It has been 15 years since Rajkumar Hirani captured the imagination of cine-goers in South Asia with Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. Ever since, once in three years he returns with a masterpiece that makes us hysterically laugh, unashamedly cry and most importantly, makes us think, question our own value-system and believe in the power of goodness. And he does all this without condemning us for our acute lack of common sense and our adherence to conformity.
Instead, like an earnest well-wisher, he invites us to have a good laugh with him and while we happily accept the invitation hoping to be entertained, we somehow always leave the theater feeling evolved. Hirani’s fifth cinematic offering in 15 years, Sanju, is no exception.
It is true that Sanju does not lie in Hirani’s comfort zone for it is not based on a character that he himself has created and so he does not have the liberty to “design” Sanju in a way that would instinctively make him endearing for the audience. Quite on the contrary, Hirani has to make his audience feel compassion for a person who has long ago been written off as a villain by many.
Like the master storyteller that he is, Raju Hirani tactfully traces his way through three distinct phases of Sanjay Dutt’s tumultuous life defined respectively by drugs, allegations of terrorism and finally, remorse and a need for redemption.
Ranbir Kapoor effortlessly steps into Sanjay Dutt’s shoes, embracing his highs and lows, flaws and virtues, fears and triumphs without even the slightest hint of reservation. Kapoor neither mimics nor shadows Dutt, instead he becomes one with him. For any actor to achieve this feat is commendable, however for him to achieve this in a biopic deserves a much higher level of recognition.
Vicky Kaushal, playing the role of Dutt’s best friend – and the closest thing that he has to a conscience – comes through with a fierce earnestness that is rare for a young actor with only three years of experience behind him.
Paresh Rawal, although excellent in every frame makes for an unconvincing Sunil Dutt. Manisha Koirala in her cameo as Nargis Dutt on the other hand wins over the audience with a beautiful smile that belongs half to her and half to Nargis jee.
The rest of the cast comes and goes without leaving much of a mark and that’s alright. They are there to give us a glimpse of Sanjay Dutt’s turbulent past and they do so without demanding acclaim.
Many will question the film’s integrity and intention for a very long time to come because the sole intention behind Sanju is clearly to salvage Dutt’s name. However, in this particular case, as a cine-goer I find nothing foul about the effort. This is primarily because of the fact that at no point during the 161 minutes of run time does the film try to project Dutt as a model human being. Quite on the contrary, it sufficiently highlights enough of his indiscretions to make one realize how the film star lived a deeply flawed life that was routinely punctuated by his reckless disregard for self-improvement.
All Dutt wants from Sanju is for the world to believe that he is not a terrorist. This is not a grossly unfair expectation, given that he actually is not a terrorist!
On the whole, Sanju is – as the reviewer at Masala.com put it – Raju Hirani’s gigantic jadu ki japphi for Sanjay Dutt. But Dutt will certainly not be the only one smiling his way out of the theater once the credits roll.