As the curtains roll up, we are introduced to a haggard Sanjay Dutt, who despite the age and impending return to prison, is secretly excited to read his biography. One that he hopes will tell the “real story” minus the “question marks”. Written by a certain Tripathi, he sits down with his entire support team and wife, to hear how the opening chapter draws similarities to him and Mahatma Gandhi.
“Just like how Gandhi had a stick and never used it, I (Sanjay Dutt) had a AK-56 rifle but never used it.”
Director Rajkumar Hirani and writer Abhijat Joshi highlight the ridiculousness of the association, and decide to do some damage control themselves, and make a biopic that lends Sanjay a Munnabhai tag, instead. So, you watch him humiliate one of his girlfriends and her father, or cheat on his best friend, but there’s never a sense of remorse or wrongdoing. Instead, the scenes are laced with humour and wit. Almost, trivialising his shortcomings.
“I’ve had roughly 300-odd girlfriends… Or, let me round it off to 350, just to be safe,” he chuckles, as the women in the scene grin. Or, when he cheekily tells his biographer that she’s lucky he’s going to prison or else there would’ve been trouble. Therein, lies Sanju’s problems. It’s more propaganda and laughs, and less facts.
“I’m Sanjay Dutt. And, I’m not a terrorist,” is what he often repeats, and would’ve worked as a title. Hirani never explores or delves deeper into the psyche of Dutt. You only see what Dutt wants us to see, focusing mainly on his strengths. Hirani resurrects Dutt as a worthy Munnabhai. One who’ll walk away the hero, despite the mess he created.
His crimes are conveniently reduced to the media’s obsession with the question mark. And, nothing more. Unfortunately, his life deserved a little more grit, and insight.
But, Hirani manages to salvage some of the damage, with a few standout moments. One where the father-son sit down to listen to the voice of the woman they both dearly loved, long after she’s gone, is deeply moving. Or, the one where Sanjay yanks out a toilet seat cover to garland a girl he dismisses for drugs is tackled with intensity. Ranbir Kapoor also steps up the game with his stellar performance. From the hair, to the costumes, to the body, to the body language, he effortlessly transforms into Sanjay Dutt. It could’ve slipped into mimicry, but Kapoor is far too talented to let that happen. It’s when the credits roll, and he slips back to being himself that you understand how far he’s gone to become Sanju.
Vicky Kaushal backs him up as his loyal friend. Armed with a rustic twang, a ridiculous red coat and a heart of gold, he’s pitch-perfect. And, there’s the stalwart Paresh Rawal, who lends dignity and grit to Sunil Dutt. It’s when the three men join forces that the real fireworks happen. The women brigade, however, is not that impressionable. Each given roles that aren’t fleshed out. Nargis, played graciously by Manisha Koirala, is never celebrated, and this when Sanjay is believed to have shared such a strong bond with his mother. His wife Maanyata, played by Dia Mirza, is also fairly bland. And, Anushka Sharma is handed another strange wig, after ‘PK’, and eye lenses to play the biographer.
At 161 minutes of screen time, Hirani manages to give Sanju a massive ‘jaddoo ki jappi’, like no other, and one that will surely win over many hearts. But, does that validate the misgivings of a fallen star? I don’t think so.