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‘Sanju’ Sends All The Wrong Messages While Excusing Sanjay Dutt At His Worst

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Ever since the trailer of “Sanju” came out, I waited in anticipation for its release. Ranbir Kapoor, who plays the titular role, seemed to be a spitting image of Sanjay Dutt. I couldn’t wait to witness the journey of this complex character on screen, and I had faith that Rajkumar Hirani, one of the most celebrated directors of our country, would do justice. But, my expectations crashed and how!

Last Friday, I excitedly marched on to the theatre to watch the show. The hall was packed – and I could sense how everyone was waiting with bated breath for the movie to begin. After all, ‘bad decisions make great stories’ (that’s also a dialogue in this film). But this film, in my eyes, was only a mistake!

When you make a biopic on a controversial actor, you expect to be a part of his highs and lows. That’s why cinema is beautiful; it unravels itself in the most fascinating manner. Most of you might disagree with my views, but for me, “Sanju” was nothing but Hirani’s attempt to glorify Sanjay Dutt. Right from him OD-ing on drugs to sleeping around with women, every action was projected in a manner to evoke sympathy for the man who’s supposedly never done anything wrong. He’s a privileged man-child who is always mollycoddled by everyone – because it’s never his fault.

An individual’s formative years are significant to shaping them. It isn’t uncommon to fall prey to the forbidden, especially at a tender age – and it so happens that a lot of our actions are triggered by peer pressure. It is at such times that parents attempt to lend an ear or try to open to you to make you worldly-wise. Unfortunately, Sunil Dutt (played by Paresh Rawal) worries and worries more about his son. But all he does is give sermons. He either overlooks his son’s mistakes or pretends to play tough. There’s really no balance here. At one such moment, where Sanju (who, by now, has become an alcoholic and a stoner) has a desperate urge to gulp down a few drinks, he rebels against his father who seems to have hidden his stash. Not one to listen, Sanju doesn’t bat an eyelid and lands at his girlfriend’s house at an unearthly hour and demands alcohol. He does not show an iota of shame, because he’s used to being privileged.

Every time he takes drugs, we’re made to believe that this is his mechanism to cope up with all the emotional turmoil in his life. As far as drug addiction is concerned, the movie seems to convey that drugs can be a fallback, when nothing’s going right. You can’t send out the wrong message, just to put an actor on a pedestal.

During the course of the film, we realise how Sanju dotes on his mother. The moment he hears of her terminal illness, he is shattered. He wants to be by her side and do all he can for her, but his drug addiction overpowers him and he loses control. For once, let’s believe he was unable to deal with the trauma. But despite giving a ‘vachan’ to his father, he snorts cocaine while his mother is on her death bed. How do we justify this?

He is not a dutiful son – but perhaps, you’d expect him to stay committed to his girlfriend, Ruby (Sonam Kapoor). It’s literally a crime to expect anything from this film. When his girlfriend waits for Sanju at a court, he holds her up and doesn’t turn up at his marriage. A furious Ruby demands an answer from a stoned Sanju, who conveniently garlands her with a commode seat. When it’s absolutely justified for her to kick up a storm, she tells Sanju’s friend to keep this incident undisclosed – “kyuki wo seh nahi payega (because he won’t be able to bear it).” Entitlement much?

He doesn’t even spare his only loyal friend, Kamlesh (hats off to Vicky Kaushal, by the way, who excelled in this role). So, Kamlesh (aka Kamli) backs his extremely annoying, good-for-nothing friend every single time. In fact, whenever Sanju needs Kamli by his side, his friend travels across seven seas (or even beyond) to be there for his friend. And what does Sanju do? He does ghapaghap (sex) with Kamli’s love interest. Because loyalty isn’t really cool for Sanju – and it’s fine because he takes his friend for granted! Even when he befriends gangsters and hoards rifles under the pretext of protecting his father, Sunil Dutt and Kamli run from pillar to post to bail him out. After all, it’s Sanju and he is allowed to commit any number of mistakes.

What this movie propagates is a litany of excuses for bad behaviour and how ‘boys will be boys’, because they can get away with anything. This movie is exactly like Sanju’s drugged state – it has its highs and lows. Hirani has handpicked the choicest of incidents that will trigger sympathy and manipulate the audience’s emotions. On the other hand, if the director had advised the audience to not babysit men, and instead, hold them accountable for their actions, the story would have been completely different!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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