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Why You Should Watch Sanju (Just Once)

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SPOILER ALERT: This article contains a few spoilers from the movie “Sanju”. Reader discretion is advised.

A debutant Bollywood actor, crushed under the legacy of his father, struggles on the first day of his shoot. Incited by a friend, he succumbs to the pleasures of drugs as they help release his inhibitions. Within three days, he is an addict, and by the time his film premiers, he’s tried every kind of addiction that possibly exists – smoking, sex, alcohol, injections and psychedelics.

By this time, he has lost his mother to cancer and his girlfriend to an arranged marriage. His career droops helplessly and he struggles to make sense of his life. Encouraged by his father and another friend – an honest and emotionally stable Gujarati man from New York whom he meets in a serendipitous situation – he fights back and successfully overcomes his addiction.

But, life is not fair to this actor and a series of controversies plague him for the rest of his life. Rajkumar Hirani’s “Sanju” is a biopic on Sanjay Dutt, famously infamous for his roles as a gangster or a cop, and his notorious reputation in the media for alleged links with terrorism which were proven false later.

Biopics on living people are quickly becoming a rage. Started in Hollywood a few years ago, this trend found tremendous success with movies like “The Theory Of Everything” (based on Stephen Hawking), “The Social Network” (based on Mark Zuckerberg), and it has spread to Bollywood (with the success of “M.S.Dhoni: The Untold Story” and “Dangal”) and streaming platforms like Netflix (“The Crown”).

There are quite a few upcoming movies that will portray the stories of living people on celluloid. “The Accidental Prime Minister” has Anupam Kher playing Manmohan Singh and Shraddha Kapoor is all set to essay the role of Saina Nehwal in an untitled film. There are reports on Paresh Rawal starring in a film on Narendra Modi’s life.

What do audiences expect from a biopic? The truth, mainly! Authenticity, unbiased storytelling, inspiring anecdotes, honest portrayal of real incidents etc. Well, the good news is that “Sanju” definitely lives up to some of these expectations. The sad news is that “Sanju” is not a complete portrayal of Sanjay Dutt’s life. The movie conveniently selects only a few portions from his life, most of which are already well-known to the public and serve as a clarification to his tarnished image.

The first half depicts his struggles with parental pressure and his fight against drug addiction. The second half deals with terrorism allegations and his term in jail for having an AK-56. Both these acts are sewn together with the central plot of Sanjay Dutt getting to convince an international biographer (played by Anushka Sharma) to write a book about him. This technique of having an ongoing central plot that binds the rest of the movie is a trademark of screenplay writers, Rajkumar Hirani and his long-term associate, Abhijat Joshi, have displayed earlier with “3 Idiots” and “PK”. But, this time the centrepiece doesn’t hold that well. It is quite predictable and doesn’t contribute to the storyline. Anushka’s blue lenses and fake tears don’t help either.

The film highlights the shoddy practices of modern-day journalism, notorious for publishing false reports and manipulating readers by using phrases like ‘according to sources’, ‘based on allegations’, ‘rumors suggest’ etc. They conveniently use a question mark in their heading to avert legal consequences. Paresh Rawal’s dialogues aptly elucidate this point. But, by editing out major portions of Sanjay Dutt’s life and only portraying certain aspects of it, I don’t know how different the writers can claim to be from journalists.

There are a lot of unanswered questions – Sanju’s relationship with Manyata (portrayed by Dia Mirza) hardly throws light on their love story, his marriages to Richa and Rhea receive no mention, and in terms of his career – except for “Rocky”, “Munnabhai MBBS” and a blink and miss shot of Khalnayak’s poster – none of his other movies are mentioned. (“Vaastav”, “Mission Kashmir”, “Kaante”, “Agneepath” etc.)

But, there are definitely portions of the movie that stand out, which is why you should watch Sanju at least once –

1. Kar Har Maidan Fateh – This song can become an anthem for rehabilitation. Sanjay’s earnest efforts to overcome drug addiction and Rajkumar Hirani’s brilliant translation of this episode onto the screen deserve applause. Sukhwinder Singh’s voice adds so much depth to Shekhar Astitwa’s lyrics. Shreya does a good job as well, for singing the mother’s portion of the song. The visual journey of the character climbing his way to the summit, faltering and rising constantly, motivated by his mother’s voice and form, is deeply moving. Here’s a man who is aware that he is on the wrong path and is genuinely trying to change himself. His fight with drug abuse and his ultimate triumph can serve as an inspiration to many.

2. Father-Son Relationship – The tumultuous relationship between Sunil Dutt and Sanjay Dutt is beautifully brought to life by Paresh Rawal and Ranbir Kapoor. Their constant struggle to seek and support each other is heart-rending. The speech Sanjay wants to make in honour of his father but fails to, the father’s timely lessons to his son using meaningful songs, their work together in the “Munnabhai” films, and their individual battles towards the mutual uplifting of their relationship are brilliantly drafted on celluloid.

3. Friendship – A tribute to the real-life friendship of Sanjay Dutt and Kamlesh Kapasi. “Sanju” beautifully portrays their struggles, misunderstandings, fallouts and their ultimate patch-up in 2016 after the former’s release from jail. Watch the real footage of Sanjay Dutt’s release and you’ll notice the stark resemblance to the scene in the movie.

Manisha Koirala is charming as Nargis. She breathes life into the celluloid. Paresh Rawal as Sunil Dutt is convincing, but Ranbir steals the show as Sanjay Dutt. He essays the role of Sanju effortlessly and brilliantly, so much so that one really wonders if we’re watching him or Sanjay Dutt himself (until we see them both in the post-credits song).

Rajkumar Hirani could have done better had he not let his personal feelings for Sanjay Dutt affect the film. The biopic should have been unbiased, giving the audience a chance to decide if we want to empathize with Sanjay Dutt or not.

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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.

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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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