It is my firm believe that when the producers and the director decides to make a film based on an individual, your account your narration your presentation should be precise especially in a case when the individual has a disturbed life blended with the personal violence, shattered image, serious accusations, drug abuse and complicated relations with the family and friends.
The Indian cinema with many unforgettable celebrities offer scores of background stories which has the required material to translate their lives in the reels. Sanjay Dutt is one such story and when the project was announced, I was excited. But when the news broke that Rajkumar Hirani would be directing this, my court of judgments objected the announcement with a question mark bigger than the one in the headline of the cropped newspaper from the scene.
Because Raju Hirani is known to present the subjects and messages to the viewers with a screenplay which can adjust a well equipped rib-tickling comedy. Munnabhai duology, 3 Idiots and PK worked well with the humor because the stories of all the four films were fictional and flexible enough to bend with a typical Hirani humor.
But Baba’s story is dark, real, serious, traumatic, painful and disturbing. Will Raju Hirani make his first serious film or will his directional artistry of presenting sensitive subjects in a cleverly humorous way, this time on the real subject, will work again?
When the teaser and trailer were released, the presentations didn’t buy me at all. Because the seriousness of the content was glorified and looked entertaining instead of thought-provoking. So I said to myself, let me watch the film first and decide if the biopic justifies.
Now that I have watched on Netflix, I am much convinced to conclude that Sanju is easily one of the worst biographic films I have ever watched. This work is easily Raju’s worst. Raju making Sanju is like Taika Waititi making Thor: Ragnarok.
Sanju is bad, really bad, on many counts. One major reason is that when you watch the film and if you are a good observer, you realize that the motive of this film is to give a visual presentation of Sanjay Dutt by his close friend Raju Hirani concluding “Look guys! he was a bad boy, now he is a good boy, so please forgive him”. Baba doesn’t need to earn his name, people love him, people adore him. He has one of the biggest fan-following among the South Asians on a global stage. So stop being naive and focus on the most sensitive incidents of his life because this film is extremely sympathetic to the actor.
And that is where Sanju disappoints me. The screenplay dreadfully emphasizes on his drug usage and relation with his father than anything. You make a lengthy 160-minute film avoiding many important moments and touching a couple of topics is not a smart move. A director can do a lot of things in a screen time of 160 minutes.
Fine! Sanju has to be a miniseries to focus and touch all the vital portions of his disturbed timeline. Fine! everything cannot be presented in a very limited screen length. The director may have to divide the film into two like Gangs of Wasseypur, or consider sequel or trilogy, or overtake Tamas, LOC Kargil, and Mera Naam Joker to make the longest Hindi-language film ever to justify Baba’s life story. But I am not asking or expecting to somehow show a complete Sanjay Dutt story. At least mention or give the reference of the missing parts.
How disappointing is it to watch only the current wife, Manyata Dutt, but completely ignoring his other two wives? Especially the first one, Richa Sharma, who died of the brain tumor and was mentally disturbed by the rumors of her husband getting married to Madhuri Dixit. Speaking of the latter, Sanjay-Madhuri affair being once the most famous talk of the town got no space in the screenwriting of the film. With this effect, Baba’s eldest daughter Trishala is automatically out of the frame and shows only two young kids from the current wife, Manyata.
It is strange that Baba admits to the biographer to have slept with at least 300 women including the harlots but the director is scared of speaking a few close ones in his life. Neither his off-screen affair with Tina Munim comes to exist nor Madhuri in the film. But a character Ruby is perhaps intermingled to many of his relationships. Ruby is portrayed by Sonam Kapoor in a short role but gives an impressive performance.
Another strange application is Baba’s friendship with a Gujarati New Yorker (based on his real best friend, Paresh Ghelani) to an extent of his being a major supporting role bigger than his father’s in the film but ignoring the popular jigarship with Kumar Gaurav, the actor and friend who risked his acting career and fame requesting his actor-father Rajendra Kumar to give his friend Sanjay Dutt the role of his brother in Mahesh Bhatt‘s Naam. Result? Sanjay Dutt’s good time in acting career began from this film. This Kumar Gaurav is someone about whom Baba once admitted to shedding his blood for him if required. A friend who is even the husband of his sister Namrata has no mention at all.
And Jim Sarbh‘s Borat look-alike character. It was an important role but I wonder if the director forgets to bring him back in the frame after he speaks to the biographer to check Kamlesh. His role ends pretty prematurely.
Only Baba’s father, Sunil Dutt, is the center of attraction from the entire Dutt parivar. Paresh Rawal plays the senior Dutt’s role which is quite an odd choice. Neither the personality nor the voice of Sunil Dutt reminds you of Paresh Rawal. Paresh Rawal’s role wasn’t close to the senior Dutt but was similar to what he did in Paa. Aamir Khan was offered Sunil Dutt’s role which he refused because of Dangal’s shooting. Paresh and Aamir both were bad choices. In fact, it is hard to find someone like Sunil Dutt to play that role. Surendra Pal perhaps. Unfortunately, there are no heart-melting scenes of the onscreen father-son to take back, neither the seaport scene nor the magic-hug scene.
Baba’s sisters hardly spoke any dialogues in the film. The mother-son onscreen chemistry is shockingly overlooked. Manisha Koirala playing his famous actress-mother Nargis has to be the only satisfying selection in the entire casting. Not only Manisha does resemble but even acts like Nargis so well and alas, she is there for only a few minutes.
At least 1993 Bombay bombings made it into the script among the traumatic incidents of Dutt’s life but even here, Raju Hirani was not interested to go deeper in details and tell us about Sanjay Dutt’s connection with Abu Salem or any terrorist involved in the tragic incident.
BAD USE OF WOMANIZING HUMOR
It is quite bizarre to observe how womanizing is taken so light because it is a sympathetic script based on Baba to clean his image. If this film was based on a notorious criminal, the confession of completing a triple century on the bed would have dropped a nuclear weapon on the viewers. On the contrary, when Baba confesses, Manyata chuckles and the biographer is impressed and it looks way odd for entertainment. Not only this, Baba’s one-night stand with his best friend’s girlfriend hardly makes any sense. This incident is true as per Paresh Ghelani but the portrayal of a well-cultured Gujarati girl shy of wearing a nightie for her man at Baba’s house suddenly turning into Venus bold enough to shamelessly expose her skin to Baba and show a willingness to make out with him looked overdramatic. From Sita to Monroe in 40 seconds, a typical Bollywood u-turn for the viewers! And what is this five-minute sequence even doing in the film in the first place? Was this sequence relevant?
These 160 minutes could have been better utilized or reduced if Raju Hirani would not have pulled a Taika Waititi. Needless and forced humor damaged the screenplay. Not only Gujarati girl scene, many irrelevant scenes like a sleepy politician, over exaggerating Tripathi’s Bapu-Sanju comparison, hospital scene with the death of Ruby’s father, Ruby’s change of heart over her favorite animal, Sanju’s scenes with Bandu Dada also made it in the cut.
RANBIR KAPOOR AS SANJAY DUTT
Now about Ranbir Kapoor as Sanjay Dutt. See, the first matter of fact is to admit that if there is anyone who can play Baba’s role is Baba himself because finding an actor to play him is most likely unworkable. So the selection of Ranbir for the role is by far the closest a director can think of because Ranbir naturally carries two exceptional qualities of Baba. One is height and the other is the voice.
No offense but sometimes I feel if Ranbir is Baba’s son more than Chintu‘s. Ali Asgar has to be Chintu’s son. Anyway, the struggle over being Baba has to be tougher because on the screen we do see Ranbir giving his best Sanjay Dutt impression as much as he can. Height and voice naturally helped Ranbir. The rest was the bravura of the makeup and styling artist whoever he/she was.
Let’s not say if this is Ranbir’s best performance to date because I believe his performance in Rockstar and Barfi was far superior to this. Because it is all about the execution of the role. Ranbir’s presentation of pain and grief in Rockstar is more compliant than in Sanju. His role in Barfi was more challenging and handicapped.
Ranbir with the gifted height and voice had strong assistance of makeup, styling and costume designing helping further to assume him Baba. But after all the tools and despite carefully adopting Baba’s mannerism, Ranbir reminds Ranbir.
There is one really intense scene in the jail when the pot overflows. Baba loses patience and gets emotionally disturbed. He repeatedly knocks the door while the water touches his feet. This is the time when I wait to see how Ranbir as Baba loses his patience and go maniac. But then the scene ends and moves two months later?!?!
It is not that the film is completely nil. Being a biopic, it do has some accuracies like Baba ticking all the drugs while filling the form, trying to commit suicide, the judge clearing him from terrorism, hiding heroin in his shoes while traveling with his sisters, Nargis dying a few days before Rocky‘s premiere, Tabu giving Filmfare Award for Munnabhai MBBS etc. Makeup, styling and costume designing are also top notch.
But then so many technical mistakes like chronological inconsistencies over most of the vehicles used in different timelines. Look at the KFC chain behind Baba during his struggle to reach New York. That is the current branding philosophy of the chain applied. That scene is from the 80s and KFC branding philosophy was extremely different back then.
Unnecessary tracks stretch the length and the background score is extremely ordinary. Leaves me towards Raju’s direction which I believe is the weakest of all the films he has directed. The story and the screenplay don’t buy me at all.
The filmmakers have to decide if the Indian cinema is ready for biopics. And when I say biopics, that means an honest and accurate biopics. Another point which comes to my mind is that the director must believe that a biopic can win the audience even without being concerned to entertain and box-office results.
I must appreciate that Ranbir did his best being Baba. He is a very talented actor. I am sure if project Sanju would have gone to the right man, may have pulled the right strings.