“A true story you won’t believe!” declared the teaser for Rajkumar Hirani’s Sanju, a biopic on actor Sanjay Dutt, and the crowd erupted in cheers. A few minutes into Tuesday’s teaser launch, the exclamation began to make sense.

“When Sanju [Sanjay Dutt] told us this story I felt like I was sitting in a video library, where there were different genres of films playing: action, comedy and drama,” Hirani said at the event in Mumbai. “And the best part is that he told us to make it the way we wanted it.”

Starring Ranbir Kapoor as Dutt, the biopic will trace six phases of the actor’s tumultuous life, including his early battle with drug abuse, his success in Bollywood and his various stints in prison for the possession of illegal arms in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case. Hirani, who has worked with Dutt on several films, said Sanju will also trace the actor’s emotional life, from his relationship with father Sunil Dutt to that with his friends.

Paresh Rawal and Manisha Koirala play the actor’s parents, Sunil and Nargis Dutt, while Vicky Kaushal stars as his friend and Dia Mirza as his wife, Manyata Dutt. The movie also features Anushka Sharma and Sonam Kapoor in key roles. Written by Abhijat Joshi and and co-produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, both frequent Hirani collaborators, Sanju will be released on June 29.

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Sanju (2018).

Vidhu Chopra said he was shocked when Hirani and Joshi came to him with the idea of a Dutt biopic more than a decade ago. “They then started telling me the story and I slowly started discovering the Sanjay Dutt that I didn’t know,” Chopra said. “And this is coming from a man who has known him for 20 to 25 years. No hero will reveal stories like this about themselves.”

Joshi described Dutt’s stories as astounding. “The variety was unbelievable,” he said. “It was goofy, dramatic and unbelievable. Ranbir Kapoor not only played Dutt with the body language or voice, but he found a deeper core.”

Kapoor’s preparation for the role included studying and observing Dutt and his world. “The most difficult phase to play was the young phase, where he lost his mother and was getting in and out of drugs,” Kapoor said. “The most fun phase was the Munna Bhai phase. But I gave myself a month’s break before filming every phase. It was a screenplay sent from heaven.”

Kapoor said enacting such a multi-faceted character was a luxury and privilege. “I am 35 today and by the time he [Sanjay Dutt] was 18, I think he had lived five times more than what I have lived in my life,” Kapoor said. “It was a fan trying to play his icon on screen. I didn’t have the confidence or courage to do it. I have observed him all my life. It was scary but with all the help it made it much easier.”

Hirani, whose film credits include several box office hits including Munnabhai MBBS (2003), 3 Idiots (2009) and PK (2014), said that making a biopic was a whole new ball game and risky endeavour. “You don’t have total control over a biopic,” Hirani said. “With it you have to be true to what has happened, and that needs a different craft. The film was more a journey of how to string anecdotes from his life together. You will get a semblance in this film.”

Hirani said recreating a widely known figure on screen was particularly challenging. “It is difficult to play this role because Ranbir Kapoor hasn’t mimicked Sanju,” Hirani said. “To play someone whom the audience knows is very tough. Sanju has seen scenes of the film and he is just overwhelmed that a film is being made on him. I keep telling him to watch the film but he’s saying he’ll watch it once the film releases. He is very brave to tell his stories to the world.”

Sanju (2018)|Image credit: Rajkumar Hirani Films/Vidhu Vinod Chopra Films.
Sanju (2018)|Image credit: Rajkumar Hirani Films/Vidhu Vinod Chopra Films.