CHENNAI: It is never easy to create a biopic about a celebrity who is still alive, but that isn’t the only reason Rajkumar Hirani’s “Sanju” fails to hit the mark. Hirani — who is known for “Munna Bhai M.B.B.S.,” “Three Idiots” and “PK” — appears to be in awe of his subject, actor Sanjay Dutt, who was once labelled the “bad boy of Bollywood.” The son of illustrious parents, actors Sunil Dutt and Nargis, Sanjay (who was endearingly called Sanju at home) entangled himself in a web of drugs and women before he was convicted of possessing guns supplied by extremists who staged the 1993 bombings in Mumbai in 2006.
Hirani, who co-wrote the screenplay, however, refuses to blame his protagonist. As he tells us in his movie — and as Sanjay (played by Ranbir Kapoor) narrates to his wide-eyed, besotted biographer, Winnie Diaz (played by Anushka Sharma in a hideous wig) — Sanjay was supposedly a victim of circumstance. It is only his wife, Manyata Dutt (Dia Mirza), who injects a bit of balance into the story by saying that her husband had made “bad choices.”
The film leads viewers through a winding checklist of why the wayward actor cannot possibly take responsibility for his actions, including his mother Nargis’ (Manisha Koirala) cancer and his girlfriend Ruby’s (Sonam Kapoor) decision to walk away from the relationship. Drug peddlers and communal violence are blamed for the actor’s decline into increasingly questionable behavior, with little responsibility laid at his feet. It’s hard to swallow and bitter at best in a country where Bollywood actors are sometimes perceived to have been unfairly absolved of their crimes.
In the end, the press is blamed for Sanjay’s travails: It convicted him even before the judicial process could be completed. While he is now free, having spent 23 years in and out of jail, Hirani’s hagiographic admiration leaves the viewer with no real answer as to why the actor associated with unsavory characters in the first place.
With its largely disappointing cast — barring Ranbir, who melts seamlessly into character, and Vicky Kaushal as Sanju’s friend, Kamli, who brings radiant humor to the film — this puppy-eyed look at a Bollywood legend falls disappointingly short of the mark.