Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Manisha Koirala, Paresh Rawal, Sonam Kapoor, Vicky Kaushal, Dia Mirza, Boman Irani and Jim Sarbh
Director: Rajkumar Hirani
Rating: * * *
Sanju’s main conceit is its attempt to showcase a life of excess in a feel-good manner. The latter is usually Rajkumar Hirani’s metric and I have no problem with that, but the choice of story or personality for the shadow-washing is all wrong in my book. The very idea that a life of excess can be justified in such a glorified and filmy manner signifies a bigoted bias against those unjustly crucified at the altar of our long-winding justice system.
The writing here largely mimics two controversial elements of Sanjay Dutt’s life- his tryst with drugs and his controversial involvement in the 1993 blasts for which he did time in prison. Hirani’s narrative uses the central character’s interest in charting his biography as a device to tell the story of Sanjay Dutt’s (Ranbir Kapoor) notorious life. Winnie (Anushka Sharma) is chosen for the job and the narrative begins to take shape as per her rose-tinted perception.
Revealing his intense confusion, rebellion and struggle as a son born to a celebrity couple Sunil Dutt (Paresh Rawal) and Nargis (Manisha Koirala) and his utter naiveté in trysting with the demons of the 1993 Mumbai blasts, Sanju is basically a saga of a misunderstood youth whose craving for love and attention takes him down the road of no return. He is presented as a sort of Munnabhai with a real-life parallel. He even has a best friend in Kamlesh (Vicky Kaushal) who is a stabilising influence and tries to keep him grounded. And it’s all told in a largely jocular, light-weight vein.
‘Sanju’ in fact overpowers the notoriety with the emotions and drama relating to family. Sanjay’s incendiary relationship with his upright actor-turned-politician father and heart-rending moments with his terminally ill mother evoke the strongest emotions here. Hirani deliberately leaves out his philandering and carousing, glossing over his inability to commit himself fully to a relationship by boasting about his involvement with a number of girlfriends. That’s a banner statement in the promos and appears entirely callous and tasteless like much of the lingo in the film – which is a mix of Bombaiyya with English.
Maanyata (Dia Mirza) the wife of his latter half-life is a strong presence, but the ones that preceded her don’t even get a mention. Even his tumultuous relationship with daughter Trishala from the deceased Richa Sharma is left out. His good time friendship with Zubin Mistry (Jim Sarbh) – the one who is being blamed for getting him hooked on to drugs, is also an integral part of the window-dressed character shaping here. Much of the political grandstanding and manipulations of the system are also omitted from the big picture. The crucial socio-political context of the period of turbulence in his life, relating to his mixed-religion parentage is omitted, deliberately it seems. This is, in fact, a calculatedly cauterised version of Sanjay Dutt’s life presented in a vividly engaging manner, but without the grit and rigour of real life.
What saves this film from turning into a caricaturish rendition are sharply defined performances. Paresh Rawal represents Sunil Dutt’s tragedy with a stoic resolve, Manisha Koirala’s Nargis is definitively humbling, Vicky Kaushal’s Kamli makes the bromance look credible, Sonam, Dia, Anushka (despite a ridiculous hairdo) do their part with élan and Ranbir’s Sanju lends skill, weight, and meaning to the life being cinematised here. This may not be an entirely honest effort, but it certainly makes for an entertaining one!