Let’s first get this out of the way. Rajkumar Hirani’s Sanju is not a biopic. It is propaganda, an overt appeal to listen to Sanjay Dutt’s side of the story. Hirani skims conveniently over all parts of the man’s life that don’t lead up to this single point – his name is Sanjay, and he is not a terrorist. Bad boy – yes, womanizer – yes, undeserving son and brother – yes, but not a terrorist. In fact, the movie does nothing to hide the agenda. The story is framed around a desperate Dutt trying to woo a biographer to ‘tell the world his defense’. Hirani weaves Sanju’s defense through the 180-minute saga. I was prepared to hate it for two reasons – I am not a fan of the Hirani style of over telling stories, and I did not want to be taken for a propaganda ride. And yet, I have to say that I liked the movie quite a bit. In my humble opinion, you have to watch this movie not for the movie itself, but for a few good men.
For The Love of the Men
This movie is watchable because of a few good men. Funnily enough, none of them is Sanjay Dutt.
First, let us talk about the legend of Sunil Dutt. Paresh Rawal played the role as well as I think it could be played. Apparently, the role was offered to Amir Khan first. One can’t help but wonder if the wizard could have added a layer of depth to the portrayal. Nonetheless, as the curtains dropped, I was left with a warm, glowing feeling about one of the best men that Bollywood has had the fortune of having – Mr. Sunil Dutt. It is probably the legacy of his father that redeems Sanju from becoming yet another Bhai of Mumbai – spoilt, callous and unscathed. Hirani spends a lot of screen-time to ensure the senior Dutt comes out looking the superhuman he very clearly was.
Then there is Sanjay’s best friend, Kamli, played by the next-big-thing, Vicky Kaushal. I have recently seen Kaushal’s work in quick succession. I am awed by the ease with which he transforms from a rural teenager to a suave Pakistani Army guy, from an awkward lover to a devoted friend. He has owned his role, as the moral compass to the lost soul of Sanjay Dutt, with prowess.
I must mention Monisha Koirala among the good men, who took the itty bit she had been offered in the movie and raised it several notches in class.
The Inimitable Kapoor
I have been a fan of Ranbir Kapoor’s work since Wake up Sid. Barring the missable Besharam, I think he has only grown from role to role. The way he has become Sanju, literally, is incredible. There were moments in the movie I had to remind myself that they were not one and the same man.
Ranbir gets under the skin of Sanju’s spiraling existence, in the fishbowl display of a star kid’s life. He is equal parts entitled and apologetic for the fortune that has been served him on a platter. He is believable as the broken shell of a man who truly wanted to be a better son to an amazing father. I don’t think anyone else could have played the ‘quirky extra’ of Sanjay Dutt’s personality without becoming caricaturish. Ranbir’s ability to capture vulnerability in the package of masculine ego has been displayed in some of his earlier portrayals (thinking of Tamasha and Rockstar), but it is at its best in this movie.
Ranbir should stop worrying about commercial hits and start taking roles that would matter and be remembered (like Jagga Jasoos) beyond his times.
Hirani’s Worst Yet ‘?’
On the other hand, I have never been a fan of Hirani’s work. Not even the iconic ‘3 Idiots’ was flawless, trudging under the weight of Hirani’s stretchy storytelling. In Sanju, Hirani is especially lacking in the craft. The screenplay is flat, the story is way over told. The constant narration of the story takes the edge off of the highs and lows of Sanjay’s experiences. There is not a moment of subtlety – even Sanjay’s final emancipation had to be spelled out (in words that rang kind of hollow, to be honest) as a speech to the dead father.
To Hirani’s credit, however, the film doesn’t lose its pace much. Most frames are average, but they are entertaining nonetheless. The chemistry between Ranbir and Vicky is well-captured in some beautiful camera work. Hirani’s crusade against the spineless, profiteering media is etched well, albeit a bit dramatically.
But, I would recommend that you watch this movie once. Not for Rajkumar Hirani, not for Sanjay Dutt, but for the thespians who have picked up the difficult burden of Sanjay Dutt’s bared soul and carried it through with such honesty and pure love.
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