Legendary lyricists--Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi and Anand Bakshi played key influences in Sanjay Dutt’s redemption, as seen in the film “Sanju”. That is nothing short of ‘poetic justice’, considering Sanjay Dutt was born to the famous actors, Nargis and Sunil Dutt; and grew up in the world of Hindi cinema. It is only befitting that in the best scene in the film, Sunil Dutt (play by Paresh Rawal) stands with his son after midnight, at a dockyard and tells him his own story of disarming (pun intended) the terrifying underworld don, Dawood, with a Sahir Ludhianvi song. Soon both father and son (it is difficult to think of him as Ranbir Kapoor who is simply transformed into Sanjay) start singing the song with gusto. The next morning, Sanjay does the bravest thing anyone can possibly do. Walking into a house with his head typically tilted; his eyes and mouth as vulnerable and innocent as a child’s; he faces a local underworld guy to tell him that he will not make an appearance for the Ganpati visarjan, he has been ‘invited’ for.
Therein lies the power of Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics, wisely used by a truly great father like Sunil Dutt to guide his wayward son. (interestingly, Sunil Dutt himself has enacted several songs written by Sahir Ludhianvi, including the popular 1963 song, “chalo ek baar phir se ajnabi ban jaaye…”).Therein also lies the power of the truth told from the heart, in storytelling, especially a biopic.
Leaving aside three to four scenes when the old lyrics are mentioned, the rest of the film is classic Hirani melodrama. Like all his past movies, there is plenty of unsubtle emotional manipulation, with the characters bawling and in this case some tiger-rish growling that portrays Vicky Kaushal’s talent at par with Ranbir’s. Only, the humour this time , has completely dried out and fallen to taking pot shots at Indian accents. The effort to bring in the commercial entertainment quotient, is too obvious.
The subject on Sanjay Dutt’s life, by itself, is full of potent drama. As a line in the film says, ‘people who make bad choices, make great stories’. However, Hirani’s ‘Sanju’ is not a complete biopic. It is a rehash of the combined parts of Munnabhai’s core strengths and the story of Sanjay Dutt’s redemption. As long as it remains the Munnabhai version, it works big time, especially in the duplicating of a long father-son jaadu ki jhappi and an emotionally explosive friendship scene between Sanju and his intense savior friend—Kamlesh (Vicky) who of course replaces the more shadow-like, jovial Circuit.
The similarities are all there, throughout the film. Munnabhai is the story of a goon who tries to get a MBBS degree in order to please his ethical dad. In Sanju, Sanjay gets lost in drugs, unable to live up to his upstanding father’s standards and image. In both the films, he has a best friend—Circuit in Munnabhai and Kamlesh in Sanju, with shades of the virgin Jimmy Shergill’s character, thrown in for some contrived laughs. While Munnabhai is a comedy and only fiction; Sanju is dark, intense and a true story of father and son who lived through hell, together, thanks to Sanjay’s self destructive actions.
As long as the story remains about the emotional and mental challenges, the duo face and the real conflicts,” Sanju” is a class act. But as soon as it shifts into propaganda mode of proving repeatedly, throughout the second half, that Sanjay Dutt was not a terrorist as claimed by the media, the film loses the core integrity of a Hirani film. Just like Hirani’s previous films which are issue driven, be it the medical industry failings or religion superstitions as in ‘PK’; “Sanju” suddenly picks up the media issue, blaming everyone’s favourite scapegoat : the big, BAD newspaper headline and the entire media. The last 15 minutes of the film are as clumsily written as the first 15 minutes where the agenda is to prove that Sanju is not a biased story, thus introducing a curly wigged, blue eyed Anushka Sharma as an objective NRI biographer.
By the end of the film, the actors suddenly seem to announce, “ let’s play the blame game together” and both Sanjay Dutt and Ranbir Kapoor dance in the credit rolls, to the tune of ..
”….according to the sources…. abey chup”. In an effort to silence the so called ‘rumours’,and drill down Sanjay’s version of the story as the true story, Hirani gives way to the mind and the mindless.
If only, they had stuck to the more honest and timeless, Sahir Ludhianvi lyrics as used in one memorable scene straight from the heart: ”……na muh chupa ke jiyo….”