Can Sanjay do a Bachchan?

Unfortunately, I will be in Prague when this year’s most awaited Bollywood movie, Sanju, releases. I will definitely catch it on my return, but, till then, I can talk about the man on whose life the film is based. For starters, it takes a lot of courage to endorse a book or movie based on one’s life. If that life is a troubled one, it only makes it harder. In Sanjay Dutt’s case, I am still wondering why he agreed. Can’t be the money. Can’t be the fame. He has both. Regardless of how the film is received, at least for this generation of fans, Sanjay’s controversial life will make the mind boggle. Going by the trailer, the movie has boldly tackled all that he has dealt with in his 50-plus years.

As a viewer, I do not care all that much about 100 per cent accuracy. What is more important is the telling of the tale—has Rajkumar Hirani succeeded in capturing Sanjay’s agony and ecstasy? Will viewers feel his pain, understand his confusions, accept his choices and, finally, forgive him his myriad transgressions? Will talented actor Ranbir Kapoor deliver a convincing performance as Sanjay Dutt? Now, that is the toughest call. Consider the challenge—a big star playing the role of an iconic hero from his father’s generation. Tough! Ranbir has a lot riding on the film. Almost as much as Sanjay himself.

The last time I ran into the gentle giant was at a Japanese restaurant in South Mumbai. He lumbered in with his wife Maanyata and a strange looking man. Sanjay, whose father I knew, and whose sister Priya I meet frequently, is a great favourite of my husband. Sanjay and he share a passion for watches.

Illustration: Binesh Sreedharan Illustration: Binesh Sreedharan

There is something loveable about this bumbling man-child. He appears vulnerable and gullible, bewildered and lost, and it is these very traits that make him so popular. Affectionately addressed as ‘Baba’ by the film fraternity, Sanjay generates a great deal of goodwill across the board. He is known to be crazily generous; it is believed that his wife is the one in control of his life and finances.

‌Today, Sanjay is like an ageing lion, past his prime for sure, but still the king of the jungle. It is a unique position to be in. Most of his contemporaries are treated like has-beens, and are being offered character roles. He alone continues to loom larger than life in movies that showcase his special talents. I watched Bhoomi recently, and could not take my eyes off Sanjay, playing a single father to the luminous Aditi Rao Hydari, who was playing a rape victim. It is not a brilliant film. I found it a tad tedious, and old fashioned. I watched it for Sanjay. In the first half he plays against type, as a sincere, humble, working class man. It was in the second half that Sanjay came into his own, combining his old action hero moves with an avenging father’s rage. That is when I thought, Sanjay, more than any other hero, could make the transition and slip into Amitabh Bachchan’s senior citizen superstar league—provided he works on his discipline. If Bachchan is still up there, it is because of the professionalism he brings to the job. While I secretly hope Sanju Baba never actually grows up and starts behaving his age—for that will make him like everybody else—for the sake of his fans, I want him to continue acting in his specially packaged projects. He deserves the sort of comic turns he is so brilliant at. Nobody pulls off goofy lines and corny dialogues like Sanjay does. Nobody dances as clumsily, either!

If Ranbir succeeds in capturing even 70 per cent of Sanjay’s unique appeal, the entire exercise would be worth watching. I have seen Sanjay’s life fall apart. And, I have rejoiced when he put it back together. As he inches towards his sixth decade, I get the feeling that he will prove to the world what a competent actor he is.