Spoilers ahead, don’t read if you have not watched ‘Sanju’ yet.
The film ‘Sanju’ will take its place in the history of Bollywood as one of the highest grossers of the year 2018.
But in my opinion, that laurel wouldn’t do justice to the film.
This film should go down in cinema history for primarily two reasons:
First, it is perhaps the best example of PR (Public Relations) by using one of the most powerful media platforms available to man, and that is cinema.
Secondly, Sanju will should be able spawn a completely new genre of Bollywood filmmaking called “Fictional Biopic”.
Let me explain my points one by one, like two halves of a feature film with an intermission thrown in between.
First half: Why Sanju is a perfect PR image makeover for Sanjay Dutt
Public Relations exercises, by definition, is to establish a certain kind of image in the minds of the consumers without resorting to blatant advertising. Now that you know what PR is all about, look at Sanjay Dutt as a Brand (or Talent) and imagine what the film has done to him.
Sanjay has been receiving the proverbial “bad press” for a large part of his adult life. It is not because the press was targeting him, but because “there’s no good news like bad news”.
The bad news about Sanjay Dutt weighed over the good news so heavily that there was no redemption. Only something drastic could change that public perception and Sanju was able to achieve that.
The film not only changed the public perception about Sanjay, it has also established him as some sort of a Greek tragic hero who had a tragic flaw (termed as Hamartia) in him which was aggravated by the circumstances he was thrown in.
Sanju successfully establishes Sanjay Dutt as a victim who was sucked into the big, bad world of Bollywood (and underworld) and was made to pay the price of being a celebrity (son).
The first half of the film is entirely devoted towards his struggles as an addict and how he conquered all odds to come out clean.
By the time, we get into the most controversial parts of his life (like the Illegal Arms Possession Case), Sanjay Dutt is already a tragic hero in your mind!
That’s perfect PR! And the concept of him being tragic hero ages like wine as the film progresses.
In the second half of the film, we are confronted with Sanjay Dutt keeping assault rifles in his garage. We all knew that.
He was convicted for this crime and he had justified it numerous times why he got the arms. But a superb story-telling and screenplay by Raju Hirani will now permanently establish why he did that.
If you go back to his earlier interviews, that was the version that Sanjay Dutt had stuck to right from the beginning when the news of the incident broke.
He has been convicted for keeping the assault rifles but the film firmly establishes why he committed the crime beyond doubt. The film also firmly establishes that Dutt had a good reason to commit the crime. The superb narration not only makes you forgive him for the crime but you start empathising with him because he seems to have paid a price which is much more that he actually deserved. Throw in some garnish in the form of blame-the-press, and you have a perfect Greek tragic hero who has remained victorious even in his apparent defeat.
The fact has been ignored in the film is that Sanjay Dutt has received a lot of good press too. In fact, the press (including the film industry) have vociferously supported him during his incarceration. It is also a matter a record that scores of articles were written and placed prominently on newspaper front-pages that empathised with him.
The press prominently covered him without much value judgement. Whenever there used to be a date with the law, the public always knew about it in detail. I don’t remember the press consistently painting him as a villain during his trials or tribulations as the script of Sanju tries to suggest.
Watch the film and you will come out with a completely different picture of the incidents in your mind. Well that’s powerful PR.
In fact, I would say that Sanju is THE best form of PR that can be made available to a star.
Second Half: Why Sanju should be classified as Fictional Biopic
Welcome to the second half of the article, where we discuss why Sanju should be categorised in a new genre of filmmaking called, the Fictional Biopic.
If you watch the film right from the beginning, there comes a disclaimer on the big screen that the events in Sanju have been dramatised. The disclaimer also says that cinematic liberties have been while narrative a tale that is based on the life of an actual person.
That declaration is the key because you find the footprints of dramatisation everywhere in the film. Some of the key characters in the film are fictional, some of the key real characters never find a mention.
If you look at the incidents narrated in the film, the same trajectory has been followed. Some key incidents shown in the film are fictional while the real ones don’t even find a mention.
Let’s look at the fictional characters. The character of Anushka Sharma is pure fiction. She never existed in real life and Rajkumar Hirani has confirmed that himself. So, by simple logic, all the incidents connected with Anushka Sharma shown in the film is pure fiction too. Now figure how much the film has invested on Anushka Sharma in terms of actual footage in ‘Sanju’. Are you getting the drift?
So, what about the characters that look real? Sorry to disappoint you but they too are a mix of several real-life characters. Again, if several real-life characters have been “mixed” to create one screen character, we should call the screen character semi-fictional too, right?
Let’s look at the semi-fictional characters in the film.
Sanjay Dutt has a good Gujarati friend but he wasn’t involved in his life the way as it is shown in the film. Vicky Kaushal, the actor who played Kamli, admitted in an interview to Indian Express that the character is not based on one person but it is an amalgamation of some of Sanjay Dutt’s closest friends. So, Kamli (Vicky Kaushal) is a semi-fictional character. Also, don’t forget the interaction time of Vicky Kaushal and Anushka Sharma on-screen. It’s a good sub-plot but fictional in nature as well.
Ruby and her Parsi family are fictional characters too. There is no record of such an actress (or the events) who had worked with Sanjay Dutt.
The Bollywood Bhai is a semi-fictional character as well. Again, this incident of a Bhai directly shooting at Sanjay Dutt from a revolver is implausible and never-heard-off.
Some small characters (the theatre manager, Ruby’s father) are just fillers to carry the story forward.
Now let’s take a look at the key characters who never made an appearance in the film. The list is quite long and it is impossible to mention all the names. However, here’s an abridged list.
1. Sanjay’s first wife Richa Sharma, who died of cancer. Richa and Sanjay have a daughter together called Trishala. There’s a whole story out there for anybody who knows how to Google.
2. Sanjay’s second wife Rhea Pillai.
3. Sanjay’s co-stars like Madhuri Dixit who played an important role in his life.
4. The Mumbai underworld gangsters who were known to have interacted closely with Sanjay Dutt, as per police records.
5. The politicians and film industry biggies who supported him all the way and vouched for his innocence. I wouldn’t go into the details about the politicians but those verified stories can be easily sourced from Google. They are all over the place.
So, as you can see the film can be called anything but a real-life reflection of Sanjay Dutt, the human being.
The film follows a unique method of pick-and-choose of real-life incidents and characters. All of those were then re-mixed with fictional characters and incidents. The resultant cocktail is so potent that we are all drunk on Sanju and it has already crossed Rs 150 crores at the box office as we speak.
PS: My headline is without a question mark.