Sanju : A Supposed Biopic About A Supposed Victim Of His Circumstances

Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, Anushka Sharma, Vicky Kaushal, Manisha Koirala, Sonam Kapoor, Dia Mirza

Director: Rajkumar Hirani

Rating: ✬✬✬✰✰

The minute we left the cinema hall, we knew this is going to be a tough one to review. Not because our take on this 2 hour 41 minute ode to a loyal pal is starkly different to most reviews, but because it was heartbreaking to witness the indulgent slippages from one of the finest directors of our generation. With a subject this controversial and intriguing, one hopes the director & writer wouldn’t go soft on its subject. Sadly, they do. The semi-propagandist PR exercise is an expensive but interesting case study to understand how to pivot public sentiment within 161 minutes. Rajkumar Hirani takes crafty liberties with documented facts and seems to whitewash Dutt’s alleged wrongdoings and indiscretions.

Drugs, alcohol, unprofessionalism, women, guns, goons  let’s be honest here, we are talking about an entitled man-child riddled with deep-rooted issues, who got away with greater leniency than what an average Joe with charges could have dreamt of. Sanjay Dutt, son of thespians Nargis and Sunil Dutt, was imprisoned twice because of his alleged involvement in the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts. The screenplay oscillates between a diluted narrative of factual events to strangely dismissing his misdeeds with forgiving laughs and a weird hope to make the viewer sympathise with a troubled Dutt. The rationale for every misdeed is passed on to anyone, but Dutt himself. Because, you know, Baba was a victim of circumstances. “It was the drug supplier, not me!”, “I only got the gun for my father’s safety, not to use it for attack”, “Kamlesh’s girlfriend lured me, I did nothing!”

What one does admire is Hirani and Abhijat Joshi’s astute writing sprinkled with critical details that lend to the layered screenplay. Be it a fleeting shot of the scar on the bald man whose identity is shown much later in the movie, or the uncanny characteristics of the politician Kapoor pays a visit to circumvent the justice system – the powerful & trademark Hirani touch is palpable. What they attack rather well is their take on the big bad wolf – The Indian Media.  Filmmakers are as dependent, if not more, on media houses and their heavily doctored digital platforms. Hence, for a leading filmmaker to address their mode of manufacture and desperate dependence on scintillating headlines is brave, and refreshing. In the same breath, one does end up rolling their eyes if the writers were solely trying to pass the blame on ‘fake news’ for his incarceration.

But there are big successes achieved by the gentlemen of this movie: Ranbir Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, and Vicky Kaushal. Their craft, research, and nuances are the core reason why this production deserves a ticketed watch on the big-screen, rather than a bum-on-couch TV release. The ladies in the movie, barring Manisha Koirala (please come back full-time?), add more to the star-power but little to the textural storytelling. Sadly, they don’t represent Priya Dutt’s in-reality brazen & opinionated personality. Forget a deep-dive, even the superficial investigation of her character is virtually marginal. But we suppose, showing strained relations with the underworld is more exciting than strained relations between siblings.

Ranbir Kapoor slips into the complex skin of the troubled man in a manner so effective, that in most frames you can barely tell the difference. His stooped posture, his swagger-laced walk, his arm-across-arm stand, his dialogue delivery this may be Kapoor’s finest attempt at a researched role. For once, there are no Ranbir-isms in Ranbir’s often formulaic performances. Look past the continually changing physical transformation, he immerses himself into Dutt’s being with gusto, intensity and outstanding results. The dips in the performance are in the first half, where the build up to the famous Dutt persona are shown in a strangely comical format, with background music that fit better in movies like PK and Munna Bhai. Many scenes are constituted to provide excuses for Dutt’s irresponsible actions and then subtly coerce the audience to feel sorry for his supposed cutesy but-he-means-no-harm image. No, you didn’t project an untrue story, but you portrayed convenient half-truths.

Vicky Kaushal (read more about him here) is someone not just to look out for, but look forward to. Movie after movie, he displays versatility in his author-backed roles. Jim Sarbh gives out another cracker of a performance. Paresh Rawal’s craft needs little to no explanation, and this performance is no exception. He portrays Dutt Saab in such pious honesty, that you look forward to his scenes as much as Kapoor’s.

Every story has two sides and Dutt’s culpability is and always will be up for debate. To call this a biopic would be a severe disservice to the very meaning of that word – the celluloid beacon of truth. Rajkumar Hirani, however, took the prerogative to take a side. And that side is Sanjay Dutt’s, something that isn’t necessarily the real picture. You know the irony of this movie? This so-called biopic has huge sections which are just as manufactured as the news naughtily fabricated by the media that they condemn throughout the movie. Take the ‘biopic’ out of the description, and you have a rather entertaining potboiler, a must-watch even, for its screenplay and acting.

Maybe there is one other good thing about this movie. Someone finally stood up for one of their own, in an industry that usually doesn’t believe in supporting someone in trouble, publically at least.