Sanju: One man; NOT so many lives

Opened: 29 June 2018
Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, Vicky Kaushal, Manisha Koirala, Dia Mirza, Sonam Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Jim Sarbh
Director: Rajkumar Hirani
Producers: Rajkumar Hirani, Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Rating: ★★★

So Hirani finally writes and directs a movie post his successful Aamir-phase and works with an actor who’s still relevant, but’s coming off of a slew of flops and on the verge of being passed off as another side-effect of ‘nepotism’ in the Hindi film industry. He goes back to the story of the actor with whom he tasted success first, Sanjay Dutt, and tries to portray his life in a reverse mode; reel versus real versus reel. He also attempts to visit the Rashoman effect, in a very diluted way of course, via narratives from different folks, be they the media, his biographer, or a newspaper editor or his father and finally, Sanjay Dutt’s current wife, Manyata Dutt. And in the process, inspite of the known fact and that needle pricking at the brain of the audience’s mind that this movie is being helmed by a guy who’s close to the protagonist, Hirani does prove what everyone wished to be the truth in their hearts, but were skeptical owing to his association with Aamir; that Hirani is, basically, a fine story-teller and that his association with Aamir’s audiences’ pulse-grabbing instincts and respect to the real heart and art of movie-making, that of holding-in the viewers with  the art of marrying story-telling to the visuals, only added to Hirani’s innate strengths, and not hid any weaknesses.

 Ranbir Kapoor is PHENOMENAL in the film nailing each nuance with aplomb

Ranbir Kapoor is PHENOMENAL in the film nailing each nuance with aplomb

Hirani takes the route of tragi-comedy and comes up with an engrossing film – for the most part. At a 168 minutes run-time, there are times when one’s exasperated at the lengths – literally and figuratively— to which the movie tries to depict Sanjay Dutt as an emotional, easily squeezable life-sponge that would pour emotions out at every fate-screwed machination life threw at him, albeit, with a strong exterior of a body-builder that deceptively cried/cries ‘macho.’ (This is a man who supposedly slept with 350 women and never had a case of Herpes or any STD; go figure.)  But then, Hirani also leaves no stone unturned in showing that whatever problems Dutt faced, he was a privileged person when he started out and even during his later years! A scene from the Rocky shoot has the senior Dutt admonishing Sanjay that he’s enjoying life’s riches and privileges since he’s been given that on a platter, and smoking and drinking would, one day, reveal his true self since the camera never lies, and it’s all going to show up on his face. However, Sanjay still smokes thanks to his buddy, a lisping but effective Zubin Mistry played by Jim Sarbh. And Sanjay’s first-world problem is, of course, the fact that his father supposedly humiliated him in front of the entire set due to his poor lip-syncing abilities: Or the fact that his sisters got the praise when he hit sixes while they scored fours in the family cricket match-outing.   (The Rocky shoot scene is actually a brilliant one where Hirani again succumbs to his inherent story-telling capabilities in a tragi-comic mode and makes a spot-boy named Ganpat act literally with feminine movements and reactions.) Hirani scores two goals there: 1) If a spot-boy named Ganpat who obviously is poor can conjure up feminine reactions inspite of his stomach-growling because he has to do whatever the boss tells him to do to retain his job, why can’t a privileged brat like Sanjay act properly? 2) Sanjay Dutt fell prey to drugs/alcohol way sooner and thought he could achieve greater heights professionally  and personally since he was able to romance even Gabbar Singh after a smoke! That made him see God!). Hirani is actually relentless in hitting home the fact that Sanjay’s got chances after chances; life after life— personally, professionally, and politically.

As mentioned before, Hirani leaves no stone unturned in depicting Sanjay as a troubled-soul but someone who knows his worth; And so, we are hammered with that initial scene where he gets a biographer to write about him and he compares Sanjay with Gandhi – no, not the off-shoots of Gandhi surname, Feroze or Indira Gandhi, but the original Gandhi, the Mahatma. He hits him with chappals and burns the book, and then tries to commit suicide. Takeaway for the audience? Sanjay knows that he is an incomplete and damaged human being, YOU get to know that too and it’s high time you stamp it on your mind.

The first-half of the film is devoted to Sanjay’s troubled life. His devil-may-care attitude and his getting sucked-up into a vortex of his own wrong-doings where he doesn’t see or care for anything beyond his own life of getting high. The second half, finally, deals with the father-son relationship and underlines what Hirani has been talking about: that this’s essentially a father-son story. And that is actually the undoing as well as one of the more honest points of the movie. Sanjay’s relationship with his mother, Nargis, as portrayed by Manisha Koirala is shown so pathetically that it is painful to watch. Hirani makes it painful to watch her, especially when trying to depict her act where she hides her disease by saying that she’s got a role in a Hollywood movie and is going to New York. (Koirala was always a mediocre and continues to be a mediocre actress: She was only hyped up due to her association with the likes of Vinod Chopra, Bhansali, and Mani Ratnam. And to think that once upon a time she was seen as competitor to someone like Madhuri Dixit is laughable to its core.) Half of the blame, of course, lies with Hirani and Joshi who write such a half-baked role for her in order to make this film a ‘father-son’ saga.

 The film loses steam midway and omits important aspects of Sanjay Dutt's story

The film loses steam midway and omits important aspects of Sanjay Dutt’s story

The second half of the film is then devoted to the father-son relationship and keeps focusing on Sunil Dutt’s attempts at fighting for his son to not being labeled a ‘terrorist.’ Here, the film is kind of in the doldrums where it veers between what Kumar Gaurav look-alike Vivek Kaushal’s perspective of Sanjay Dutt would be like and the public’s. Hirani here, literally, after trying the Kurosawa route, tries ‘Sex-Speare’ route via Kaushal’s Kamli hearing only a part of the entire narrative and staying away from Dutt for a decade. Hirani goes into the caricaturist mode and gives Dutt a clean-chit with regard to his dealings with the underworld. It starts with random folks calling him up and threatening him, his ’Dad’, and his sisters. So, he calls up his gansta-friends and tells them that he needs the AK-56 rifle ONLY till the riots last and he doesn’t need the ‘extra’ ones. So you  decide? Was Sanjay dumb, emotional, or simply a crafty criminal? Hirani knows, and wants you ALSO to believe in that; but he deceptively throws up that question to you as though  it is a question!  Hirani also goes down the path of false equivalency—something that he already accomplished in PK where he equated Islamist terrorism with rightwing, ‘Hindu terrorism.’ Here, he tries to again haphazardly bringing onto the screen the ‘wedding’ of the under-world. So you have ‘serious’ criminals like Abu Salem who are equated with cartoonish ‘Hindu’ Dons: One is named Bandu Boss! (Was Hirani trying to rhyme a Hindi-language abuse?). And to top it all, it’s played by Sayaji Shinde – another brilliant actor who we have lost to the horrific Telugu film industry – playing one of his umpteen robotic roles in Tamil and Telugu films with a prominent red ‘tika’ on his fore-head. (Remember the phase in the ‘90s when Chotta Rajan was projected as a ‘Hindu’ underworld answer to the ‘Muslim’  Dawood Ibrahim-Kaskar, whose unknown address was in Clifton Road, Karachi?)

Coming to the technical aspects of this film, this is one of the ‘richest’ Hirani films in terms of technology. Ravi Varman’s cinematography is brilliant in the way it captures and oscillates between Sanjay’s drug-pumped, mind-exploding psychedelic adventures on the neon-lit streets of Bombay of the ‘80s and the normalcy of life in Bombay’s Nargis Dutt Road or the humble abode of Kamlesh in New York’s suburbs. (The title credit-sequence itself has SANJU transcribed over the sea-waters of the Arabian, indicating a wave-flogged, turbulent life.) However, there are some gaffes when one shows NO twin-towers in the ‘80s of New York City while there’s one single-tower standing after 2001! (Varman literally captures beautifully the craziness of a drug and alcohol-drenched mind; the scenes of Sanjay riding a plant or flowers blooming astride his imaginary mind are both reductive and enthralling cognizant of the fact that we are talking of the ‘imagination’ of a drug-induced mind in the ‘80s!)

Coming to the performances, Ranbir is great in the initial portions of the movie when he plays the young Dutt uptil Dutt’s Khal-Nayak phase. He gets everything bang-on; the swag, the accent, the slant-walk, the fake-machismo. Once he starts venturing into the jail-stuff, he lets slip a little, wee-bit little, where the Dutt-skin sheds and the Ranbir skin takes over. Of course, he recovers via mannersims, like the scene when he walks out of Yerwada jail, but by that time, one feels, the audience has noticed some kind of a slip. Overall, after his brilliant turn in Tamasha, this is one of his most recognizable performances. Kudos.

Vicky Kaushal, however, takes the cake here: And may I dare to say, he excels, on an equal, or at an even greater wavelength than Ranbir. I never thought, in my lifetime, I would see an actor as brilliant as Amitabh in a drunken scene. Kaushal here, in one scene, if not better, has definitely equaled Amitabh. His scene where he confronts Sunil Dutt drunkenly begging him to talk to his son as a friend is a master-piece. His mental dislocation, his pain, everything is brilliantly conveyed through his act. This is a masterclass in acting for decades. Paresh Rawal as Sunil Dutt is good, in the sense that he essays a text-book do-gooder. But then, maybe that’s the pressure Sanjay Dutt was under: To be as unblemished and productive as his father. While that might have inspired him in later stages of his life, Sanjay might have wilted under the legacy of Sunil Dutt during his younger days. Anushka Sharma is passable with a fake-British accent. Dia Mirza too, is passable: However, even in her few minutes of screen time, Hirani is good enough a filmmaker to convey that she is someone who has accepted Dutt for who or what he is.

 Vicky Kaushal manages to steal the thunder in a few key scenes

Vicky Kaushal manages to steal the thunder in a few key scenes

The biggest controversy, or the biggest hint that this film is a ‘whitewash’ for Sanjay Dutt would be Hirani’s over-drive in blaming the media for labeling Dutt an anti-national or/and a terrorist. For the last 30 minutes of the movie, Hirani literally goes into an over-drive talking of how the media treated Sanjay Dutt, and how the media IS WRONG. Sanjay Dutt from Yeravda hosts a la-Munnabhai talk-show, where he talks of the ‘masaledar’ news-shows and people passing judgements through small, ‘shouting-windows,’ where folks don’t understand the difference between a question-mark and a full-stop, and where, a certain guy from the media, just because he doesn’t get a picture from Dutt after he walks out from a jail, calls him a ‘terrorist’ to get his attention and a photo. To top it all, rather, to make it worse, Hirani has an item song during the end-credits – I don’t remember Hirani having an end-credit item-song in any of his other movies; do correct me if I am wrong – with ‘white’ women of-course, trashing the media on walls, and well, calling the fourth-estate something that deserves to be dialogued on a potty. After 140 minutes of better film-making, Hirani and Dutt and company decide to go on an over-drive blaming the media for not able to take a decision between a question-mark and a full-stop. And that is where people would – and rightly so – doubt Hirani’s credibility when it comes to portraying an ‘honest’ depiction of Sanjay Dutt! But then, if this is Sanjay Dutt’s ‘perspective’ and Hirani’s absorption after his late-night visits to Sanjay’s house, how can any viewer complain or diagnose?

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