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Sunil Dutt


Dinesh Raheja

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Sunil Dutt has been in the public eye for the last five decades now. For four of these decades, he was a popular star-actor. Contributing to his longevity as an actor was his ability to project gritty determination to win against the odds --- which made him a star in many an action or dacoit adventure.

What also stood Sunil Dutt in good stead was his heart-in-his-eyes sensitivity which noted filmmakers like Bimal Roy, B R Chopra and Raj Khosla repeatedly drew upon.

Sunil Dutt's Famous Songs
Song Film Singer
 Neend na
 mujhko aaye
 Post Box
 No 999
 Hemant Kumar,
 Lata Mangeshkar
 Jalte hai
 jiske liye
 Sujata  Talat Mehmood
 Itna na mujhse
 tu pyar badha
 Chhaya  Talat Mehmood,
 Lata Mangeshkar
 Chalo ek baar
 phir se
 Gumraah  Mahendra Kapoor
 Rang aur noor
 ki baraat
 Ghazal  Mohammed Rafi
 Badi der bhai  Nandlala  Khandaan  Mohammed Rafi
 Aapke pehlu
 mein aakar
 Mera Saaya  Mohammed Rafi
 Sawan ka
 mahina
 Milan  Mukesh,
 Lata Mangeshkar
 Na mooh  chhupake jiyo  Humraaz  Mahendra Kapoor
 Ek chatur naar  karke singaar  Padosan  Kishore Kumar,  Manna Dey

Dutt capitalised on his abilty to jump genres and expand on his oeuvre at different stages of his career.

His willingness to experiment with cinema led him to star in offbeat films like Padosan and Amrapali, be the villain in Geeta Mera Naam, and bankroll films like Yaadein (a film starring just one man --- himself), Mujhe Jeene Do (a reformist saga) and the stark desert epic Reshma Aur Shera.

Sunil Dutt grew up as Balraj Dutt in a family that had survived the Partition of India. A student of Mumbai's Jai Hind college, he first started as radio show host and celebrity interviewer, which led to his first encounters with the glamour world. Incidentally, wife-to-be Nargis was one of the celebrities he met in the course of his work. Soon, he got a chance to enter the rarefied world of celebrities when director Ramesh Saigal offered him the hero's role in his Nalini Jaywant starrer, Railway Platform.

Sunil Dutt's debut film, Railway Platform (1955) could not not put him on the fast track to success. But the earnest young man was on his way --- even if on the mail track. His first hit, Ek Hi Raasta (1956), marked the start of a seven-film long association with B R Chopra. But Dutt had only a winning cameo in the film as Meena Kumari's husband whose death puts her in jeopardy.

Dutt's true breakthrough came with Mehboob Khan's magnum opus, Mother India (1957). His portrayal of Birju, Nargis' rebellious younger son with a king-sized chip on his shoulders, was filled with a raw, urgent energy. After the film's release, Dutt married Nargis and the film's cult status ensured that he would be very busy in the studios.

But in the late fifties, the Raj Kapoor-Dilip Kumar-Dev Anand trio was formiddable. Stars with definite images like Rajendra Kumar and Shammi Kapoor were cornering the spotlight. Dutt quietly awaited his time even if his next few successes were essentially women-oriented films like Sadhna (1958), Sujata (1959) and Main Chup Rahungi (1962).

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At this stage, renowned filmmakers like Bimal Roy (Sujata, Usne Kaha Tha), Hrishikesh Mukherji (Chhaya) and B R Chopra (Sadhna) dared to defy Sunil Dutt's established 'mutinous Birju' image and cast him as a deeply sensitive lover often with reformist proclivities (Dutt accepts a prostitute as his wife in Sadhna, and refuses to consider caste as a barrier to love in Sujata).

These films obviously influenced Dutt greatly --- when he turned producer in the early sixties, it was with a couple of offbeat movies --- Yeh Raaste Hain Pyar Ke (1963), where heroine Leela Naidu has an adulterous relationship and Mujhe Jeene Do (1963) where he played a tough-as-nails dacoit. These films added to Dutt's reputation and commercial standing. His subsequent attempt at filmmaking, Yaadein (1964), where he was the only character in the film, however, was found to be too esoteric by most.

But by now Dutt had hit his peak as a star and was starring in a string of hits. A regular with the B R Chopra camp, he exuded style and sophistication in three of his sixties successes --- Gumraah (1963), Waqt (1965) and Humraaz (1967). Simultaneously, the disciplined Dutt was also a favourite with South Indian filmmakers which resulted in emotion-heavy, rural-based hits with Nutan like Khandaan and Milan.

Dutt's sartorial style was markedly different in both these genres of films, but they were all successful. In fact in 1967, he had a hat-trick of hits with Milan, Meherban and Humraaz.

Sunil Dutt's Landmark Films
 Year  Film  Heroine
 1957  Mother India  Nargis (as mother)
 1959  Sujata  Nutan
 1963  Gumraah  Mala Sinha
 1963  Mujhe Jeene Do  Waheeda Rehman
 1965  Waqt  Sadhna
 1966  Mera Saaya  Sadhna
 1967  Milan  Nutan
 1968  Padosan  Saira Banu
 1971  Reshma Aur Shera  Waheeda Rehman
 1983  Dard Ka Rishta  Smita Patil

Dutt sportingly playing the buffoon in Mehmood's Padosan (1968) and this was his last hit for a while. The Rajesh Khanna wave and a chain of indifferent films put him in the sidelines. Furthermore, his ambitious home production, the blood-splattered desert love story, Reshma Aur Shera (1971), proved a commercial disappointment entailing financial troubles for the star.

Just like in a roller coaster Hollywood biography, Dutt's luck turned radically soon afterwards. He had agreed to play negative, albeit still central, roles in Geeta Mera Naam and 36 Ghante (both 1974) but with three consecutive successes --- Heera, Geeta Mera Naam, Pran Jaye Par Vachan Na Jaaye --- in late 1973 and early 1974, Dutt was back in the saddle. Many of his subsequent seventies films were action adventures with scant emphasis on quality.

Still, hits like Zakhmee (1975), Nagin (1976) and Jaani Dushman (1979) ensured that Duttsaab, as he was now called, was busy in the studios often romancing much-younger heroines like Rekha (Nagin, Ahimsa) and Reena Roy (Paapi, Jaani Dushman).

In 1981, Dutt's world was rocked when his wife Nargis passed away despite a protracted battle with her cancer. In the same year, his production, Rocky, starring his son Sanjay, hit the screens. Subsequently, Dutt threw himself into an emotional film about cancer called Dard Ka Rishta (1983) and into politics and social work.

Since then, Sunil Dutt has greeted the ups and downs in his life with an exhibition of sheer grit and stoicism.

Of late, the actor and the filmmaker may have taken the backseat behind Dutt's public persona; but Sunil Dutt the actor was evident till the early 1990s when he acted in movies with select filmmakers like J P Dutta (Kshatriya) and Yash Chopra (Parampara).

However, there is now talk of Sunil Dutt starring in Vidhu Vinod Chopra's Munnabhai MBBS.

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