Sanju is based on Sanjay Dutt’s life. And you, Raju, had Ranbir play the central character. What is it about Ranbir that made you feel that he’s a good fit?
Rajkumar Hirani: When the script gets done, the first thing you start thinking about is who…but in this case I didn’t think of anyone, it was straight away Ranbir. If you look at Sanju in Rocky in ’81, and you look at Ranbir when his first film came out, their physicality is very similiar. Both were lean, nice chikna-looking faces, and similar height. Then when you play a character, you have to understand the world, and feel that character. Both come from film families and Ranbir has known Sanju for a long time, so he was already exposed to that life.
Ranbir, was Sanjay Dutt a difficult protagonist to pull off?
Ranbir Kapoor: Yes, there was a major reason I thought it was an impossible feat. How do you already make a biopic on an actor who’s still working in films? His life has been quite amazing, ek bani banayi screenplay mil gayi. I think I started believing that I can do it; then the ball just got rolling.
How did you bridge the gap between the real and reel?
Hirani: In this case, it’s a biopic of an actor whose face is known. The first challenge was how would Ranbir look like him, which I think, was also Ranbir’s immediate fear. And I remember telling him, let’s give it a shot. So we did tons of tests. And finally one day, I was standing there and Ranbir came, and I saw from a distance and I was like yeh mil gaya. And I went almost to hug him and he said just give me 30 seconds, I want to go out and breathe.
You know Sanjay, you’ve worked with him. But did it feel like, I know this man but I don’t really know him?
Hirani: That happened every day because when his wife Manyata first asked me, why don’t you make a film on Sanjay’s life, my immediate reaction was that’s not my territory. In my head I thought it was going to be a dark film, underworld, and drugs, and I said that’s not my world at all. But as luck would have it, Sanju was out on parole and I went to meet him and in that meeting, I was very curious to figure out how he lived in jail, what he ate, what he did throughout the day. And he told me these crazy stories of how his job was to make paper bags and for every paper bag he made, he would get 25 paisa. The stories that were coming out were so unbelievable. We ended up sitting for 25 days. One day, he spoke about his drinking. He told us the single malt story, when his friend in New York took him to an exclusive single malt club. There they pour one single peg for you and ask you to sip and it and savor it, and you know, all the connoisseurs are there. So then this waiter came and asked, sir what would you like, so he said get us a bottle only yaar. So that guy looked at him and said sir we don’t serve by the bottle. Then he said okay then get me 13 pegs. So these were crazy stories we were hearing.
Ranbir, did you have a method which was different from the other films that you’ve worked on?
Kapoor: I think every film comes with its own method. What I do is I use one perfume for every character. So I went to Sanju sir’s house and got his perfume, because I like getting into the character, his shoes. You know when he walks into a room it’s like a rockstar’s entry. There is a swagger about him, his gait, his long hair, that earring he used to wear with the cross, his sunglasses.
You have also spent time with him?
Kapoor: The Sanjay Dutt I knew was very different from who’s in the film. He, of course, used to pick me up in the middle of the night in his Ferrari for drives. I used to work out in his gym. I remember I was working with Mr (Anurag) Basu on Barfi! and he used to come on the sets, and ask, kaisi picture kar raha hai? Barfi? Iske bad kya karega, ladoo, peda? He used to pull my leg, and always wanted me to play that larger-than-life hero. He treated me like a younger brother. So constantly, you know he is trying to really be a part of my life, really interested in the work I do, and gives me encouragement and constructive criticism.