The hit man

Indian Bollywood film director Rajkumar Hirani poses as he attends the screening of Hindi film ’Kapoor and Sons’ in Mumbai late March 15, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / STR

Rajkumar Hirani has done it again with his biopic Sanju, not only by casting Ranbir Kapoor as Sanjay Dutt but by making it a top grosser

Director of superhit films, Rajkumar Hirani has added another big feather in his cap with Sanju, based on the life and style of Bollywood veteran Sanjay Dutt. He not only directed but co-produced the film with Vidhu Vinod Chopra. By the second weekend of its release, the film had grossed R265 crore. It is already the ninth highest Hindi grosser, close on the heels of Baahubali 2, Dangal, PK, Tiger Zinda Hai, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Padmaavat, Sultan and Dhoom 3.

Hailing from a simple middle-class Sindhi family, he has come a long way from the days when he helped his father run a typing institute and worked in advertising. Fortunately for the film industry, his love for films led to a career in direction. All his films are clean good fun, based on real-life stories or comedy which one can see with family.

Hirani says he got attracted to the idea of a biopic on Sanjay Dutt, when he was writing Munnabhai MBBS, with Dutt in the title role. However, the idea took form when he was writing PK, another hit film, and Sanjay was out on parole. That was the time Sanjay started talking to Hirani about himself. He was lonely. Maanyata was hospitalised and he had to come home to an empty house. Till then, Hirani had worked with Dutt but was not a close friend.

Sanjay began speaking straight from the heart. He opened up like he never had before, relating anecdotes that were just gems for a filmmaker. The distance between the two vanished. The next day, during the editing of Munnabhai, they decided to record everything Dutt wanted to say, a process that took about 25 days. Still, Hirani was not convinced that he could direct a film on the man.

“I had no idea how to string them (the anecdotes) together. But what we did feel was that here was a man who had led such a crazy life in every way. He was coping with the loss of his mother, been to rehab for drug addiction, then he went to jail. Hirani gathered more information, meeting journalists, cops, relatives and friends’. It was then that Hirani felt there was story that should be told on celluloid.

Reel & real: Ranbir (above) as Sanjay Dutt (below) in Sanju

In response to criticism that the film glorifies a man who was jailed for possession of arms, Hirani says he wanted to make a film based on select aspects of Sanjay Dutt’s and not to merely glorify him. Hirani shrewdly picked and developed a few selected portions of his life like his struggle with drug addiction and arrest for keeping an AK-47 assault rifle. As for whether it is right to show such activities in a sympathetic light, Hirani says, “The film is there and it is up to the viewer to make his or her own judgments.”

Hirani certainly has his finger on the pulse of audiences. Originally, the Munnabhai script was based on the doctors’ profession but Hirani was not too happy with that concept and he developed the lead character as a goon who encounters with Gandhi’s ideology of peace and non-violence. After its success, he came out with the sequel Lage Raho Munnabhai, 3 Idiots and PK, a political satire hitting out at corruption in the country. Here he deserves kudos for persuading Aamir Khan to play an alien when the actor was 44 years old and had to act as if he was 21.

Another casting coup was to get Sanjay Dutt to play Bhairon Singh’s role. In PK, Bhairon Singh thinks the alien has lost his memory. He takes the alien to his place and tries to adjust to Earth’s customs, including taking him to a night club, adding to the comedy that gives audiences a good laugh.

Lage Raho Munnabhai, made in 2006, was also a superhit musical comedy, with its box-office collection crossing R126 crore. This film got a Filmfare Award for best dialogue and memorable roles were played by Arshad Warsi, Vidya Balan,Boman Irani, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Dia Nirza and Dilip Prabhval who got a best supporting actor award for his role as Mahatma Gandhi.
The title Sanju was chosen out of many suggestions because Dutt’s mother, the late Nargis, used to call him by that name. “It’s said that bad choices make good stories. And this is a classic case of that,” says Hirani.

Like with PK and Aamir Khan, the selection of Ranbir Kapoor was pure genius. Ranbir is a brilliant actor and spent a lot of time with Dutt, going with him to the gym and listening to his stories. He had to make the transition from 21-year-old Rocky and to the 56-year-old ex-con.

It’s not as if Ranbir Kapoor and Sanjay Dutt are so different in real life. They both are from film families and have great charm — that X-factor that works so well at the box office. Ranbir worked very hard to get his physique in shape. He spent days watching videos of Dutt so that he could bring Sanju’s personality come alive on screen.

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