One of the most reviled persons in contemporary Indian history…How to make an emotionally attaching yet commercial film out his life? Raju Hirani is definitely the right director to take up this challenge. Because he has questioned revered institutions like teaching (in 3 Idiots), medicine (Munna bhai MBBS), and religion (PK) in his earlier films and turned them into cult classics.

But the story of a guy branded terrorist, drug addict, womanizer; who did years of hard time for his rash and irresponsible behaviour… Is Hirani asking for too much in this bargain?

Sanjay Dutt lived a life larger for even film stars. The roller coaster of his life was so volatile that fusing all of it within a single movie was difficult to imagine. His life was filled with luxuries, adulation, love affairs, mistakes, all kinds of vices… He was truly the Khal Nayak of the hindi film industry. When he fell, he fell so hard that his much respected star father also politician, his ‘Mother India’, his family, friends…None could redeem him. Did Hirani really think that he could unveil a different Sanjay Dutt here?

It is not a hidden, or a different Dutt that comes to the fore here. But the many different epithets that come readily to common public when they hear Sanjay Dutt’s name do not take the center stage. Persons expecting some explosive secrets being revealed would be thoroughly disappointed. Only two major factors, for each half, form the bulk and thread here. Drugs for the first half, terrorist allegations for the second…Rest of the elements…love, career, friendship, relationship with father and mother, marriage, his personal moral code…All of them become passing references or reach up to become narratives woven around or gravitate to become the main supporting basis for the ongoing struggle at that time.

Either the funny opening scene of a bad biographer being ridiculed by Sanju, or the hilarious episode with first love Ruby and her family… Every scene subtly portrays some quality or character straight of Sanju. First scene shows his honesty and realistic approach. The love story shows the engulfing influence of drugs on his young life and his self destructive psyche burdened under a heavily moralistic and fearsome father.

As the grip of drugs tightens on Sanju’s life, his real relationships get severed in the process. With mother gone, lover gone, father’s dejection with him and a career that is yet to take shape… It is the chance friendship with Kamlesh that becomes the only anchor post for Sanju’s life. As Sanjay finally gathers his inner strength and is winning over the drugs, the victorious break to the first half is rudely disrupted with dear friend Kamlesh breaking off with him. A perfect closure to one narrative and a perfect setting up to another engaging episode!

The commercial success Sanju gained, the many victories, many affairs and the adulation gained…All of it do not get more than a cursory mention in the following episode. The narrative goes straight to post Babri Masjid demolition situation and the following Mumbai blasts. Dutt’s acquisition of the AK 56 is portrayed as a rash, whimsical decision taken with the sole concern for his family’s safety, ore importantly, his saint of a father’s safety. It is the witch-hunt that ensued that takes the center stage here. Quite cleverly, Hirani steers clear of the Hindu nationalist forces ever increasing grip on national politics, more particularly in Mumbai. He chooses the media persecution as the main villain in this phase of Sanju’s life!

With the honest legal battle he waged, the contents of the final judgement, his own confession, and the fact that he did go through few years of imprisonment… Sanju’s defence comes out honest and truthful. The agony he went through during all this time, the nightmares faced by his family, particularly the ever patriotic and secular father…This is a fate you won’t wish even for your enemies! With no friendly shoulder of Kamlesh to fall back on, loosing his father too midway, how Sanju wades through this cyclone and finally emerges a better human being, more forgiving, more duty minded, more humble, winning all hearts, including Winnie’s and Kamlesh forms the conclusion of the movie.

The finesse of Hirani’s craft can be written at length. To make it shortest, as drugs are the main story of the first half, for the general audience to feel more focussed against this formless villain, he brings in Jim Sarbh as the drug peddler. By beating him and pushing him out, the first half concludes well with that chapter fully taken care of. For the second half, Hirani chose ‘irresponsible journalism’ as the villainous force. ‘Allegedly’, ‘as per sources’, ‘question ‘marks’… become the shadowy figures to box against. This shadow boxing is perfectly entwined in the trauma of losing the father and winning the long lost friend again, making it all an emotionally heavy narrative. Another brilliant narrative motif used by Hirani is the weaving of songs and musicians as Ustads into the story! Watching Sanju singing alone, or standing beside his father…With the final coda too reinforcing it…The songs become a guiding force, embodiment of his father’s and his own life philosophy.

Other elements like bringing back Munna bhai’s radio, unveiling the entire story from the eyes of a writer’s questioning, outsider’s perspective, the ‘intaa’ comedy…All add up to the body and make the film an organic whole.

Coming to the actors, Ranbir Kapoor is already one of the best actors we have ever seen. Yet this film is a landmark in his career because he has to present the human aspect of this person tried as a co conspirator in Mumbai blasts! Compared to Sanjay Dutt, Ranbir looks little too fine and I had the question nagging in my head if he could bring out the naked honesty, rawness in Dutt’s eye’s and personality. To my surprise, with the able help of make-up, graphic effects and his own reincarnation into Sanju’s body language and mannerisms, Ranbir far exceeded expectations.

For a seasoned performer like Paresh Rawal too, this character was a big test and he proved his mettle again. The biggest surprise packet was young actor Vicky Kaushal as Kamlesh. Though he did not have the burden of portraying a much seen, larger than life persona, standing beside actors like Ranbir and Paresh and making his mark is no mean feat! His realisation scene and the reunion with Sanju in the climax are among the best scenes Hirani ever filmed.

Apart from seasoned names like Abhijat Joshua, AR Rahman, Sonu Nijam, Sunidhi Chauhan, Shreya Ghoshal and few others, young talents like Nikita Gandhi make the music and songs an integral part of this movie experience. As is Ravi Varman’s camera too. So, finally…One of the most reviled persons in recent history, is just a human being who could do anything for his dearest friends, who feared for his family, who did even the most unimaginable things to please his father, and who was NOT his many love affairs, or the many mistakes he made, but the person he is despite all these!

Yes, Hirani did leave out many juicy portions of Dutt’s life, but who are we to say which are the most important parts of his life? May be there is another book/ film’s worth life still to happen, and it might present a different perspective!?

This film may not be considered to be on the same pedestal as Hirani’s other films, but this is not a complete fiction but a biography, I might remind. I doubt if any other filmmaker could have done a better job out of this material. For all this and for an experience that may not be forgotten too easily, claps to Ranbir, Vicky, Anushka and Hirani’s team!

– Raghu Ram Bandi