Sanjay Dutt: Maanyata doesn't interfere with my work too much
The edit room of Dharma Productions, located in suburban Mumbai, is a chaotic place as journalists wait for Sanjay Dutt to arrive. When he does, his towering presence in that crammed room brings a pause to the conversations.
In this interview with Ankur Pathak, Dutt talks about playing a villain in Karan Johar's upcoming revenge drama Agneepath, how he is way past the stage where films help him grow as a person, and also why he would never allow his daughter to make a career in the movies.
The antagonist of Agneepath has risen to heroic fame. Tell us about the Voldemort-like Kancha Cheena.
He's a kind of villain never seen in Indian cinema. I have been in this industry for over 30 years and have come across all kinds of villains. They are all somewhat alike. They enter in one scene looking menacing but eventually, get bashed up by the hero. What sort of villain is that?
Kancha Cheena is a very unpredictable character. He has interpreted the Bhagwad Gita in a weird way of his own. All his decisions and moves are directly or indirectly influenced by that holy book. He is a very complex character who is exceedingly difficult to process. It's a brilliantly written character.
If you look at any Hollywood superhero films, their baddies are just too powerful. In fact, they are so overbearing, the good guy gets the beating almost throughout the film.
In fact, I see a lot of parallels between Kancha and The Joker from The Dark Knight. It's great that both Karan Johar (the producer) and Karan Malhotra (the director) have come up with a negative character that is so larger-than-life that defeating him towards the end makes the hero worthy of the title.
Image: Sanjay Dutt
'I have crossed that stage where my films take me forward or backward as an actor'
Did you see yourself committing to such a menacing role at this stage in your career?
Karan Johar called me up and told me that I hadn't work with Dharma Productions since a long time -- my last film with them being Gumrah in 1993. He added that all these years, he really didn't have anything great to offer me. It was only now that he had an interesting part for me.
He promptly sent director Karan Malhotra for the script narration. I was bowled over after listening to the script. Apart from the overall story, the way he had conceived Kancha, I totally loved it and decided to give it my best.
Having acted in over 70 films, how does Agneepath take you forward as an actor?
I have crossed that stage where my films take me forward or backward as an actor.
What I do is remain committed to my work and do it with all honesty, whether it's a Rascals or a Chatur Singh Two Star. These are films done as favours to friends.
Coming back to Kancha Cheena, it was a challenge even at this stage to take up the role. Not just for me, it would have been a challenge for any actor to enact this extremely menacing figure.
What makes him scarier is that there is no justification for his ruthlessness. He is plain evil.
Image: A scene from Agneepath
'Rascals and Chatur Singh are films that were done as favour to friends'
Did you experience through Kancha, a side of you that you didn't know existed?
Something of that sort did happen. A week ago, when we were dubbing for the film's climax, I asked the crew to stop midway and I went out of the studio.
The team sort of panicked, and Karan (Malhotra) came out and asked me, "Sir, what happened?" I couldn't bring myself to tell him what I was going through because I thought he'd really laugh at it.
What were you going through?
I got scared. Like, really, I was terrified to see myself on screen that way. I couldn't recognise myself and couldn't believe it was me who pulled that off. It freaked me out for a bit, and then I regained control.
Image: A scene from Rascals
'Our Agneepath is even more grounded and rustic'
Did you shave off your hair for real?
We tried using prosthetics. As you must be aware, it's an elaborate process that takes nearly three hours to put on and remove. When we reached the location in Diu, with all that make-up on me, the heat was such that it all melted away.
We had to take a quick decision regarding this. The only option was to shave. So I said, "Jai Mata Di" and went bald.
Contrary to some reports, Kancha being bald was not an afterthought. In Karan Malhotra's sketches of the character during script-reading sessions, Kancha had no hair. I'm glad I went bald as it is distracting to perform with prosthetics on, especially in the heat.
You mention the Bhagwad Gita as an influence on Kancha's antics. Have you read it?
No, I haven't. I have read the epic Ramayana, though. And that's about all the holy books that I have read.
What is it that you really have retained from Mukul Anand's Agneepath?
That film is a mini classic. It has so many things going for it, right from the performances, especially by Mithunda and Danny and Amit sir (Amitabh Bachchan) is beyond words -- to the dialogues, to the very nicely written characters. In that context, our Agneepath is even more grounded and rustic in appeal.
Image: Movie poster of Agneepath
'The song Chikni Chameli was an important part of the plot'
That film didn't work when it hit the theatres. What do you think went wrong?
I have no idea. If I was the entire audience, I would have made it a big hit. Maybe it was way ahead of its time since Mukul was a visionary director who made extraordinary films.
Re-enacting Kancha would have been difficult for me but, again, Karan Malhotra guided me through the journey of Kancha. He wasn't stringent about his ways, and would listen to me if I had suggestions worth incorporating.
You mention that the new Agneepath has got a great script and Karan Malhotra has directed it brilliantly. So why does the need arise to add, say, a Chikni Chameli?
It was always there, this item song. Right from the time Malhotra narrated the script, the song was an important part of the plot.
The problem was they weren't getting any good tracks, which caused the delay, making the item number look like a late addition.
Image: A scene from Agneepath
'I cannot just wear make-up, don a wig and dance with Sonakshi Sinha'
So what do you think of Katrina's performance?
I was shocked to see her dancing the way she did. It is a brilliantly bold performance. Katrina is used to western styles of dancing whereas this song originated from the laawni form of dance from Marathwada.
She rehearsed for around 10-15 days before shooting and that act is a masterstroke!
You worked with Hrithik Roshan when he had newly been launched (Mission Kashmir). What change do you see in him today?
It was a pleasure working with him. Since Mission Kashmir, he has come a very long way, and Agneepath is easily his best performance so far.
The Hrithik I knew in Mission Kashmir was a nervous man, of course his first film hadn't even released then. To see his terrific growth from being so naive to being this focused and hardworking, it just delights me.
Did it ever occur to you that you could play the protagonist, Vijay Dinanath Chauhan?
Not at all. Vijay is a young character. I am 50 years old and I have to pick roles that suit me. I cannot just wear make-up, don a wig and dance with Sonakshi Sinha.
Image: A scene from Agneepath
'I'm barely concerned about camps, I'm a freelancer'
Does that limit the roles we will see you pick?
It's not exactly the way you put it. Amitji (Amitabh Bachchan) gets fantastic roles even at his age.
The best thing is to accept and move on. I am a human being and cannot remain 25 all my life. If I choose to do all of that, it will be like those movies which people laugh at.
Now I have to pick characters which have a meaning and which matter to the plot.
What changes do you see in the industry as you enter your fourth decade in Bollywood?
It has become a lot more tech-savvy. The negative thing I see is that the family has broken up. There is no feeling of warmth or togetherness. Everybody is divided into camps and there is a lot of back-biting and all of that stuff.
Which camp do you belong to?
I'm barely concerned about it. I'm a freelancer (laughs).
Image: Sanjay Dutt and Karan Johar
'Dabangg was well made. Bodyguard was average'
Of all the characters you have played, which is the closest to your personality?
It has to be Munnabhai. That character is me.
We are making the third film which should release next year. I appreciate the fact that Vinod Chopra and Rajkumar Hirani aren't people who made the film just for the heck of it.
If Vinod wants, he can make a Munnabhai film every year and make lots of money from it, but that is not his intention. His intention is to keep the brand alive and make the third Munnabhai film better than Lage Raho Munna Bhai.
How does your wife Maanyata react to the kind of films you do?
She doesn't interfere with my work too much. We do discuss movies but I don't take her consent before signing any film.
That said, if I do a trashy film, she doesn't play the holy wife and say, "Oh my husband is so great." She gives me an honest opinion.
What kind of films do you enjoy watching?
I can't watch scary movies or ones with too much blood and gore. What suits me best is comedy or action -- The Matrix kind.
In the last couple of years, I have enjoyed Dabangg -- it was very well made. Bodyguard was average. Others include Singham and The Dirty Picture -- both terrific films which I enjoyed very much. Hats off to director Milan Luthria who was convinced about the film from day one.
Image: Sanjay Dutt in Lage Raho Munna Bhai
'I won't support my daughter if she wants to join films'
Is it true you don't want your daughter Trishala to join the film industry?
It is absolutely true and underlined over 500 times. She is my daughter and I don't have to give any answers to anybody.
Does that hint at your being very conservative?
Look, if you really want answers, I might as well tell you now.
My father never wanted any of the women from our family to join the industry. It wasn't because of the negative way it was represented, or because the country deemed it as a taboo profession, but plainly due to the long struggle one has to endure to succeed, especially for a woman.
I cannot just let go of my father's legacy. Otherwise, I have pretty-looking sisters who could have joined too.
But from what we have heard, Trishala has set her heart on becoming a Bollywood sensation.
Really? I can assure you that I won't be there to support her. Let us see who stands for her then.
Image: A scene from Mission Kashmir
'I have thought about having my biography written'
How was fatherhood the second time round?
I didn't experience fatherhood so much the first time because it was traumatic with a lot of court cases going on then. It was extremely sad and I believe no child should ever be put through such things. Her grandparents too had filed a case against me in the States and I had to file one back.
All of this was just very bad and I regret every bit of it. I wish I could spend that time with Trishala which I am now getting to spend with my kids. Hopefully, we will make up for lost time.
When your kids grow up, which are the five movies of yours you would want to show them first?
Munnabhai 1 and 2. Naam, Vaastav and Saajan.
You have had an incredibly dramatic life. Ever thought of getting a biography done or writing one yourself?
I have thought of it. But it is an elaborate procedure. And you need the right sort of people around you, from the writers to the editors to the publishers. If something works out, why not.
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Image: A scene from Agneepath