On being asked if he wants to see a film based on his life, actor Paresh Rawal recently said a biopic should be like Sanju – honest, bold and without manipulation. Rawal plays Sunil Dutt in Sanju, a cinematic adaption of Sanjay Dutt’s life. Well, the honesty of Sanju can be measured by the critical aspects of Dutt’s life which have not been touched by the makers. Be it his estranged relation with first wife Richa Dutt – a chapter completely omitted in the biopic – or the influence of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray in his release from jail after Mumbai bomb blasts, director Rajkumar Hirani stays away from exploring these incidents. In fact, Hirani mentions in a disclaimer that some characters and incidents are purely fictional and he has taken a cinematic liberty.
But despite all these missing aspects, can Sanju be called a propaganda film or a PR exercise by Hirani to whitewash his friend’s image sullied by numerous allegations and conviction by a court of law? Well, it’s little difficult to agree. Propaganda is the spreading of information of a misleading nature to influence a point of view. In Dutt’s case, people’s views about him is what media has reported about him. ‘Spoiled brat of rich dad’, ‘Sanjay Dutt a terrorist?’, ‘Madhuri Dixit ditches Sanjay Dutt’ have been the headlines of his life stories. And if Dutt wants to change people’s perception with his side of the story, he is within his rights.
The protagonist in the film mentions that he wants to put across his version. And he does not paint himself as a saint. If one has seen Dutt’s old interviews, he candidly admitted to trying all forms of narcotics. Even during his mother’s final moments, he was under the influence of drugs. Yes, he went to rehabilitation, had links with the underworld and he did take an AK-56 to protect his family from threats received during Mumbai riots.
His confession to the police about knowing Abu Salem is available on the internet. He was booked under TADA and he was acquitted of the charge. Dutt was out on bail for a good time, and went for shoots abroad. Like Nadeem Akhtar, the music director accused in Gulshan Kumar murder case, Dutt always had the option of escaping arrest and settling outside India. So where does Hirani change facts? And can that even be done? Well, no of course.
One of the criticisms Sanju faces is the excessive media bashing shown. But journalists must ask themselves if it is all wrong. Have we forgotten the ‘Maut Ka Bathtub’ circus after Sridevi’s death? Haven’t source-based stories and question marks in headlines done excessive damage to people at the receiving end? Even before the release of Sanju, newspapers and websites had plenty of stories speculating who plays whom in the film. Some quoted sources as saying that Karishma Tanna would play Dutt’s ‘long-term girlfriend’ Madhuri Dixit. The truth is now out in open. Dutt’s conviction in 2013 also saw the court acquitting him of terror charges, but was that published in bold and black? Can we really dismiss media’s hypocrisy?
And even if Sanju is a propaganda film, as suggested by many, can it really change Dutt’s fortunes in Bollywood? At the age of 58, Dutt certainly can’t expect a rise in stardom due to the film. Even in his prime, he was never at the top. While the 1980s had only a few of his films becoming blockbusters, the 1990s were ruled by the Khans. In the current age of Bollywood, when content has become the king, Dutt needs a strong script and a meaty character to portray on screen. A PR exercise hardly benefits him. But if people still believe otherwise, Dutt can only adhere to Ustaad number 3 song from the film – “Kuch to log kahengey, Logon ka kaam hai Kehna“.
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