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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

‘I am so tired of goody-goody hagiographies’

Biographer Yasser Usman on the appeal of Sanjay Dutt, his famous parents and why film journalism today is a mere shadow of an earlier illustrious avatar

Written by Ektaa Malik | Updated: April 10, 2018 8:18:27 pm
Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood's Bad Boy The “untold” bit is not the less-known facts that come out in the book — which are plenty — but seeing the whole picture of Sanjay’s life.

Ivan Turgenev’s classic novel, Fathers and Sons, is perhaps the best invocation of the theme in Yasser Usman’s recent biography on Sanjay Dutt – Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy (Juggernaut). “For me, the story was all about this father who refused to give up on his son, and a son who refused to grow up,” explains Yasser Usman, Delhi-based writer and journalist, referring to the strained and conflicted relationship between Sanjay Dutt and Sunil Dutt.

This is the third offering of the “untold” trilogy. The first was Rajesh Khanna: The Untold Story of India’s First Superstar and Rekha: The Untold Story. The latest has an extra “crazy” attached in it. The book which came out recently has already stoked many a gossip engines and tabloids, and has even gotten the ill-fated attention of the eponymous subject in question. Sanjay and his legal team sent a notice to Usman about the book being unauthorised, The actor even took to Twitter to air his hurt feelings. Unauthorised, is a term that keeps popping up. “I am so tired of these goody-goody hagiographies. I reached out to everyone. Even when I was writing the book on Rekha, I had a very long chat with Farzana (Rekha’s ever loyal secretary). I had texted Sanjay, his sisters and every one. They chose to not speak to me, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t write about them. They are public figures, they have themselves aired their personal details. One can really piece together their story. With an authorised story – you can be restricted with the one point source and contact,” says Usman, who works with a leading news channel in the Capital.

Sanjay Dutt: The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood's Bad Boy For 18 months, Usman toiled to get his research in place. Scouting old written materials and then finding people to talk about Sanjay was an uphill task.

Rekha and Rajesh Khanna, who have their place of pride in Bollywood, make for veritable subjects for a biography. Sanjay doesn’t really fit, given that the actor has had barely 10 films that made the mark cinematically, out of the 100-plus films that have his name in the credits. “True. But Sanjay was the phenomena that unfolded in front of me. I grew up with his stature growing, and him morphing into this star that has reigned for 40 years. People really connect to him, watch his films, emulate his style, because they feel for him” adds Usman, who comes from Moradabad and spent a large chunk of his growing up years watching films on VHS.

The “untold” bit is not the less-known facts that come out in the book — which are plenty — but seeing the whole picture of Sanjay’s life. Episodes of his life have dominated newsprint for years, but in the book we read the entire story in one go, replete with a beginning, middle and end. Usman traces the origins of both his parents, their relationship and their evolution as this power couple of the seventies. Sanjay – he was earlier spelt as Sunjay- made his debut as a child qawaal for a song in Reshma Aur Shera. He also smoked as a child, and was then packed off to Sanawar to be disciplined. All the women who were part of his life – right from Tina Munim, Richa Sharma and Rhea Pillai to his current wife Manyata, get their moment in the sun. TADA, cocaine, arms act, cancer, and a jail sentence – words that cannot be alienated from Dutt’s life, all of it is brought together.

For 18 months, Usman toiled to get his research in place. Scouting old written materials and then finding people to talk about Sanjay was an uphill task. The golden days of film journalism were sorely missed by the biopgrapher. “Earlier there were many film magazines, stars were accessible, there were no press statements. The magazines were serious and had a wide coverage. Rajesh Khanna spoke his heart out, and so did Rekha when she used to speak to the press. Today, an actor’s image is sacred, you can’t afford for it to be maligned. This image management is very new. There was nothing of this sort in those times. When the Kangana-Hrithik saga was unfolding, social media was flooded with Hrithik holidaying with Susane and his kids. With Salman Khan being embroiled in all those cases, suddenly Being Human and his charities became the talk of the town. I met and spoke to about 150 people, who all had a personal Sanjay story. And no, those stories – about his generosity and his largesse are not from media archives,” says Usman.

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