Synopsis – Sanju is a biopic of the controversial life of actor Sanjay Dutt: his film career, jail sentence and personal life.
My Take – For every avid watcher of Bollywood films, the name Sanjay Dutt, is quite well known. The superstar son of veteran actors, Nargis and Sunil Dutt, despite being widely adored, has often been referred to as the controversy’s favorite child. Mainly as the actor who has been active in the Indian film industry for the past four decades, has found himself in the news for his multiple affairs, breakups, marriages, divorces, deadly drug phase, underworld connection, court appearances and incarcerations. A life which sounds more like a Bollywood film than real life and it’s interesting to see that filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani (3 Idiots and PK), one of his close friends, who incidentally also resurrected his career with the 2003 Indian comedy-drama, Munna Bhai M.B.B.S., has decided to direct his biographical film.
While Dutt‘s life has mostly been an open book, here, director Hirani gives you a peek into his life with an honesty that instantly touches your heart. Sans any gimmicks, Hindi film tropes and unnecessary drama, director Hirani lays bare the actor’s life, recounting each milestone of his turbulent and tumultuous life, starting from his early days to his present, and ranging from his drug-addiction to his jail term concerning the 1993 Mumbai blasts case. Without a doubt, this is yet another gem in director Hirani‘s every glowing filmography.
The story follows Sanjay Dutt (Ranbir Kapoor), a middle aged actor with a turmoil life, who finds out that he has been sentenced to serve a 6-year jail term for possession of an assault rifle and has only a month to surrender. While he has been cleared of his previous charges which deemed as terrorist in the public eye, and in order to clear his side of the story he seeks the help of his wife, Manyata (Dia Mirza), to find a writer who unlike the media will write the truth.
When Sanjay meets Winnie Diaz (Anushka Sharma), an acclaimed biographer, he convinces her that his story would be worth her time and efforts. Following which he takes her down a memory lane which includes how he struggle to cope with Sunil Dutt (Paresh Rawal), his father, actor and politician’s larger-than-life persona, the release of his first release Rocky, the loss of his mother and actor Nargis (Manisha Koirala), to cancer, how he was ushered into the world of drugs by his friend, Zubin Mistry (Jim Sarbh), how it messed up his life and effected his relationship with Ruby (Sonam Kapoor), his girlfriend, his friendship with Kamlesh Kanhaiyalal Kapasi (Vicky Kaushal) who played a major part in his life, followed by his jail term for his involvement in the 1993 Mumbai blasts right after bought AK-56 assault rifles from members of Dawood Ibrahim’s gang, for which he is arrested and convicted, all circling back to the present.
The film jumps back and forth giving each character a chance to become part of the story and leave an impact. On paper, director Rajkumar Hirani’s style of film-making and Sanjay Dutt’s backstory instantly form a purely incompatible mixture that anyone could ever imagine. However Sanjay’s story had all the ingredients that are required to make a trademark Rajkumar Hirani film, i.e. a social message, father-son bond, selfless friendships & warmth shared between all these relations. His film has always had a way of delighting his audiences with the right mix of drama and comedy and this one is no exception. The complicated, seemingly scarred life of Sanjay Dutt finds a mixture of humor and drama which ultimately unfurls as a complete piece. Hence, comparing it to previous director Hirani‘s other films will be an understatement.
Co-written by Abhijat Joshi, the film doesn’t hold any punches as it gives us the tale of a rich, weak boy who chastened to become a sober, strong man, courtesy the tough hand that destiny dealt him with. More than being just a biopic, the film is a father-son relationship story and there’s no denying the fact that you will well up with tears during the iconic Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. hug scene between Sanjay and Sunil Dutt. The Sanjay shown here is always running scared of his disciplinarian, Gandhian dad, of losing his mother to a terminal illness, of the toxic climate that the Babri Masjid blasts brought, of just about everything. And, yet there was an Alpha Male trapped within him – someone who wanted to protect his family, his friendship and his own reputation. The intent behind him keeping an AK-56, his drug addiction, his alcoholism and his caddish ways is not glorified and told faultlessly. Even though on many levels, it’s treated as a piece of fiction, the script gives you fabulous glimpses of deep friendship and above all, it shows you the indefatigable spirit of a righteous father, who fought with his back to the wall to bring his erring, condemned son from notoriety to fame.
Anybody who thinks this film has been made to solidify Sanjay Dutt‘s image, then he is wrong, big time. In fact the whole first half of the film show one after another bad decision taken by him in his young age. If this film solidify anyone’s image then it’s of Sunil Dutt. As after watching this film I totally thinks he was a great man and even a better father. In fact if Sanjay Dutt would have got a father with lesser qualities he would have died a long time ago, well probably. Same goes for his friend Kamli, who played an exceptionally important role in keeping Sanjay alive. Despite the film running for about 165 minutes, it never feels like a deterrent, as director Hirani manages to keep you hooked, divulging details about Sanjay Dutt‘s life, which one may have known, but are brought to life through the sincere and effortless portrayal by Ranbir Kapoor, who essays the titular character with panache.
It is no denying that director Hirani is an auteur with a flair for storytelling, He effectively manages to keep the audience engrossed with the simple narrative, which is a journey of emotional upheavals, shocking revelations and tender moments. The film reminds us of the fact that biographical films need not be about great people! Using the reference to this film, director Rajkumar Hirani forbids us to indulge in whatever wrong Sanjay Dutt had done earlier in his life. The greatest lesson he gives us is that: we should turn our weaknesses and our failures into our strengths and this film is one of the prime examples of it. Even where Sanjay Dutt is shown as a flawed personality – his having been a drug addict; misbehavior with some of his girlfriends; admission to having slept with over 300 women and shady links with anti-social elements, he is shown in an empathetic light. The best thing about the film is its honest narration. While you laugh boisterously, the film will also make you shed a tear or two. Another thing the film does great is that it informs that the media should be more serious with what they print or show, and also request the audience to not to believe whatever a newspaper prints or news channel says.
However, if one expecting a glimpse into the film industry and the underworld will be disappointed as they are shown in a minimum. We are also not given an insight into the socio-cultural context in which Sanjay Dutt’s personal life unfolded, for example the death of his first wife, his formerly estranged daughter, his failed second marriage, his alleged affairs with several leading heroines, his love-hate relationships with his male co-stars, and the tight and controversial conditions under which he got married to Maanyata. All this would have made for some superb on screen drama.
However, none matters as in the end it’s all about Ranbir Kapoor and his performance here. Here, Ranbir delivers one of the most memorable performances of his career. There are so many stages and ages of Sanjay Dutt‘s life from a young drug addict, an upcoming superstar, then a set Superstar, a physically fit icon and then the present Sanjay Dutt. All these are played by Ranbir Kapoor so perfectly that it looks like he is working in 4-5 different films at the same time, he looks like him, he talks like him, he walks like him, and he does everything like Sanjay Dutt. Ranbir’s portrayal leaves little to complain and his chemistry with all characters is just as well executed. The film is as much about Paresh Rawal’s restrained performance, as a helpless father torn between love for his son and his moral code.
Vicky Kaushal, who has already impressed the audience with his serious roles in Masaan, Raman Raghav 2.0 and the recently released, Raazi, continues to impress with yet exuberant performance here as well. The film best moments belong to Ranbir and Vicky Kaushal, and Ranbir and Paresh Rawal. Another surprise package of the film is Manisha Koirala, not only does she look a lot like Nargis Dutt, but also excels in a small role. Anushka Sharma looks gorgeous and does full justice to her fictional role. Jim Sarbh is menacing, Sonam Kapoor is effective, while Dia Mirza is restrained and charming and Boman Irani, as always, a delight to watch. Karishma Tanna leave a mark in her cameo. On the whole, ‘Sanju’ is an emotional roller coaster ride that is not only dramatic, and exciting, but also a heart-warming tale which contains an unmatched performance from Ranbir Kapoor.
Directed – Rajkumar Hirani
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 165 minutes