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‘Sanju’ – Bollywood biopic is a great watch even if you know nothing about Sanjay Dutt… (review)

‘Sanju’ – Bollywood biopic is a great watch even if you know nothing about Sanjay Dutt… (review)

Hellraiser, iconic star, pin-up: money, fame, women and jail time…and one man (or maybe two?) at the centre of it all…

FEW LIVES have ever been as dramatic, tumultuous or traumatic as Bollywood superstar Sanjay Dutt’s.

Drug addiction, terrorism charges, jail, women – 350 according to the star himself in the film when cornered into estimating – and something of a difficult youth growing up in the glare of the public eye, having a famous actor Dad, Sunil, and even more iconic actress mum, Nargis – and all of this simply contributing to a personality just waiting to go off the rails and indeed doing so… his mother died of cancer, his father became a politician and Sanjay (Sanju) didn’t feel loved by Dad in the beginning.

This new biopic film by Rajkumar Hirani – one of the most successful of all filmmakers in India in recent times, does not disappoint and does not hide much (maybe, anything).

It’s a rich, roller-coaster of a ride (the tagline has been ‘one man, many lives’) and at just over two and a half-hours, it doesn’t flag and Hirani shows his instinctual and faultless feel for entertainment and knowing what the audience needs to know as it builds to its very emotional climax.

Dutt in the film is played by probably the biggest male Bollywood star of his generation – the mid-30s Ranbir Kapoor.

He is excellent as he moves through Dutt down the ages (the real Sanjay is 58) and presents a powerful portrait of a good guy who made a lot of bad choices.

Dutt remains of one of the top figures in Indian cinema – his rehabilitation has been almost complete – with this film it surely is now.

Hirani was responsible for ‘Munna bhai MBBS’ (a story about a crook initially faking to be a doctor and then training to do so to appease his father who thought he was doc all the time) which helped to put Dutt right back in the game and was a big hit.

Hirani’s new film is divided into two segments and the interval (not entirely necessary for a film of this length but in keeping with Indian filmmaking custom) – acts as the divider.

The first, more or less, deals with the drug-taking and addiction, the second, the terrorism charges – related to possession of an assault weapon, during a time when tensions between religious groups in Mumbai were at their most fraught. Dutt got mixed up with some bad folks and felt his family, especially, his father as a Mumbai MP in his later years, were a target.

Hirani shows that Dutt has an addictive personality and falls into bad company very easily.

His antennae for bad influences is zero; his early relationship with his Dad (Paresh Rawal) is torturous, he fares better with Mum (Manisha Koirala) but still falls into the dubious charm of a character called Zubin Mistry (Jim Sarbh) early on.

The supporting acting is tremendous – special mention must go to Rawal as Sanjay Dutt and Vicky Kaushal as friend Kamlesh, and it’s the male relationships that are at the centre of it – with Dad and best mate. Hirani appears less interested in the female ones but Dia Mirza (as long-suffering wife Manyata) and Anushka Sharma (as intrepid biographer Winni) do a grand job too and keep the film moving.

Indeed, it’s a star-studded line-up and everyone rises to the occasion.

Hirani wants you to love ‘Sanju’ the way he does – after this film, that is entirely possible…

ACV rating:**** (out of five)

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture