SANJU Review – An Emotional Tribute to Bollywood Bad Boy

SANJU Review - An Emotional Tribute to Bollywood Bad Boy
SANJU Review - An Emotional Tribute to Bollywood Bad Boy

The career of Bollywood megastar Sanjay Dutt has been the rockiest of rides. Born to Nargis, iconic figurehead of 1957’s Mother India, Dutt’s initial breakthrough was stymied by drink, drugs and womanising, and subsequent comebacks separated by stretches of prison time. His air of disrepute bolstered 2006’s terrific comedy Lage Raho Munna Bhai, where Dutt played a heavy nagged towards virtue by Gandhi’s ghost: the gags there had the ring of hard truth. That film’s director Rajkumar Hirani now brings us a decidedly soft and authorised-looking biopic featuring boyish pin-up Ranbir Kapoor as the roguish colossus, which to British eyes seems like recruiting, say, Men’s Hour lynchpin Tim Samuels to play Ray Winstone.

Sanju is Bollywood’s most controversial star Sanjay Dutt’s journey. It traces his life from his debut film to his drug addiction days, him being labelled as a terrorist to finally getting his name cleared. And yes, they forgot the first daughter, Trishala, and his two other wives.

The film had all the right ingredients – the winning combination of Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Raju Hirani and co-writer Abhijat Joshi, who entertained us with films like ‘3 Idiots’, ‘PK’ and ‘Lage Raho Munna Bhai’, a brilliant actor in Ranbir Kapoor, an ensemble cast – but something is still missing.

Many had reservations about the film being sympathetic in portraying Sanjay’s life, and it does fall into the trap. In the first five-minute conversation of Sanjay Dutt with his wife we are introduced to the thought that his life has been wrongly reported in the media. Now, he seeks an author to write his biography.

SANJU Review - An Emotional Tribute to Bollywood Bad Boy

Ranbir Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, Vicky Kaushal, Dia Mirza, Jim Sarbh, Manisha Koirala, Anushka Sharma, Sonam Kapoor, Boman Irani

In actuality, Kapoor proves a lightweight film’s strongest suit: he’s accumulated enough muscle mass, the bags under the eyes that speak to late-night licentiousness, even a measure of Dutt’s bad-boy swagger. Everything else about this hagiography intends to make the character look good. Sanju opens with third Dutt’s wife Manyata (Dia Mirza) persuading an initially sceptical journalist (Anushka Sharma) to tell her suicidal hubby’s side of the story, and that’s exactly what this script does, generating nigh-on three hours of self-justification. The drugs were the actor’s way of escaping his father’s control and his mother’s decline. The women? He was irresistible and broken-hearted. The guns? There for protection. The infamy? Blame the press.

There’s a certain old-school comic nous about an early mix-up involving women and whisky (“I was enjoying an 18-year-old on the terrace…”), but it’s otherwise sad to see an irreverent talent like Hirani tidying up generally unruly legend, and trying to reframe a lot of grimly male misbehaviour as simple misunderstanding. At a moment when film industries worldwide are having an overdue rethink of their relationship to star privilege, an ambiguous life such as this might have offered up a cautionary tale, or at the very least some learning curve. What we get instead is a patchwork of feeble evasions and celebratory elaborations.

While Sanjay repeatedly fails in his life, his father stands by him like a rock but there aren’t any stand-out scenes that we took home with us. In fact, a speech in the film that is meant to be a closure for the troubled father-son relationship fails to connect. Ditto with few other dialogues in the film – they are lazy to the point where actors like Manisha Koirala, Vicky Kaushal, Paresh Rawal deliver them without much conviction.

SANJU Review - An Emotional Tribute to Bollywood Bad Boy

Vicky Kaushal shares most of the screen time with Ranbir Kapoor in the film. We are introduced to a stranger in the States, who goes on to become his best friend. He makes regular appearances in his life, mirroring the wrong doings and tries to correct him. But he shamelessly plays to the Gujarati stereotypes of saying ‘snakes’ instead of ‘snacks’ and ‘sex-speare’ for ‘Shakespeare’.

The film repeatedly engages in media bashing till the last song, ‘Ab Bas Ho Gaya’ where Sanjay Dutt makes an appearance himself. Sure, while few sections of the media do engage in spicy gossips, that can’t be the central theme of a mainstream Bollywood film. After all, he isn’t a villain only because of media.

Manisha Koirala is adorable as Nargis Dutt. Other supporting cast, Anushka Sharma, Dia Mirza and Sonam Kapoor do their job to the point, but this is Kapoor and Kaushal’s film.

Ultimately, the film avoids indulging too much on the movie star persona, but let’s not deny our obsession with the private lives of the rich and famous. The cast in the end delivers a rare insight to their human side.

Enjoy Sanjay shaking a leg with a very dapper looking Kapoor in the end credits.

SANJU Review - An Emotional Tribute to Bollywood Bad Boy

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