The announcement of Sanjay Dutt’s biopic, back in 2016, came with its share of apprehensions. Will it include the controversial incidents of Dutt’s life? Will there be a mention of every romantic relationship he has ever had with his co-actors or will it be another eulogised account of his contentious life? These were some of the major questions that piled up in the minds of cinephiles.
With the release of Sanju last Friday, critics hailed the movie for Ranbir Kapoor, Paresh Rawal and Vicky Kaushal’s performance. As I watched the movie, I could not agree more. Rajkumar Hirani has extracted credible performances from its lead actors. However, he has missed the mark of making a good biopic. Sanju, for me, is just like any other Bollywood biopic made in la-la land.
In the movie, Sanju visits a gangster after his father (Paresh Rawal) asks him not to attend the don’s Ganpati Visarjan party. At the gangster’s den, a pregnable Sanju played by Ranbir tells him he cannot attend the party since his father doesn’t approve of it. In response, the gangster gets emotional seeing a son’s unconditional love for his father and lets him go. And you hear a trumpet kind of music as another emotional (read overdramatic) scene follows. In yet another scene, Paresh Rawal as Sunil Dutt refuses to switch on the fan and sleeps on the floor because his son Sanju is in jail. He even visits the editor of a publication and challenges him that his lost boy will make a comeback. Later in the movie, during the scene that revisits the death of veteran actor and parliamentarian Sunil Dutt, Sanju or Sanjay joins the pieces of a paper on which he has penned his feelings for his father and places it in senior Dutt’s pocket before biding a final goodbye to him. At the end of the two hours and forty minutes, the film gets as emotional as Munna Bhai MBBS’ ‘jaadu ki jhappi’ or PK’s reunion of two lovers. The cinematic potential of Sanjay Dutt’s life is marred by over dramatisation and too much of cinematic liberty.
Undoubtedly, Hirani has portrayed Dutt’s uneasy struggle with drug addiction and alcoholism with much finesse. He has also touched upon the controversial days of 1993 Mumbai serial blasts and Dutt’s conviction in the Arms Act case. But where it failed was in portraying Dutt’s character in its varied shades.
The filmmaker couldn’t comprehend that through many headlines, stories and interviews that were published over the years, everyone already knew fragments of Dutt’s story. He is not someone who is lost in history. His relationship with his female co-stars and his ex-wives could have made for a significant part of the biopic instead of just a passing mention about them, that too in a comic sense. Even if that drew an image of a womaniser of Dutt, the audience would have accepted it. Indian filmmakers must realise that their audience is intelligent enough to embrace the flaws of their favourite stars just like they embrace their heroic tales.
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It’s not that the blurred facts of Dutt’s life in Sanju makes it a bad film. It is packed with Hirani’s trademark of social message and goodness which, according to the director, resides in every being. But the moment we are reminded that it is a biopic and not a fictional tale, it all goes downhill. In this journey of the rise and fall of a man-child and then his resurrection, Hirani just white-washes Dutt’s character. Ultimately, we see Sanjay Dutt from Hirani’s eyes and a lot about the real him is left behind.