'Sanjay Dutt's mother's death marked him forever'
'A lovely boy with a heart of gold', 'A man who regrets his days as a drug addict', 'A boy gone astray' -- Sanjay Dutt's friends swear by him. Malavika Sangghvi decodes the man who's in trouble, yet again.
When I first met Sanjay Dutt 17 years ago while researching Black Friday, I found the man was down to earth, humble and genuinely affectionate unlike so many filmi people," says S Hussain Zaidi, noted crime reporter and author of Black Friday and Dongri to Dubai, books that lay bare the machinations of Mumbai's underworld.
"We met again recently when he had finished reading and re-reading Dongri to Dubai and wanted to serialise it on TV. I felt I was meeting a long-lost friend. One thing that I observed in him after several meetings is that he has no guile and cunning in him. It's unfortunate that his sufferings are not over yet."
Jaya Bachchan recalls, "He wrote me a long letter after watching Koshish, full of school-boy ardour and admiration, from a boy unable to communicate what he really felt.
"His problems arise out of his inability to communicate," she adds.
"I think his mother's death marked him forever," says Haseena Jethmalani, wife of noted lawyer Mahesh, a close friend and his former legal counsel. "He always spoke about his mother. And I feel everything he did has been to gain attention to make up for her loss."
The thing about Dutt's sentencing in the case related to the Bombay serial blasts is that it might just be the long overdue inflexion point in India when cold, hard justice and common sense defeat fuzzy sentimentality and outrageous entitlement.
Image: Sanjay Dutt with wife Maanyata and children, Iqra and Shahraan
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar
'He's the lovable young boy I used to meet even before he joined movies'
For too long, aided by the ghosts of feudalism and a Bollywood sentimentality which has perpetuated the myth of the gangster with a heart of gold (or the prostitute with the blind mother), the upper classes of India have got away with murder -- or light sentences.
Now Dutt's case promises to expose the hypocrisy and monumental entitlement that have crippled India.
No one is saying Dutt is a terrorist.
In the words of Bachchan, "He's the lovable young boy I used to meet even before he joined movies -- who had something about him that made you want to hug him."
That Dutt is every family's well-meaning but slightly dimwitted relative with an astonishing propensity for trouble is part of modern Indian folklore.
It is the responses to his sentencing, revealing the outrageous sense of privilege that the upper classes hold, that is so revelatory. When Justice Markandey Katju seeks his pardon "because he has suffered enough", when politicians like Amar Singh and Jaya Prada grandstand with governors, when Rajya Sabha members like Jaya Bachchan say "mine is an emotional appeal" about her plea for pardon, and when Bollywood's biggest stars queue up to offer their support and commiserations, even as Zaibunissa Kazi is convicted under the larger offense of TADA and justice is denied to hundreds more in the Bombay blasts case, it lays bare the fault line that has destroyed this country.
To be fair to him, Dutt himself has not sought pardon and says he is prepared to face his incarceration.
In fact, his behaviour since March 21, when the Supreme Court convicted him for the illegal possession of arms relating to the 1993 Mumbai blasts case, has been pretty exemplary: he has reported to work, desisted from making too many public appearances or statements and declared he is ready to pay for his sins.
Image: Amitabh Bachchan and Sanjay Dutt in Department
'Sanjay is the only actor, besides Amitabh Bachchan, who has had so many comebacks'
As always, he bears his cross with dignity.
In an article written in Tehelka in 2007 titled 'I can only hope his life now imitates Munnabhai', Mahesh Bhatt, the director who teased out of Dutt one of his most critically acclaimed performances in Naam, recounts the actor's debut years: "Word around Sanju, the whisper that is a kind of scream, was that here was this drug addict with blank, dead eyes, a no-good actor who got sniggered at every time he appeared on screen. There was his disastrous role in Vidhaata, where the audience roared with laughter when he did an emotional scene because he was so ineffective. Professionally, he was born dead; his reputation made him a leper nobody wanted to touch."
Be that as it may, privilege and entitlement have accompanied Dutt throughout his life and despite the many tragedies he faced, no one can deny that they bestowed on him a Bollywood launch that few can dream of with Rocky, produced by his father and starring Tina Munim, Reena Roy and Amjad Khan.
It propelled him into a career that has seen astonishing ups (Khalnayak and Munnabhai MBBS) and devastating downs (addictions and incarcerations).
"Sanjay is the only actor, besides Amitabh Bachchan, who has had so many comebacks," says Rauf Ahmed, senior journalist and former editor of Filmfare and Movie magazines. "Each time he was written off, he somehow managed to return stronger."
Image: Sanjay Dutt with his father father Sunil Dutt in Munnabhai MBBS
'All the star sons experimented with drugs'
But through all the indulgence of his friends and the benefit of doubt that people afforded him, there's no getting away from the fact that Dutt displayed a remarkable talent for getting into trouble.
"All the star sons experimented with drugs -- they still do," says an industry insider. "But it was Sanjay who quickly graduated from the recreational weed to hard drugs like heroin. And whereas other star kids kept their dealers and shady links in the background, Sanjay hobnobbed with them socially and became completely enmeshed in their company and agendas."
Says Kishwar Desai, the author of Darlingji; The True Love Story of Nargis and Sunil Dutt, "He told us how he had spent so many years as a drug addict and his own regrets about it. He described very movingly his father's grief over it -- and how much he had cried when he heard the recordings of his mother's voice -- after her death. Nargis had taped messages for him.
"Sanju struck us as someone who was extremely vulnerable and possibly someone who might have been exploited quite easily by others, even the film industry. As friends of the Dutt family told us, producers used to supply him with drugs to keep him working in their films. But it was clear to us that the macho image he projected on screen was just an act."
Image: Sanjay Dutt and Tina Ambani in Rocky
'Sanjay always looked conflicted'
Bachchan adds that there was a "great dichotomy" in his background.
"His mother Nargisji absolutely doted on him, while Sunil Dutt was the traditional strict father. And whereas his mother would hide his faults, his father tried hard to make him walk the straight and narrow. The boy always looked conflicted. Perhaps the addiction was a result of this," she says.
Whereas the litany of Dutt's misdemeanors, tragedies and goof ups are too well known to recount, suffice it to say that in this train accident of his life, few who know him are unmoved by his sincerity.
Many friends of Dutt beg off commenting about him for fear of offending his family. "I can speak to you off the record about Sanju," says one when contacted for an interview. "But things are so tricky -- and I don't want to risk my relationship with the Dutts."
Be that as it may, perhaps the time has come to break through the miasma of sentimentality and entitlement that have brought Dutt to the state he's in, to liberate him from their corrosive influence.
And we can begin by calling the 54-year-old actor and father of three by his proper name -- Sanjay Dutt -- erasing once and for all the nomenclature 'Sanju Baba' and all the baggage it comes with.
Image: Clockwise Priya, Namrata, Sanjay and Nargis Dutt