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.