Sanju Review: Ranbir Kapoor shines in an indulgent Sanjay Dutt biopic

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Bollywood.com Rating: 
3.5
Average: 3.5 (1 vote)

By Rohit Vats, Hindustan Times

An underworld don threatens Sanjay Dutt of dire consequences if he doesn’t attend his Ganpati visarjan ceremony. Sanjay confides this in his father Sunil Dutt. 

Sunil takes his son to seaside and tells him of the time when he was threatened by a mighty gangster in the past. This conversation gives Sanjay the courage to confront his opponents. 

Ultimately, he gets out of the tricky situation without being harmed. Sanjay’s father remains his hero during thick and thin. In a nutshell, this is the tone of director Rajkumar Hirani’s Sanju, a biopic on controversial Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt.

Sanjay (Ranbir Kapoor) is a typical rich brat. Born to famous parents, he doesn’t know how to cope up with the mountain of expectations. Mostly, others make a choice for him, and one such choice is substance abuse. Zubin Mistry (Jim Sarbh) becomes Sanjay’s go-to man for drugs. What follows is a lifetime of struggle for the budding actor, who -- like everything else – does what he has been asked to.

His broken love story with Ruby (Sonam Kapoor) leaves a scar on his psyche which starts to heal only after he meets a Gujarati NRI, Kamlesh (Vicky Kaushal). With drugs, alcohol and women thrown in between, Sanjay is a total mess. Hirani takes ample time, in fact the complete first half of Sanju, in establishing the impact of drugs on his life.

Thanks to Ranbir’s nuanced performance, you stay with the movie. Hirani and screenplay writer Abhijat Joshi give a disclaimer of sorts in the beginning with an elaborate scene. They create a biographer DN Tripathi (Piyush Mishra) who compares Sanjay with Mahatma Gandhi in the very first chapter. The actor, now in his 50s, gets so furious that he hurls a shoe at the writer. He is unhappy with the comparison as he considers himself an ordinary person.

The director continues with the sympathetic tone towards his subject as he brings in a new biographer, Vinnie Diaz (Anushka Sharma). In Sanju, we witness an immoral womaniser who is ashamed of himself deep down. This phase of Sanju, the film, is totally riding on Ranbir’s shoulders as the director keeps delaying the topic of terrorism, AK 56 and RDX.

All this comes much later in the film. By then, Sanjay has already been established as a ‘misunderstood’ youth. Hirani’s characteristic humour has forced the audience to choose a side, but there is no depth. There is no desire to delve deep into the reasons he became a bad boy.

Sanju shows what we all know. There are riots, an actor whose producers have direct links with the underworld and a media prone to sensationalism. Out of these, Hirani picks the media as the antagonist. Slowly and steadily, everything boils down to the topic of media being the real culprit because it kept the spotlight on Sanjay.

In the current scenario, this is a very workable ploy. This also provides a chance to state only what is already there in the public domain. Unfortunately, this has a flip side. By not saying anything new about Sanjay Dutt, Hirani makes Sanju a predictable tale.

Then there are important characters totally missing from the film. Sanjay’s first two wives and daughter are not there. Also, being a star comes with a lot of frills. Not much of that has been shown as if being a film star hasn’t added much to his persona.

Then there are clichés that we associate with Hirani and Bollywood. When, in the middle of the film, somebody calls Sunil Dutt ‘terrorist ka baap’, you know after a while somebody will address him as ‘Munnabhai ka baap’.

The director has tried to bind the screenplay with songs but instead of adding intensity to the film, they break the flow. On the topic of intensity, Sanju seems like two different films from the perspectives of Hirani and Ranbir. While Hirani’s Sanju is about the paradoxical life of a star, Ranbir’s is much more deep and complex.

Ranbir tries his best to add profundity to the proceedings, but the simple-linear narrative doesn’t give him the wings to fly. Among others, it’s Manisha Koirala who impresses as Nargis Dutt. Vicky Kaushal begins well but finds it difficult to remain the same guy as the film nears climax. A little spoiler here, but when he cries against a wall later in the film, he appears to be overdoing it. An extra dash of drama spoils the effect.

Sanju is another gem in Ranbir Kapoor’s repertoire, but the same can’t be said about Rajkumar Hirani.