"Kar Har Maidan Fateh...... Conquer every Battle" from "Sanju"
Bollywood says its story in its own language better than anybody else. Rajkumar Hirani has yet again created a structurally flawed biopic but which inspires nonetheless with virtuoso performances by Ranbir Kapoor, Vicky Kaushal and Paresh Rawal. The 3 hour long biopic of Sanjay "Sanju" Dutt, Indian cinema's original inheritor/bad boy/actor/icon is more of a PR stunt in the end rather than a nuanced biopic which should provoke,inspire and engage its viewers on a different level. Having said that, "Sanju" does offer some extraordinary moments in Indian cinema.
The Brand of Hirani's story telling
There should be a caveat with my review ie... Quality of films in Bollywood so bad in India (situation now improving) that even when somebody does something well researched and scientific....it is hailed as bravura, amazing and what not.....Hirani and his writing partner Abhijat Joshi have always stuck to original content based on some real life relevance. Be it Munnabhai, be it 3 Idiots be it PK, they have never wavered from the method of choosing a well researched subject. In this case, research was not a problem for Hirani as he and Sanjay Dutt have been close friends for decades. So what is different about this biopic is that it tells Dutt's hard and tough moments with a dash of humour every now and then to make the film more palatable to a wider audience. Eg: The role of Nargis Dutt mimicking as Marlon Brando, performing antics to lighten up Dutt in his bad times does the trick of not trapping the viewer much in Dutt's grief. You also see extremely negative people in a fun avatar like Jim Sarbh's character "Gaud" who supplies drugs to Dutt in his youth. But possibly the best appearance of the movie has to be veteran actor Anjan Srivastava's role as Sitaram Kesari in the part sleeping part awake mode. More examples can be attributed of this story telling method like Karishma Tanna's nymphet role who cheats on Sanju's best friend with Sanju himself. She appears for less than 2 minutes but she makes her presence felt. In this situation itself, you might see Sanju cheating on his best friend's girlfriend but Hirani just "covers that up" with the next scene. The problem is of course with main female leads, Anoushka Sharma (in a ridiculous and atrocious hairdo and even more pathetic acting), Dia Marza( She exists), Sonam Kapoor (Useless, her "Mangalsutra" scene should be nominated for the "Razzies") are all bad casting choices. Except Manisha Koirala who plays the legendary Nargis Dutt, the film's female leads are just a headache to endure.
The Triumvirate of Vicky Kaushal, Paresh Rawal and Ranbir Kapoor !
Despite the above mentioned flaws, "Sanju" is a compelling film purely because of the chemistry of "two couples" in the story. They are "Sanjay and his best pal Kamlesh", "Sanjay and his father Sunil Dutt". Hirani very skilfully sticks to these characters and stays with them till the very end. I had reservations of Paresh Rawal to play Sunil Dutt as Dutt Sr. was a tall, well built Punjabi and a man of the soil but Rawal delivers nonetheless by adapting very well. In almost every scene, Rawal utters "Puttar" as in son in Punjabi to Ranbir. Be it the death of Nargis, the conviction and trial of Sanjay in the bomb blasts, The selection of the Munnabhai scripts, you will see Rawal all over the film. His grief of his son makes you feel that "Sanju" is your own son. Also the aura of Sunil Dutt's real life is so big, that you do get under the awe of Rawal's performance.
The most scintillating form of Vicky Kaushal's performance as Kamlesh is the real juice of "Sanju". No doubt that Ranbir leads in exemplary fashion but Kaushal as the East Coast Gujju with bad English and a horrible social quotient steals your heart. He comes up again and again in the movie as Sanju's moral compass. Be it his drug addiction, be it his mother's death, be it his jail term, be it his first girlfriend, Kaushal stays at all these crucial moments with Dutt.
The real power and the torch bearer of this film is by all means Ranbir Kapoor. Kapoor has put in everything he had in this role. Be it Dutt's walk, standing posture, hairstyle, clothing, that expanded smile, the lip sync in some scenes, Kapoor creates a mirror image of Dutt in every possible way. His range of emotions too are superb. He ends up playing 6 versions of Dutt in different phases of his life. The make up team does super work with Dutt's face and body chubby and fit at regular intervals. This back and forth preparations must be excruciating for Kapoor. At many levels, you feel caged in Kapoor's performance as a directionless and helpless human being but he does make sure you laugh enough.
The climax at the end with Kaushal and Dutt is rewarding to say the least.Its a real tear jerker when Kaushal breaks down.
Now the main problem with Indian filmmakers is that they will tell a great story but the finishing it up part is really average. Even in 3 Idiots, Hirani created that ridiculous scooter ride of Kareena Kapoor in the middle of Leh from nowhere to make some endless melodrama.Here the book published on Dutt is written in no time by Ms Ridiculous Hairdo(Sharma Kumari) . She is a fleeting fashionista who jet sets in Mercs and lavish penthouses. Believe me as someone whose family has close connections and business in book publishing, No author in India lives a life like that. She at best looks like a fake socialite masquerading as a 'celebrity author'. This could have been avoided. A choice of Konkona Sen, Radhika Apte or even Richa Chadda would have been fine. Just don't know why Hirani does this??
Also as the movie sails beautifully,Suddenly Hirani creates a case that Sanjay Dutt is not a terrorist. Any nuanced biopic should keep the judgement of Dutt as open ended as there are people who love him and people who really don't look upto him. Ranbir makes a concerted effort to clear Dutt's name in the bomb blast case. I mean Hirani assumed that all law enforcement agencies, anti terrorist cells, intelligence bureaus are bunch of fools and Dutt with all his flaws is picture perfect right. This could have been easily avoided.
Having said the above, I feel "Sanju" will still emerge as a big hit with audiences as the performance of Ranbir, Kaushal and Rawal are very high quality and the main flaws occur at the end.
Baniya Meter gives "Sanju" a 6 out of 10, it could have been a classic if the cliche Bollywood tools wouldn't have been applied in the end