Ever since he burst onto the scene as the boxer Rocky in 1981, Sanjay Dutt’s story has had many writers. Going by the latest attempts to retell the narrative of one of the earliest star kids and one of the last bad boys in showbiz, it’s clear that fans of Sanjay Dutt lore haven’t yet had their fill.
After Yasser Usman’s controversial biography Sanjay Dutt The Crazy Untold Story of Bollywood’s Bad Boy, an official biography allegedly in the works and Rajkumar Hirani’s biopic Sanju, one wonders if the star will remain an object of interest. The legend of Sanjay Dutt, which was born on the pages of film glossies, could well perish on the big screen. After all, what is Sanjay Dutt if not a sum total of screaming headlines and frenzied air-time? His most well-known films are remembered for the part they played in his life: Rocky launched his career, Khalnayak (1993) was when he was arrested under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, and Munnabhai M.B.B.S (2003) happened when he desperately needed to cleanse his terrorism-tainted image.
The fact remains that a transformed man, who has many avenues to present his side of the story, barely has the same hold over our imagination as a man who is forever on the run from his destiny.
There have been two distinct narratives about Dutt. The one that was scripted by film magazines during the 1980s and ’90s dwelt on his rakish charm, self-destructive streak, colourful personal life, numerous escapades and the agonising final days of his first wife Richa Sharma, who died from a brain tumour in 1996. Before Dutt, the worst that a reigning star could do was get drunk or have an extra-marital affair. Dutt surpassed his predecessors through his antics – firing a rifle on one occasion, getting into drug-addled brawls and having multiple affairs (including an alleged dalliance with Madhuri Dixit).
The magazines summed it up best: they called him “Deadly Dutt’’.
The other one trickled in from industry veterans and biographers who revered his parents, Sunil Dutt and Nargis. This discourse covered Nargis’s death from cancer in 1981, Dutt’s troubled days at boarding school, his generosity and his tendency to make mistakes. In this narrative, Sanjay Dutt was the prodigal son of Bollywood who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong kind of company.
Even when Sanjay Dutt remained in the news for illegally buying an AK-56 gun and ammunition from members of the Dawood Ibrahim gang in 1993, a personality as venerable as Farooque Sheikh gave the actor and his family a character certificate on his talk show Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai in 2002. “With every hurdle, he has only grown taller,” said the affable Sheikh while Sunil Dutt and his elder daughter Priya looked on.
In 2006, Simi Garewal invited the actor to her talk show Rendezvous with Simi Garewal and spoke of the time she had walked in on a young and inconsolable Dutt cradling his ailing mother and whispering consolations into her ears.
Over the decades, the court cases dragged on and Dutt sought refuge in appeals and parole. The role of film magazines was taken over by newspapers and television channels that gave blow-by-blow accounts of what Dutt did before he re-entered prison and what he did when behind bars. No detail escaped the reporters, who were feeding a different, younger audience that had seen more terror attacks since the serial blasts in Mumbai in March 1993. The wave of sympathy that Dutt rode in his initial years had given way to curiosity in the two decades that followed. The new consumers of the Sanjay Dutt saga could not care less about Nargis and Sunil Dutt and their legacy, but were simply gawking at a fallen star.
Rajkumar Hirani’s biopic, which will be released on June 29, comes at a strange juncture for Dutt. He was released in 2016 after serving 42 months of his five-year sentence. The parole frequently granted to Dutt and the remission of his sentence for good conduct caused a fresh bout of controversy as he finally left prison.
Dutt is looking at reviving his career and presenting his side of the story. Every time he has opened his mouth, he has had a ready audience. His legend has not only thrived but has acquired layers and dimensions that the original may not even possess.