BOOK EXCERPT

The night-time gunshots that put Sanjay Dutt’s life on the mend

High on alcohol and heartbreak, the actor fired his rifle in the air in 1982 – a low point that persuaded him to sign up for de-addiction.

22 May 1982. It was a hot summer night. Most of the residents of posh Pali Hill were in deep slumber. Mansion number 58, near St Anne’s Church, was shrouded in darkness. But its seemingly serene facade hid much internal chaos. Suddenly, the neighbourhood was jolted awake by the sound of gunshots and the shattering of glass.

Sanjay Dutt staggered around the compound of his family home, waving his loaded .22 bore rifle in the air. In a few minutes, concerned neighbours and curious onlookers had gathered outside and were trying to peer in. The young man seemed lost, confused and a bit dazed. Then he broke down. The sobs claimed his body as he clung to the barbed wire fence with his bare hands. Unmindful of his bleeding hands, Sanjay’s cry rent the air: ‘Why are you all scared of me? I am not a drug addict! . . . I’ve given up on drugs!’ It seemed that Tina’s abandonment still haunted him.

It slowly became clear what had happened: in a haze induced by alcohol and heartbreak, Sanjay had opened fire in the air, breaking some windows of the Dutt mansion and shattering the windscreen of his car. ‘He looked so lonely, so sad and so scared of himself ... The whole thing was very pathetic,’ said an emotional Mrs Chowdhry, a neighbour and eyewitness to the incident. Sanjay was on the verge of collapse.

Another of the Dutts’ neighbours, Mr Menon, a lawyer by profession, who was also at the scene, called the police. ‘I could hardly wait for someone to get killed before calling the police!’ said Mr Menon. Then, as if the gravity of his irresponsibility sunk in, and suddenly aware of the number of onlookers, Sanjay ran back into the house and locked himself in his room. When the police came and searched the house, he was nowhere to be found. He would later confess that a friend had sneaked him out.

The Tina factor

At the time of the incident, Sanjay had been alone in the house. Sunil Dutt was in the US for a shoot and had taken both his daughters with him. Kumar Gaurav too was travelling to America. In fact, just that evening Sanjay had dropped Gaurav to the airport, which was when he received the news that the shooting of Tina’s film Souten had been wrapped up. Apparently, the crew had returned to India from Singapore. But Tina hadn’t called Sanjay. As he got back home and reached for his liquor, he felt more and more rankled that Tina hadn’t phoned him. They had broken up but Sanjay was in denial. He said, ‘The shooting is over and everybody is back. But where is she? . . . I love her . . . I’ll never be able to live without her.’

As the night progressed, Sanjay got more and more drunk, and enraged. He then went on a dangerous shooting spree around the house.

Sanjay surrendered the next day. His weapon licence was confiscated and his passport was impounded.

Sanjay was soon released on bail. The official version, endorsed by the police, was that Sanjay had ‘accidentally’ fired the shots. ‘Sanjay was feeling too lonely that night and he’d had too much to drink,’ read the statement from the police.

‘Everyone is after me,’ said a melodramatic Sanjay a few days after the incident. He asked nonchalantly, ‘How does it affect anyone if I target practise in the premises of my bungalow? . . . I decided to clean my gun and fired two shots to see if it worked. I have done this so many times before – even in front of my father.’

However, an inspector at the Bandra police station let slip in an interview, ‘According to me the real reason for this kind of behaviour is his girlfriend . . . I personally feel that the boy has been jilted in love.’ The unstoppable media also speculated on the causes of his emotional breakdown and shooting spree, saying it was due to a heated argument with Tina and/or a potent mixture of drugs and alcohol.

A father’s grief

The media’s image of a lovelorn Sanjay Dutt, whisky bottle in one hand, gun in the other, firing uncontrollably in a fit of jealousy and rage cast the harsh glare of the spotlight on Tina too. Even after their breakup, Sanjay was an embarrassment and a liability for her.

Sunil was shattered when a close friend told him about the incident over a long-distance call. ‘You cannot believe everything that’s published in the newspaper,’ he responded. He didn’t buy the stories at first. But when confronted by a reporter, he admitted that his twenty-three-year-old son possessed guns. ‘He is a hunter . . . I don’t know what kind of a gun Sanju has. He buys what he wants. How do you expect me to know everything that he has.’

Even though the shooting incident is thought to have been provoked by Sanjay’s yearning for Tina, he was soon on the rebound and landed in the arms of upcoming actress Rati Agnihotri, with whom he was working in a few films. Before the shock of his split with Tina was over, Rati and he were giving romantic interviews together.

Career on skids

It wasn’t just Sanjay’s love life that was in flux. His career was also nosediving. It was impossible to schedule shoots with him. There was no guarantee he would turn up or finish his films.

One day after taking a high dose of heroin, Sanjay went to sleep in his room. He remembers waking up hungry. ‘It was early in the morning. So I told my servant to get me something to eat.’ The house help looked at him and then started weeping. He told Sanjay that he had woken up after two whole days. ‘Two days ago you went to sleep and the house has gone crazy; people have been so worried for you.’

Sanjay couldn’t believe it. And when he saw himself in the mirror, he was dumbfounded. His face was swollen, his eyes were puffy and sunken. His skin was scarred by needle marks. He could hardly recognize himself – there was little resemblance between the reflection he saw and the handsome man he used to be. That moment chilled Sanjay. ‘I knew I was going to die.’

Sanjay went to his father and broke down. ‘I need help. I want to change my life,’ he wept. Sunil had always been the patriarch he feared, and slightly resented. But that moment brought them close. They were in this together.

Excerpted with permission from Sanjay Dutt The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy, Yasser Usman, Juggernaut Books.

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