Sanjay Dutt (Sanju), son of former Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports and two-time Member of Parliament Sunil Dutt and celebrated yesteryear actor Nargis Dutt, was sentenced to six years of rigorous imprisonment on 31 July 2007 by TADA court for illegal possession of weapons.
Cut to the movie “Sanju” and one is confounded. To call it Sanjay Dutt’s biopic is an overstretch. It is just a heady concoction of selected incidents to salvage his image and pave way for further opportunities in public and professional life. Economical in truth, the biopic fails to go beyond being a frantic attempt by the actor to re-brand himself and make him worthy of commercial endorsements and masala flicks.
At the beginning of the movie, Sanju is shooting for his maiden Bollywood venture “Rocky”, which is being directed by his father, Sunil Dutt. Being a beneficiary of nepotism, the college drop-out has little idea about the entry barriers that exist in Bollywood. Obviously, he does not value this opportunity. With little to worry about, the young lad unabashedly indulges himself in debauchery until he is introduced to yet another addictive vice – drugs. Like any other drug addict, he blames the situation for his addiction. Heedless to the worries of his ageing father or his declining career, Sanju continues to drown himself in smoke and booze.
The only noteworthy milestone in Sanju’s life is his resolve to quit drugs, that too after he has escaped from the rehabilitation centre. However, the devil-may-care attitude of the actor does not leave him.
His reckless attitude towards his professional commitments continues till much later. There is a scene in the movie where middle-aged Sanju receives a professional call on his landline. To sneak out of the situation, he pretends to be stuck in a traffic jam. When his bluff is called out, there is no sign of shame or guilt. He is shamelessly unaccountable and the audience is expected to love him for his laxity.
In another scene, Sanju’s distraught father tries to convince him to lie to the police and absolve himself of the controversy. Yes, he refuses to compromise his father’s respect for his own release. Too little too late for the very next moment, both father and son are seen confronting the media and playing the victim of stardom. This is straight out of a controversial superstar’s playbook. With due respect to senior Dutt, the cushioned upbringing of his son also played a part in the creation of the prodigal Sanju
Throughout the movie, Sanju refuses to behave like a responsible citizen. His sense of entitlement is telling of the sons and daughters of celebrity parents, who don’t have to worry about their bread and butter. Irrespective of their talent, these torchbearers of nepotism continue to enjoy power, fame and public adulation.
Sanju’s only consistent trait throughout the movie is his penchant for finding a person or situation to blame for his follies.
Throughout the 160-minute run, I couldn’t spot one scene where the protagonist repents for his deeds. He occasionally chides himself for violating his father, before he encroaches on another forbidden territory. Sanju has no guilt or remorse for his transgressions. Only a privileged son can afford to throw tantrums and be tutored on work ethics by his father at the age of forty.
While Sanju does acknowledge that his father deserved a better son, his intentions to be a better self are conspicuous by their absence. Did his doting father know that his son had smuggled drugs, putting the family’s security at stake in a foreign land? Where were the confessions?
Even while in jail, he leaks the radio station details to his biographer and the audience is expected to be both gullible and hare-brained. Where is Sanju’s moral compass? Where does the buck stop? What his on-screen wife terms as harmless flirting, is tantamount to making a pass in common parlance. But then, Sanju is not common – he is that well-intended human being who was taken for a ride by everyone. In his quest to tell his side of the story, the ever so courageous and candid Munnabhai has come across as an insecure celebrity desperate for public approval.
If Sanjay Dutt really believed in his father’s third ‘ustaad’ i.e. “Kuch toh log kahenge… (People will always have something to gossip about)”, he wouldn’t have sold his story so selectively. One is forced to believe that Sanjay Dutt’s conscience is guilty, which forced him to hide so much and tell so little.