Sanjay Dutt: 'Finally I am a Free Man'

Sanjay Dutt: 'Finally I am a Free Man'

Excerpts from Ram Kamal Mukherjee's latest book Sanjay Dutt - One Man, Many Lives that chronicles the troubled life and times of Sanjay Dutt
Sanjay Dutt: 'Finally I am a Free Man'
Sanjay Dutt

When it comes to biopics and interesting stories, there can be no one more fascinating than Sanjay Dutt. Sure, his life story has been told many times in print and he has been immortalised even on celluloid (Sanju) yet one can never get enough of him. Author-filmmakaer Ram Kamal Mukherjee has brought out his take on the Sanjay Dutt saga. Sanjay Dutt – One Man, Many Lives is an unauthorised biography and an analytical book on the journey of the controversial star.
“I have met Sanju occasionally as a journalist at various events, and to be honest I don't have any personal connection with him. But what intrigued me the most about him is that he was probably the most misunderstood star from our generation. I worked for almost two years on this. During my research I realized that behind the tough biceps and deadly eyes hides a child like soul, this book tries to tell that story," says Ram Kamal.
Here are some excerpts…

25 February 2017
It was a bright morning. At precisely 8 a.m. the massive gates of Yerwada Jail opened, and out stepped Sanjay Dutt wearing a dark blue shirt and jeans. At 8.15 a.m., he turned around near the gate to face the prison and bowed. He saluted the Indian tri-colour fluttering on top of the prison wall. A little further away, Rajkumar Hirani, the man who gave Dutt  the lifeline called Munna Bhai, was filming this moment. It would eventually make its way into the biopic that he had been making.

At 8.20 a.m., Dutt greeted his family and friends outside the jail. Besides Hirani, there were his wife Manyata, writer Abhijat Joshi, Dutt’s lawyers, hundreds of fans and the media. Dutt paused, addressed the media and credited his fans for their unflinching support. And his words — telecast live by Times Now and scores of other channels — were heavy with dark humour, the weight of experience and the smell of fatalism. He smiled — a shadow of his famous half-curl — and said, ‘Mujhe Raju ne signing amount nahin dia hai yeh shoot karne ke liye (Rajkumar Hirani has not paid me a signing amount for shooting this scene).’ It was evident that his equation with Hirani had in fact grown strong over time and controversies. But the real picture would emerge only a year later, when Sanju, the biopic released. Before heading for the iconic Siddhivinayak Temple in Mumbai, Dutt turned to the camerapersons once more and thanked his fans: ‘I am here because of their support and there is no easy road to freedom, my friends.’ There was a similar scene at the popular temple in the south of Mumbai. Members of the media had been waiting for over four hours to capture the moment. Sporting a tonsured look with a chhoti (short ponytail), Dutt walked inside the temple, past the sea of humanity, holding Manyata’s hand as firmly as he could. He handed over  INR 840 — his earnings from the five years in jail — to Manyata. She let the tears flow. It was perhaps the most precious gift she had ever received from her husband.

Sanjay Dutt with Manyata Dutt

Dutt proceeded to perform the Ganesh aarti and took blessings from the priest—almost as if he wanted to go through a cleansing process. In the evening, he addressed the media again, outside his Bandra residence. He confessed that he was still coming to terms with the fact that he was finally out of jail and spending time with his wife, sisters and kids. ‘It took twenty-three years for me to be a free man. Finally I am a free man. But it is taking time for the fact that I am a free man to sink in. The person that I am missing the most is my father. If he had been alive, he would have been the happiest person. His only battle in life was to set his son free,’ Dutt paused. He looked up tearfully at the sky and continued, ‘Dad, I am free today!’ As with everything else in his life, this intensely personal experience was broadcast on news channels.

Dutt added that he spoke to his mother at her grave: ‘I went to her grave and told her, “Ma aaj main azaad ho gaya  (Mom, I am free now).” I am sure even she was worried about me.’ He paused and gulped. Manyata, standing right behind, pressed his shoulder reassuringly. If Dutt was celebrating the end of a nightmare that had lasted for twenty-three years, his wife — often referred to as his ‘best half’, not simply ‘better’ —had fought her own battles in the interim. She seemed to have come out stronger and was now there for him like a rock, as always. But the ordeal was not exactly over. A lot had changed between the time Dutt first went to prison for the illegal arms possession case and the time he finally finished his prison term at Yerwada.

A still from Sanju 

The media — and social media — was especially unforgiving about his repeated paroles. Mere hours after he walked a free man, he was questioned again on whether his celebrity status had won him the paroles. ‘I disagree with that,’ Dutt replied firmly. ‘The aam aadmi gets many more facilities… Due to constant scrutiny and my celebrity status, I had to go through far stricter rules.’ The four days leading up to his freedom were perhaps the longest, for the man who had been in and out of jail more than any public figure in post-Independence India. ‘The concept of freedom was seeping into my soul. I wanted to come out clean, once and for all — for my parents, my wife and kids. I didn’t want to be called a terrorist, and when the honorable Supreme Court judge declared that I am not a terrorist, that was my victory. I wanted my dad to witness that moment. He had wanted to hear those words from the court of law.’ What struck an emotional note was Dutt’s deference for Manyata, wondering at how she managed to keep the show going with their toddlers and handle his finances in his absence. ‘Mujhe toh jail mein daal roti mil jaati thi, par inki chinta mujhe jail mein khaai jaati thi (I would get roti and dal to eat in the jail, but worry for my family would eat me up),’ he added.
Manyata’s face was almost a mask. Her eyes, the only things that could have betrayed her turmoil, were hidden behind enormous sunglasses. There was no camera in the world that could capture her vulnerability.

The book cover 

Sanjay Dutt – One Man, Many Lives is published by Rupa Publishing

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