What can one say about Sanjay Dutt, that the multitudes of headlines, columns, think pieces, testimonials, and even an unauthorized biography, haven’t let us know? Dutt or Baba as he’s more fondly referred to by his fandom, ranging from colleagues in the film fraternity, to the man on the street, has always been a darling of the masses, in spite of his many misadventures with the law.
Therefore, when Raju Hirani, a director, credited with giving Baba’s career a new direction with the Munnabhai series, just as it seemed to be losing the momentum it’d regained with Vaastav, decided to make a biopic of the man, one did sit up and wonder, is anything left for us to know about the man who is Sanju to some, and Baba to others? And more importantly, will it lay out the bare truth about its subject?
The year is 2013, and Sanjay (Ranbir Kapoor) is apprehensive as it’s the day of the court’s final verdict on a long-running case against him, and to the horror of him and his wife (Diya Mirza), the judge declares that he must go back to jail, but is benevolent enough to grant him a grace period of a month to finish all his pending assignments, before his surrender.
A poorly written hagiography of his makes him realise that he needs to get his story out there to the public, whose perception of him is that of a terrorist who’s been indulged by the system owing to his stature as a celebrity. For this, he needs to convince Winnie Diaz (Anushka Sharma), a famous biographer, that his story is worthy of posterity, a story that not only involves him, but also a stern father (Paresh Rawal), a doting best friend (Vicky Kaushal), a dying mother (Manisha Koirala), and a fight against addiction, the judiciary, and most importantly, against his own demons.
One would be mistaken for thinking that Sanju would be a tongue-in-cheek take on the standard operating procedure that most biopics in India take, by making even the most flawed subject a paragon of virtue, when it opens with Baba yelling at a potential biographer for having written a hagiographic tome on him, even going to the extent of likening him to Gandhi. But that is precisely what the writing team of Rajkumar Hirani and Abhijat Joshi ends up doing here.
While the movie doesn’t shy away from showing us certain unsavoury parts of Dutt’s life, it ends up spending way too much time trying to paint them as the struggles undergone by a boisterous man-child, a man whose only flaw was to be on the wrong side of circumstances, everytime he found himself in trouble. And that is where the movie ends up suffering, as it takes the focus away from the best parts of the screenplay, Baba’s camaraderie with his loved ones.
Ranbir Kapoor, in an author backed role, takes a little time to get things into gear, but finds his groove to give the audience a powerpacked performances, portraying Dutt at different phases of his life, be it a fresh faced debutante, an addict triggered by grief and rebellion, a muscle-headed bad boy, a man trying to repent by trying to be a better son and a better actor, or finally, a man who just wants to be done with his punishment. He gets every nuance right, and in the 2nd half especially, the audience will have a hard time differentiating him from the real Sanju.
Among the supporting cast, it is Vicky Kaushal who in some scenes ends up stealing Kapoor’s thunder, as his good natured best friend, and Manisha Koirala who does a marvellous job of portraying the legendary Nargis, and makes a massive impact in the 1 major scene she’s in. Paresh Rawal is miscast as the venerable Sunil Dutt saab, but to his credit, portrays him with the utmost sensitivity and dignity. Jim Sarbh and Diya Mirza do their parts perfectly, but sadly Anushka, Boman Irani and Sonam Kapoor are wasted in rather inconsequential roles, Boman especially whose part comes across as a very badly done caricature.
To sum it up then, Sanju is an incredible tale of a man who fights against all odds to come out on top, IF you haven’t read the story of Sanjay Dutt. But if you have, you’ll agree with the song that plays over the end credits which goes “Baba, ab bas ho gaya”.