I walked into the theatre on a rainy Sunday evening, saw the swelling crowds and remembered Rajkumar Hirani’s magical ability to drag families back into the cinema. Sanju, is the third film (with Hirani as director) where Sanjay Dutt plays a major character. Except that this time, instead of playing Munnabhai, the story is strung together from several anecdotes from Dutt’s own life. And it isn’t Sanjay Dutt, but Ranbir Kapoor who plays the main protagonist.
If I were to recommend watching Sanju, it will be for Ranbir Kapoor, who completely steals the show. This man is a chameleon! As if it wasn’t hard enough playing another person, he plays an actor who still is fresh in the minds of audiences. The physical transformation of Ranbir Kapoor, through his mannerisms and the use of prosthetics is magical. From the sloppy young actor in Rocky who can’t get lip syncs right, to the muscular Khalnayak with long hair, to the droopy-eyed, grey-haired Dutt in prison with his receding hairline, he gets it all right. And when he slouches his shoulders and gets the Sanju Baba swagger right, you feel like maro-ing one or two seetis for his effort.
I wouldn’t go so far to call the film Sanjay Dutt’s autobiography. It is a random selection of some episodes of Dutt’s life revolving around his involvement in the TADA case. A lot of important events and people are selectively left out.
The focus is on the father-son bond. The scenes between father and son are well-written. Sanjay Dutt’s respect for his father, borders on fear and awe. The pain on a patriotic father’s face on hearing his son being called a terrorist, makes for some emotional viewing. I particularly liked the scene just before the senior Dutt passes away.
Paresh Rawal plays Sunil Dutt- and I didn’t quite enjoy his performance. His strong Gujarati accent is jarring, when he is trying to be Punjabi in his mannerisms. In one scene, Rawal reprimands his son saying that cigarettes affect the way one’s face shows up on screen. And somehow I felt that Paresh Rawal couldn’t quite portray the goodness and genuineness of Sunil Dutt as a person on screen.
The other angle to Hirani’s screenplay is the relationship with Dutt’s friend Kamlesh who stands by him through the bad times. Vicky Kaushal shines through as the Gujarati friend from the States and some scenes of them goofing together are funny. In typical Rajkumar Hirani style, there are dollops of humour and emotion in good measure throughout the film and hardly a boring moment.
Anushka Sharma looks stunning as Dutt’s biographer with coloured contact lenses and a new hairdo, but has nothing much to do. Hirani drags his friends- Boman Irani and Arshad Warsi- into small cameos, which weave into the narrative well. Sonam Kapoor and Dia Mirza have small roles which they do justice to. I didn’t quite come back enamoured by Manisha Koirala as Nargis. She seemed to be putting in too much effort to be her. Jim Sarbh as Zubin Mistry, the creepy friend who drags Dutt into drugs, caught my eye again after Padmaavat, with his peculiar lisp and the glint in his eyes.
Except for “Kar har maidan fateh” I didn’t enjoy the songs too much. I hear they chopped off one song- which is good, as they didn’t contribute much to the story.
So what did I like about Sanju? The narrative in particular. It portrays Sanjay Dutt as a flawed person, who makes wrong choices in life. The struggle of the father to bring him back to the right path, and the struggle of the son to be a person his father would be proud of- are real and memorable. The film makes no bones about claiming that it is trying to present Sanjay Dutt’s perspective to the people. I did feel his strong need to be right for his father’s sake. He blames the media for this bad boy image, and rubs it in with the song “Baba bolta hai bas ho gaya“.
This is not Rajkumar Hirani’s best work. But only he could write and direct a predictable story about a person who has been in the papers throughout, and present a plausible film to us with flair.
Yet, do watch Sanju for Ranbir Kapoor’s spectacular performance. I swooned over how he got into the skin of Sanjay Dutt. He reminds me how the blend of the right genes can produce the perfect actor.