Sanju movie cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, Vicky Kaushal, Dia Mirza, Jim Sarbh, Manisha Koirala, Anushka Sharma, Sonam Kapoor, Boman Irani
Sanju movie director: Rajkumar Hirani
Sanju movie ratings: 2.5 stars
In Sanju, we get the story of one of Bollywood’s eternal bad boys, Sanjay Dutt. Well, some of it, at any rate.
From what we know of Dutt’s story, pieced together from lurid detail after lurid detail via gossip rags, news reports and biographies, it has been infinitely more surreal and bizarre than anything anyone could imagine. That, sooner or later, Dutt’s eye-poppingly oh-my-god-that-can’t-be-true, psychedelic life would be the subject of a film is a no-brainer, because who can resist the lure of bad boys, fast lanes, and the glamour of the film world, glittery and sordid, at the same time?
The challenge was always going to be: how does a mere film encapsulate this mega-filmi, outsize life, which is still on-going?
So far, so meta.
Rajkumar Hirani does the only thing he can. By making Sanjay Dutt, Sanju. By choosing to show us a child-man, full of insecurities and flaws. By making the film much more about an errant son and a loving, forgiving father, than a king-size, get-outta-my-way superstar ‘jo har fikr ko dhuein mein udaata chaala gaya’. And yes, by giving that errant son a chance of redemption, because it wouldn’t be a Rajkumar Hirani film otherwise.
Make no mistake, this film is about proving that bad boys are not intrinsically bad ; the poor things are are led down the path of evil by others. While Sanju doesn’t shy away from touching upon Sanjay Dutt’s involvement with the Bombay blasts, and doesn’t draw back from showing him consorting with assorted dodgy characters with their links to the underworld, it does these things lightly, forgivingly, with a laugh and a wink.
Yes, the film says, as did the real-life star, he made a mistake, but it was unwitting; he didn’t understand the gravity of his actions. Yes, he did stash a machine-gun in his house, but he did it only because he wanted to keep his family safe. Yes, he did all that, and look, look, he went to jail for it, where he had to suffer overflowing toilets, and airless cells, and hard floors.
Basically, Sanju is a dialed-down, tamer version of the real-life hellraiser that used to be Sanjay Dutt, who at one point was so over-taken by drugs that he begged his father, the respected thespian and parliamentarian Sunil Dutt to save him. Sanju gives us a Sanjay mediated by the trademark sunniness of the director’s world-view in which even the most unlikely ‘munnabhais’ (there’s a Munnabhai MBBS reference in here too, which is meta piling upon meta: a star playing a star playing a much-loved character played by that star) overcome all odds and become heroes. This Sanju Baba feels like an updated version of Munna Bhai, or was Munna Bhai an anticipatory version of Sanju? Both bad boys with great, supportive fathers and a ‘jaadu-ki-jhappi’ which pulled them out of the abyss’: sometimes it’s hard to know which is which.
Once you’ve made your peace with the Sanjay we get, and there was no way of getting any other in a Hirani movie, you can sit down and enjoy the film. I had a blast all the way till the half-way mark. Ranbir Kapoor is wholly believable as Sanjay-Sanju, channeling not just his (Dutt’s) distinctive body language and ‘lehja’, but his internal confusion. Paresh Rawal, playing Sunil Dutt with exemplary restraint, matches Kapoor step for step, even striding ahead in places. Manisha Koirala, as Nargis, makes you wish there was more of her. Jim Sarbh, as the guy-with-the-bad-influence, is very fine and dandy, and Vicky Kaushal as Sanju’s faithful New York-based Gujju friend who teaches him life lessons, is absolutely terrific. And Hirani is in top form, getting all his reel characters to riff off the real characters, in the pursuit of a solid, entertaining tale.
Post-interval, the film slides distinctly. It builds too many episodes in its zeal to prove the child-like aspect of its bad-boy hero, the pace slackens, and we get more time to notice its contrivances. The attempt to paint ‘The Media In Search Of A Racy Headline’ as the real bad boy becomes tiresome after a point, going to the extent of suggesting that a ‘fake news report’ may have been responsible for his incarceration.
While the degree of Dutt’s culpability remains debatable, choosing a side is fully the film’s and the filmmaker’s prerogative. Through Hirani and Abhijat Joshi’s astute writing, Kapoor builds up the Dutt persona beautifully in the first half, smartly choosing to pick up some of Dutt’s signature moves and mixing it up with his own delivery. The pressure to be good, to be a star, to be in top—is all there up until the interval. But then the film turns far too kind towards its bad boy, and starts making excuses for his irresponsible behavior, nudging us to feel sorry for him. That may have been the intention, but Sanju becomes less interesting from that point on. To say in the opening credits that ‘cinematic liberties’ have been taken in the unspooling of a deeply cinematic life takes away something crucial, something electric.
Why are the romantic entanglements of a self-confessed Casanova executed with such coyness? Except for Sonam Kapoor’s spirited Ruby, an early Sanju love whom he seems to truly pine for, the female characters get short shrift; Anushka Sharma’s first-reluctant-then-admiring biographer is one of the weakest links in the film.
Still, what we get, and how we get it, in Sanju, is mostly engaging, and some of it good enough to make you laugh out loud in pleasure, especially when Hirani is killing it. But you wonder too what the film chose to leave out, and you wonder if this would have been more of a film if those things had been in here.
What if, I left the theatre thinking, the film had been called ‘Sanjay Dutt’, instead of ‘Sanju’. And also, that I am fully ready for Munnabhai Part 3.