As Sanju opens, a chap called DN Tripathi reads aloud from a book he has written on Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt to the man himself. In that passage, Tripathi has drawn parallels between the lives of Bapu and Baba. It is a clever line to take in a hagiography since Bapu, of course, is the father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi, Baba/Sanju Baba is Dutt’s nickname, and the actor’s most popular screen role till date has been of a modern-day Gandhi devotee. Far from being flattered by the comparison, Dutt is appalled and throws Tripathi out of the house.
Dutt/Baba is on the lookout for a biographer, you see, and what this interaction conveys is that he wants to tell the unadulterated, undiluted truth. The scene offers a precis of what Sanju wants you to believe it is: an honest account of a controversial star. The fact though is that this is one among many moments of insincerity in the film. Because Sanju, writer-editor-director Rajkumar Hirani’s biopic of Sanju Baba, is anything but honest.
Sanju is the story of Sanjay Dutt, Bollywood superstar, acclaimed actor, convicted criminal, son of the screen legend Nargis and the much-respected actor-activist-politician Sunil Dutt. The film skips Dutt Jr’s childhood and takes us through his work on his debut film, his mother’s illness, his rocky relationship with his father, his alcoholism and drug addiction, the allegations of involvement in the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts, his arrest under the draconian and now lapsed TADA, the acquittal on terror charges and conviction under the Arms Act, his jailing and ultimate release.
Hirani does all this through a well-chosen narrative device: Sanjay Dutt trying to convince an acclaimed London-based biographer called Winnie Diaz to make him her next subject, while she parallelly investigates his claims about himself. The words are Dutt’s, but hey, they are all being verified by Diaz, so you gotta buy into them. Right?
Wrong. Abhijat Joshi and Hirani – who are credited with Sanju’s story, screenplay and dialogues – have cherrypicked facts and bathed their selectiveness in large doses of affectionate indulgence for their protagonist. For instance, we are told that Dutt acquired three AK-56 rifles and bullets without a licence out of fear for his Dad’s and his sisters’ safety following threats to Dutt Sr for his missionary work among Muslim riot victims in 1992-93 in Mumbai. This is a claim Dutt had made on the record in real life. However, the film fails to mention that he had also gone on the record to admit that he already owned three licensed firearms which, he reportedly told the police, he purchased because of his love for hunting. So why did he need any more weapons? (Note: he later withdrew the latter statement.)
Messrs Hirani and Joshi play this game throughout the film.
They are also wise in their choice of issues they do not whitewash. For instance, they make no bones about Dutt’s substance abuse, his sexual promiscuity, his unprofessionalism, his irresponsible behaviour towards his parents and colleagues, and his lies in these matters. But all this is portrayed in a cutesefied, comedified fashion to a fandom that has already forgiven him for these widely known facts anyway, each one carefully presented in such a manner as to elicit an “aww, cho chweet” reaction from us.