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Sanju was a huge opportunity lost by Sanjay Dutt!


I know its too late to post a movie review, the movie Sanju was released more than 10 months ago and honestly, I just happened to watch it because it was showing on TV yesterday. But I am writing this because I simply cannot subdue my ruth at the complete waste of opportunity the movie turns out to be and mainly for the lack of directorial ability from someone as adept as Rajkumar Hirani.

Rajkumar Hirani is an excellent story-teller but more so, a director par excellence, as anyone who has watched Munnabhai MBBS would confirm. His first directorial venture was a testimony to how a saturnine subject can be presented in an entertaining manner, yet contain a social message. But with Sanju, Hirani has failed as a director - because he has stuck to his template for a subject which demanded an independent treatment and not paid directorial attention to what the subject demands.

There are many posts online [1] [2] [3] [4] which call out for the selective editing of Sanjay Dutt's life story but I would rather pardon that. A director has limited time on the reel and surely has the right to decide what to show and what to edit out from his story. Not every director can be a Satyajit Ray to show every small detail of their character's lives from the morning ablutions to last sleeping thoughts, thereafter produce a series of films, than just a single succinct one - and yet be able to carry it off.

I am also not miffed [like here] at Hirani's one-sided criticism of the media as being responsible for vilification of Sanjay Dutt. Hirani is known for his one-sided criticism without acknowledging the nuances, on the subjects he chooses. I am sure many doctors and hospital managements feel wronged by Hirani for not highlighting the nuances of moral, social and financial compulsions which they deal with during treatment. I have met many educationists who find criticism of education in '3 idiots' a gross oversimplification of the problem. But I feel that Hirani's method has merit - a one-sided over-simplified critical narrative of the subject does help magnify the problems we are dealing with as a society and hence it does trigger a debate and thence a change in the social order.

What I am miffed at, however, is the absolute lack of attention to technicalities of cinema which I would have expected a biopic to have. Hirani is now a veteran director and the technical inaccuracies make a caricature out of what a splendid story could have been! Sanjay Dutt's story is amazing - the complex mix of a self-made father with a righteous bent of mind and yet someone who loves his son in spite of all his failings is a very powerful subject which could have been presented much better.

First, the small ones like these - the 80s as depicted in the movie are more like what the 60s used to be. Take, for instance, the cars showcased in a scene where the character Kamli is buying a car for himself in the US. In the 80s, it was the Fox-body cars like McLauren or Thunderbirds rather than Impala and the curvacious Chevvy's as shown in the movie. Another instance is the hairdo - characters' hair styles in the first 30 minutes of the movie were more 70s than 80s. The differences are small, but they do matter when making a biopic. All it would have taken was some research by an Asst Director and attention to detail by Hirani - alas looks like in getting their 'formula' right, they overlooked the technical basics of film making.

Second big technical 'liberty' is in mixing several characters into one; the most obvious being Kamlesh / Kamli. This character is based primarily on Paresh Ghilani - but also encompasses a host of Sanjay Dutt's other friends like Kumar Gaurav [and Salman Khan] - apparently, this was done to not add too many characters to the movie. Now, this would have been fine if this was an entirely fictional character (like that of author Winnie Dias in the movie), but it does severe injustice to real-people when making a biopic. Clearly, the way a Kumar Gaurav would have helped Sanjay in overcoming his drug addiction would be different from how an NRI Paresh Ghilani would. Fictionalising can mean adding drama to scenes which are otherwise mundane, it can even mean over-acting by certain characters (like the Gujarati accent of Kamli), but combining multiple characters into one dilutes the whole essence of the movie being a biopic.

The last folly, but the most disturbing to me, was poor assimilation of real-life personalities by the actors and this would be solely the director's flaw. Except for Ranbir Kapoor, portraying Sanjay himself, all other actors did not do justice to assimilating their real-life characters. This anomaly is magnified not just because the movie is a biopic but because almost all the characters are celebrities and there is so much original footage already available in public domain to study.

The most glaring of this is Paresh Rawal's portrayal of Sunil Dutt. Except for a rare mention of the word 'puttar', at no point does Rawal sound like Dutt Saab. And I will not blame this one on Rawal. An accomplished actor, he has portrayed even Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, and many others with ease. Rawal does copy Dutt Saab's body language and facial expressions, but his dialogue delivery faulters and this is exactly where an external curator - THE DIRECTOR - should have stepped in to neutralise Rawal's accent. A celebrated actor like Dutt Saab should have been easy to copy - there is no dearth of material to study Dutt Saab's repertoire, his dialogue delivery, his accent. Again, I would blame the lack of proper research and subsequent implementation - the director and his team have failed miserably.

I found the same lack of 'assimilation' of the character with that of Manisha Koirala's depiction of Nargis ji and even Diya Mirza's portrayal of Manyata Dutt. With Dia Mirza, it woud have been difficult to spot issues because there isn't much footage of Manyata Dutt available - but the fact that she sounds so much like the real life Dia Mirza, makes me feel that she too failed to assimilate the character she was portraying.

Sanjay Dutt's story is very serious and thought-provoking. His drug abuse is quintissential of the Hippy age of 70s and 80s and also representative of the social ills we need to overcome - just this one aspect has been the subject of whole movies. Sanjay Dutt's involvement with Mafia, his possession of weapons and involvement with Terrorism are also very serious issues which highlight the problems which an unprofessional Bollywood deals with. Sanjay Dutt's story is just the manifestation of the deep nexus between Movies, Media, Mafia, Politics and Terror.

And yet Dutt's story is of individual strength, grit and overcoming hardship and emotional stress. I personally have great respect to Sanjay Dutt - there are few celebrities who have the moral courage to own up to their mistakes and even serve a prison term for them. Most celebrities - Salman Khan's case being the most illustrious example of this - shirk responsibility for their sins and use their money power and social connections to escape punishment. Sanjay Dutt is a lone exception - clearly, the values imbibed from Sunil Dutt and Nargis show in his conduct.

And that is all the more reason why I think Sanju is a gross injustice and a lost opportunity for Sanjay Dutt. HIs story deserved a much better treatment, much more effort and attention to detail. It is also a disrespect to the fountainhead Sunil Dutt - a self-made man who rose to great heights as an actor, then a politician - two murky professions by standards of personal conduct - and yet remained a human being par excellence all his life.

I hope a more conscious director, a couple of years later, picks up the subject again - applies the right faculties at remaking this story into what it actually is than the guffawed caricature that Rajkumar Hirani made it into.
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