Litmus Test

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 26 Jun 2018 10:38:35


By Aasawari Shenolikar,

For fifteen long years he has been a part of the film industry and even though he only has four films to his credit - they all have been blockbusters, that have catapulted him into the legion of legends. Taking help of satire, he has very ably and successfully put forth, through fiction, many pivotal issues that have been the bane of our society, plaguing mankind. His films have forced all of us to introspect and that is a hallmark of a successful individual who knows his craft.

Today he is in the news for picking up a subject that many wouldn't dare to touch even with a long pole - narrating the life and story of Bollywood’s enfant terrible Sanjay Dutt. Foraying into the biopic territory is not easy - for it is extremely difficult to do justice to the life story of a person who happens to be someone with whom you’ve worked closely, who was a part of your initial hits, and who has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. But Rajkumar Hirani, the director and story teller is not one to be bogged down - all that the capable narrator required was rich content and in Sanjay Dutt’s life he has found something that is worth telling to the audience. Talking to The Hitavada, Hirani, a Nagpurian, reveals what drew him to the subject…

“I was thinking of making another series of Munnabhai. In this connection when I met Sanjay Dutt, who had just been released, he sat me down and opened up about his life. I was crazily attracted to it and as a filmmaker, I am greedy for content that is unusual. I found that this had all the makings of a cinema that will appeal to the audience, a multilayered film about an actor, whose life is sort of like an open book, yet there is so much more to tell that I discovered through our sessions,” says Hirani.

Making a biopic can be difficult, and making a biopic of a person who has spent a considerable time in the jail for anti- national activities, more so. How challenging was it for Hirani to put together a cohesive narrative that doesn’t waver from the truth? “During my journey of making Sanju, I discovered two things - from the writer’s prespective it is easy as the material is existing. But the challenge comes when you start going through the ready material.

You then realize that it is not structured for a film. There are great anecdotes, there are thrilling moments, ups and downs - all these need to be sifted through, united cohesively to be woven into a script. The other challenge is, even if you don’t like anything in a biopic, you cannot change it. If I am making any other genre of film, if I don’t like the climax, I have the flexibility of changing it. The limitation with a biopic is you have to stick to the person’s life history - the facts and figures cannot be fudged.”

Hirani and his writer Abhijaat Joshi took three long years before Hirani finally switched on the camera and called ‘Action.’ “See everyone knows about Sanjay Dutt and his life. I wanted to bring to screen events that people are not aware about - the battles within the family, his interaction with his father, the role that hs sisters played in his life. I talked extensively to lawyers, his family members, friends, Rakesh Maria, the police commissioner handling his case before I and Abhijaat put pen to paper,” he explains.

So has Hirani in any way tried to glorify Dutt? “No way,” is his quick reaction, “spending three years of my life so I could glorify someone who I wouldn’t quanitfy as a close friend, - the thought is totally unreasonable. Sanjay Dutt was willing to tell his story to the world, I was willing to make it, and my precondition to him was that ‘I will make the film as he has told me, as I see it.’ He gave me the green signal. I am reiterating that Sanju does not venerate Sanjay Dutt. As a filmmaker, I saw immense potential in bringing to screen his life, and I did that, truthfully.”

At this point of time, Hirani lays stress on the fact that had he made another Munnabhai, it would have opened well. But as someone who knows intimately the power of a compelling story, he opted to make Sanju instead.
A dialogue in the trailer is about ‘Sanju and his hundreds of girl friends’, many of whom might be embarrassed if the limelight is focused on them, even for a short time. Isn’t this shaky ground? “Sanjay Dutt’s romantic liasions are not my focus in the film. They are but mere passing references that will not hurt anyone’s sentiments. Sanju is about his gun story, it is about his drug story and the battles that he fought - with himself, with his loved ones. It’s about his dramatic past that the people are going to see.”

The conversation then veers to the choice of the cast. Why did he think Ranbir Kapoor would be the apt choice?
Laughing he asks me, “Do you think I made a mistake?” After watching the trailer, everyone agrees that no one else could have done a better job. It was pretty amazing to see Ranbir emulate Sanjay Dutt and doing an exemplary job. “Exactly!” says Hirani, “It was pure instinct that I zeroed down on Ranbir Kapoor. The tough part was to make him look like Sanjay Dutt when he was all muscles. I must compliment Ranbir for his sheer dedication. He has gone beyond the brief and put his heart and soul in this film. Nowhere do you see Ranbir Kapoor, you see Sanjay Dutt.” To get the look right, Hirani took his time and shot it in phases. “Authenticity was more important,” he says.

That being said, Hirani is glad that Dutt’s trials are over. “He is a survivor. When I look back, I can see how difficult it was for him as an undertrial when we were shooting for Munnabhai. Everyday was a battle for him, he was required to go and sit in the court when his trial was on. He’d come back, shoot late in the night. And get ready to sit in the court in the mornings. The sword was constantly hanging on his head. I am glad that this phase is over.”

Jail, he says, has mellowed down Sanjay Dutt but physically also he has shrunk. “The tough life has taken a toll. But for him, hopefully good days are back.”
As of now, Rajkumar Hirani is battling the butterflies and the nervousness that is increasing a wee bit everyday as Friday approaches. “I still get the fluttering feeling before the release of my movie. This time it’s no different. What is different is that I have a movie that is distinct from my earlier work. I have told an amazing story. I hope people appreciate it.”

Sanju also features Sonam Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, Manisha Koirala, Anushka Sharma, Dia Mirza and Vicky Kaushal among others. The film is set to release on June 29. n