The D-Day that was marked on every calendar ultimately arrived, and Rajkumar Hirani delivered in his signature style. He added a comic touch to translate the life of Sanjay Dutt and his string of bad choices on celluloid. This was a calculated risk and could have easily misfired, but this is where Hirani’s talent comes in to play.
Adhering to a caricaturish tone, like many of Rajkumar Hirani’s other movies, with an idea of bringing poetic justice to us at the end, his characters come across as almost comical but never laughable. This tone is crucial for a film like “Sanju” that deals with sensitive issues that encircle the life of Sanjay Dutt. The use of a nickname as the title of the film becomes a salient feature as it somehow helps the audience to feel empathy towards the lead character.
The film effectuates an emotional and forgiving outlook of Dutt’s choices by highlighting his life’s sufferings, some of which he brought upon himself. There are major loopholes in the script, and parts of Dutt’s life don’t find a mention in it. For example, his first wife who died of cancer or his daughter Trishala don’t feature in this 161-minute flick. The narrative is not slow, and the first half is gripping and will keep the audience glued to their seats. The film is a tribute to Bollywood and its Golden era and pays homage to Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi, and Anand Bakshi.
We almost forget that there is a huge ensemble of actors who swirl in and out of frame. The film casts Paresh Rawal as the actor-turned-parliamentarian Sunil Dutt. Vicky Kaushal as Kamli, Sanju’s best friend. Dia Mirza as Manyata Dutt, Jim Sarbh as the friend with a bad influence. Manisha Koirala as the legendary actress Nargis Dutt. Anushka Sharma as biographer Winnie Diaz, Sonam Kapoor as Sanju’s girlfriend, whose outer appearance is startlingly similar to Sanjay Dutt’s then-girlfriend Tina Munim. Boman Irani plays his girlfriend’s father and the esteemed actress Tabu is seen in a guest appearance. But this film clearly belongs to Ranbir Kapoor, his success lying in the fact that he could embrace many of Sanjay Dutt’s life stories and become the many characters that Sanjay Dutt played during the different phases in his life, off-screen. How very meta.
Ranbir has acquired more than Sanjay Dutt’s body language, style of speaking and under eye bags that are a result of heavy drinking. “Sanju” becomes a spectacle to watch hugely due to Ranbir Kapoor’s contribution to the character in a film that continually tries to portray Sanjay Dutt as a victim of bad peers, draconian laws and a case of bad journalism that has caused his reputation to take a hit.
“Sanju” tries to paint its subject as a sufferer. Son of the legendary actress Nargis and the stalwart actor Sunil Dutt, who worked together in India’s first movie to be nominated for the Oscars – “Mother India”. Their family history and long legacy brought expectations and baggage under which our Sanju seems to have wavered a little, according to the director. While trying to live up to his father’s greatness and his mother’s stardom he wound up instead in a life mired by insecurities.
Dutt Sahab, who I have a lot of respect for and who was undoubtedly a man of great virtue, is shown as Sanjay Dutt’s greatest pillar of strength in the film. He chooses to remain patient with his son through all his misjudgments. The two most remarkable films of Sanjay Dutt’s career, “Rocky” (1981) and “Munnabhai MBBS” (2003) are only a consequence of Sanjay standing on his father’s shoulders. The scenes shot involving the duo are deeply moving and truly stem from a place of honesty, leaving us heartbroken and emotional. A speech in the film, which was not well-written but was a part of a well-crafted scene, touched the emotional apex for me and I wouldn’t lie, this is where I bawled. Rajkumar Hirani is a genius because the audience feels exactly what he wants them to.
We have a film that claims to give us the backstory on Sanjay Dutt’s life and this time we get to hear it from Dutt himself and not some tabloid. Whether it is an attempt to clean up a tarnished reputation or a completely honest account is debatable. A leap of artistic liberties has been taken, but as was proclaimed at the start of the film, “Bad choices make good stories”, and the eternal bad boy’s filmy life was destined to become a Bollywood masala flick, a good one at that.
While the variance between Sanjay Dutt’s real life and reel life seems to have obtained a momentous gulf, the audience stayed till the promotional song only to get up on their feet and give the hagiography a standing ovation, inside the four walls of a cinema hall that was teeming with people. It is enough to conclude that Sanju has been given a clean chit by the audience.
“Sanju” is the story of a less than impressive son who is burdened with the pressure of having to live up to the name of the house of Dutt and the price he had to pay for not being as legendary as his parents. It is a treat you should definitely subject yourself to.