did is packaged like a cute joke with someone else always to blame for it, never the actor himself. Sanju got into drugs because he was misled by a drug peddler posing as a friend. Sanju got hold of an assault rifle from his friends in the underworld because Hindus threatened his family during the 1992 riots. Sanju got labelled a terrorist only because of the media. In a total cover-up job, the film takes up for the actor who was jailed for his criminal activities by blaming the media for it. Sanju is faultless. When the courts ruled that his crime did not fall under TADA, he wanted newspapers to say he was not a terrorist. Instead, the headlines said, Sanjay Dutt, to be jailed for six years. And that point is hammered right till the end and beyond. So what’s the message? That it’s okay to be wayward, it’s cute to be a chronic liar, it’s fine to even take to crime, in fact, it’s all great fun as long as you can blame someone else for it?”
— Bharathi Pradhan, senior journalist and author
No mention of his sisters
The object of the film is two-fold: to project Dutt as a misguided but well-intentioned man and all-round nice guy, and to scapegoat others for his failings… Facets of Dutt that are conveniently papered over include his difficult relationship with his siblings — Priya and Namrata are marginal, virtually dialogueless characters in Sanju — and his misogynistic, patriarchal mindset. I guess because you cannot expect to drive an audience to tears over baba’s wish to bachao his behnas if you point out that their equation is so troubled that when he married his current wife Manyata, sister Priya Dutt appeared not to be aware of the development till the media asked her for a reaction; or if you remind us that he once publicly snubbed Priya by famously telling a newspaper reporter, “There is only one Mr and Mrs Dutt of Pali Hill (in Mumbai), and that’s Manyata and I.”
— Anna MM Vetticad, film critic
Sanju is a one-sided story
To expect objectivity in a biography that’s been commissioned by its very subject is like ordering vegetable biryani and complaining that you can’t find any meat in it. Sanjay Dutt’s fascinating life story makes for a compelling, emotional film, but Sanju, directed by Rajkumar Hirani, doesn’t shy away from the fact that it’s a one-sided, practically first-person defense of the actor’s many transgressions. And boy, does it work hard to make you question that ‘khalnayak’ image… What’s a little troubling, however, are the excuses made for Dutt’s failures and misdeeds. Sure he’s alternately portrayed as selfish, insensitive, self-destructive, and entitled at various points in the film, but it’s all part of a larger narrative in which Dutt is always the victim. The villains are plenty, including a shrewd drug dealer, a father whose high standards he cannot meet, the fear of life threats on his family that made him acquire the deadly AK-56 rifles that did him in, and an especially biased, irresponsible media that is blamed for the majority of his legal woes.”
— Rajeev Masand film journalist
Sanjay never wanted to return home... do films...
Sanju baba, who had taken to smoking the ends of cigarettes his father’s friends threw around, had also begun to show signs of the generosity everyone attributes to him even now. Being driven past a group of poor boys, Dutt would start wailing, until the driver stopped and bought the boys the same beverage he was drinking. In an interview before his death, Sunil recalled how Sanjay once threw a tantrum at a wedding, insisting that his mother give away his jacket to a young beggar shivering outside the shamiana… Once out of rehab, Dutt discovered that he didn’t want to return. He had struck a friendship with a cattle-rancher named Bill and invested in a longhorn cattle ranch of his own. Out in nature, living by himself, Dutt said he found a peace he had never known in Bombay. He began to construct a new life for himself: a down payment on a small flat in New York and a dream to run a steak house to rival the best in the city. Two months later, it was Sunil Dutt who went to his son with a plea. “I didn’t want to return home, I didn’t want to do films,” Sanjay confided in an interview soon after his return, “but my father said, ‘Do it for me, do it for my name,’ and I couldn’t refuse. I promised myself I’d make some money and return to my dream.” Sanjay finished work on his debut film.
— Nishita Jha, a journalist, in one of her old reports
Media always supported the Dutt family
So the MEDIA, distortful, hideous, lying, are the Arch-Villains of SANJU. N I thought the media was largely extremely supportive of Sunil Dutt saab n Dutt Jr. N Sunil Dutt saab wld often express his thanks in writing. So go figure Mr Hirani.
— Khalid Mohamed, film journalist in a tweet
Was Sanjay innocent?
Everything has been made to look so innocent and a mistake. Terrorism, under world, drugs, mafia, jail yatra all have been made out as innocent mistakes. How a narrative can be changed and misrepresented.
— Sujay Mehdudia, journalist, in a tweet
(Compiled by Neha Jha)...