Sanjay Dutt has been sentenced for a crime he admitted to committing 20 years ago. As the nation debates whether the now reformed star should be punished or pardoned, Meenakshi Rao & Deebashree Mohanty tell you how the punishment was long time coming for a brash child who never grew up, pained his star parents by taking a wrong path and reformed only too late in life
When Nargis Dutt was being taken to the US for treatment of pancreatic cancer, she was suffering yes, but not just because of this near fatal ailment. A much more debilitating problem was killing her in the mind — seeing her son falling into a trap from where she knew there would be no coming back.
Sanjay Dutt, turning 21 back then, had been showing all kinds of signs that kill parents emotionally — he had dropped out of college, was hanging out with rogue friends and was taking to drugs in a big way. For a mother who doted on her only son, this would have been the final straw.
“Please look after Sanju,” she desperately appealed to her elder daughter Namrata. “See that he does not get mixed up with those silly boys again. He is too stupid in his head. He does not realise what he is doing and know it is going to hurt him,” she said.
A year later in 1981, she returned home – only to pass away four days before the premiere of Sanjay Dutt’s debut film Rocky. Even today, Sanjay, at age 59, gets moisture in his eyes when he talks about it: “Everyone thinks my mother died of cancer. Actually, she was cured of cancer. She died of a urinary tract infection due to lowered immunity levels,” he said recently while inaugurating the Nargis Dutt Cancer Memorial Hospital’s paediatric cancer wing.
What he does not say, and perhaps is still unable to admit to himself even privately, is that the lady who stole a million hearts on silver screen went away broken hearted about her son.
For 25 years after her death, her husband Sunil Dutt carried the cross of dealing with this wayward son. He aged doing that. It broke him too, trying to clean Sanjay of drugs, keeping him out of bad company and attempting to give his life a positive direction. In the end, when a TADA case was slapped on Sanjay for possessing weapons that may have been part of a consignment used in the 1993 serial bombings of Mumbai, Sunil Dutt, an MP and a patriot of immense respect, could only writhe in helpless pain of being the father of a son tainted with such grave anti-national charges.
His daughter Namrata, in a salutary book on her parents Mr & Mrs Dutt, tells you how her broken father felt helpless and humiliated. “He would drive down to Arthur Road police station (where Sanjay was lodged) at 3 am and sit outside all alone,” she writes.
Sometimes, he would seek help from friends and followers like director-producer Mahesh Bhatt who has been privy to the Dutt family’s unending sufferings due Sanjay and his misguided ways.
Dutt saheb did manage to get his son de-addicted in the same hospital where his wife had been treated of cancer, but what he could not do was change a much pampered Sanjay’s penchant to court trouble, Bhatt tells you, explaining how Sanjay is the creation of his own actions, a child who never grew up, a brash youngster who is no anti-national, just a perfect case of bigada shehzada who pegged his life too stupidly on controversies.
“Sunil Dutt was a strict disciplinarian. But he was lenient when it came to Sanjay. He was very protective towards him and would ignore all his addictions. Probably because, he felt that Sanjay was the most hit by Nargisji’s death. Even his sisters, especially Namrata, are possessive about him. Sanjay lived in a protected cocoon built by his family. The real world did not exist for him. Not till he spent 18 months in jail. That changed him a lot, made him much more responsible and a mature actor,” Bhatt says.
Now, as the nation debates whether this bigada shehzada needs to be punished for his unlawful deed or pardoned for showing reform in the last 20 years, his parents thankfully are not there to witness yet another jail term for their son who could have had the world at his feet but chose instead to live life dangerously.
Sanjay, Namrata has often admitted, is a born rebel. “He’d pick up my father’s stubs and take puffs. Mom sometimes got angry with him, spewing expletives and even once throwing a chappal at him,” she writes, insisting fervently that it all started going bad for Sanju Baba when he was “wrongfully” sent to a boarding school at a tender age of 3.
“It wasn’t right. He was only in third grade. The initial days were terrible. He was ragged and bullied. He’d write, ‘I miss you mom, I love you, I want to come home’. Mom would write letters to console him,” she says in her book.
His school friends, however, say that there was no one more plush than Sanjay Dutt at school and he was well aware of that.
“Am very excited about Munna Bhai 3. Tu sunega na... hil jaega! Kya script hai...’ Sanjay told his schoolmate Parveen Vashisht just the other day in December 2012. One year his senior, Vashisht recalls how a thoroughly indulged child of star parents Sanjay was and how he would arrive in school in style. He enjoyed all the attention he got from everyone.
“The first thing that comes to my mind is the sheer opulence that Sanjay Dutt carried with himself to school. latest model cars, fashionable clothes and accessories one could only lust for. He had imported shaving gels and perfumes, not to mention the designer luggage. Such was the craze for his silver spoon existence that often the boys wanted to spend their summer vacation in his house, not their own,” Vashisht, now the Head Master of lawrence School in Sanawar, recalls.
But he says, Sanjay was no typical brat. He was kind and obedient too. “Apart from his Math teacher, Dutt was good to all,” Vashisht says, adding that he was passionate about extra-curriculars, good at English, bad at Maths and someone who wanted to become a pilot, like all others at that time.
Fly, he did, but in the wrong direction, looking for zest through linkages with the underworld and drugs. Drugs he finally managed to shed after a two-year intense course in Texas away from it all, but the underworld was something that has stuck to him wantonly.
Bhatt, whose film Naam gave Sanjay a new direction in life, insists that Dutt’s unlawful tilt should be viewed in context of the times Bollywood lived in those days. The underworld was an intimidating factor for Bollywood as it is. The Babri Masjid had just been razed and Mumbai was waiting to explode.
Dutt has maintained he took the contraband 9 mm pistol and the AK 56 as a safety measure for himself and his family. The bombings happened later, something Sanjay would never be involved with, Bhatt insists.
Namrata has another take on Sanjay’s slide. Once he reached middle school, he started enjoying his independence and returning from school and living at home became uncomfortable. “He joined Elphinstone College. Those days, colleges would be perpetually on strike. He lost interest in academics and got into bad company. Mom had a feeling that something was wrong. She’d wonder why he kept himself locked in his room. Soon she realised that he was taking some nasha. Sanju had started smoking marijuana. That was also the time mom’s health had begun failing. She couldn’t really monitor him. And dad was concentrating on mom,” she recalls in her book.
law, of course, is blind to all this — emotion, celebrity status, reform, public sentiment and even passage of time. So, Sanju Baba has to go to jail. He was earlier sentenced for six years for illegal weapons possession, so five years can safely be categorised as court leniency.
Nevertheless, there’s a sympathy wave, perhaps, because Dutt is no longer a brash star kid but a father of two, a responsible husband and a reformed drug addict who has shed his wild ways to settle down to lawful life. Today, the actor has been giving talks all over the country on how to shed bad habits and addictions. He has been involved in big charities and rehab programmes around the havenots. He has garnered enough emotional votes for people to be shocked that he has been sentenced in connection with the 1993 serial blasts in which he doesn’t have any direct involvement.
In the eye of such sentimentality that is bound to emerge around a reformed rake who also happens to be a lovable actor, it needs to be pointed out that he has not been convicted for involvement in the heinous blasts but penalised for illegally possessing a weapon for which he is getting a minimised sentence. As this vital line blurs in public eye, the sympathy pours out.
Indeed, it’s heartbreak for Sanju, his family and friends. You have a sister standing silently trying to hide the moisture in her eyes on national TV. She, and her brother Sanjay Dutt, are progenies of an upright father and a mother everyone loved to love. It’s a respected family you perceive as going to pieces, so you feel for it. You also feel for Sanjay Dutt because possessing a weapon in a nation where there are 34.7 million civilians carrying unregistered guns, comes across as a somewhat innocuous crime.
But there’s another — more concrete side to this story. The judicial system, often accused of miscarrying justice, has done its job for once. Even long-time pillar of Sanjay’s strength Bhatt admits that “the law has to take its course and filmstars should not be favoured just because they are celebrities. In that sense kudos to the judicial system, but I still feel that the punishment is slightly harsh,” he says.
Indeed, law is law and you don’t break it for anything, definitely not for a lark. This sentence will go a long way in setting an example against such acts by the rich and famous. It will also “reaffirm” your faith in justice for some time to come.
Sanjay Dutt has a month now with the option to file his last review petition or seek pardon. But, till then, he is going in for a crime he committed, not a perception that went wrong against him.
But for producer Bunty Walia, Dutt’s friend for 33 years now, it is hard timing. “Those who don’t know Sanjay well, he is a composed man who knows how to handle any situation but there is also a child in him that wants to cry on a friend’s shoulder. He has taken the news strongly. The only thing he said was ‘why nowIJ’ and ‘wish papa was here’,” He misses them every day,” Walia tells you. Bhatt, too, talks of the protective shield now gone. “I had accompanied Dutt saheb to the Crawford Market police station where Sanjay Dutt was kept for the first time after his arrest. He looked scared but he knew his father was there to support him. Today, he feels very vulnerable,” Bhatt says.
Way back in school, however, when Sanju first walked into the assembly hall, Bunty took him to be a pompous, smart Alec. “No child those days sported a branded wrist watch but here he was, flashing a Citizen! A month passed and my impression of him remained unaltered. I don’t remember how and when we became friends but once I got to understand him, the bond strengthened.” Walia, who has stood with Dutt during his most trying times, tells you.
“He was very close to his mother and the way aunty died impacted him deeply. Her coming out of coma and then slipping back into it made it very difficult for her children to reconcile to. Sanju found his mother in Namrata but he missed Nargisji’s guidance. It was a void he desperately wanted to fill,” his producer friend says.
If one were to look at his films in his earlier innings, it seems he lived his real life through the characters he played. In Naam, he begged for recognition something that signifies his life lived under the shadow of his legendary parents; in Khalnayak, he was villain with a heart of gold, a film he is known to have loved the most. In Agneepath as Kaancha Cheena, he was the don himself, rising to a role he so reverently looked up to in his younger days in real life.
And then there were these steamy relationships and break-ups which strangely added to his introverted existence.
Walia reveals, the break off with Tina Munim post Rocky had a big impact on Sanjay’s life. “He was hurt. There was no discussion on this topic ever. That is his way of dealing with problems. He just pushes them away thinking they will disappear,” Walia says, adding that Arshad Warsi was the only other actor Dutt opened up to.
Warsi was a nobody when introduced to Sanjay at a party. “I was so nervous that I forgot to shake hands with him but he extended his and told me ‘mujhe koi bimari nahi hai. We can shake hands you know.’ Everyone laughed and the next time we met, he spoke for four hours about his work and his movies. The sets of Munna Bhai MBBS were the biggest learning institution for me. I owe everything to bhai,” Warsi tells you.
The birth of Sanjay’s twin daughters in 2011, and his marriage to Manyata, changed him as a person completely, a fact even his sisters confirm. From a carefree person who lived by his own rules, he became family centric. No long shooting hours, adequate breaks and definitely no splurging.
“However busy he may be, he is just a Skype away from Trishala, his daughter from first wife Richa Sharma. Even when Manyata was pregnant, bhai wished they would be daughters. He had thought of their names and was excited about their growing up years. Bhai had decided to take a long break to spend time with his daughters this year. But God had something else in mind,” Warsi says. “He is a reformed man. Everyone could see that. I am no one to question the verdict but I feel it is a harsh one for anyone,” he says.
Suniel Shetty, the beleaguered star’s yaar and business partner who cancelled his shoot abroad to be with his buddy, feels, “Sanju is not just a well-built person, he is a strong man from within too. He has had some troubling times but he has turned them into experiences. He is going to do the same now. life has not been fair to him in many ways but he has not let that dampen his spirits. We had met for a New Year bash and Sanju was brimming with excitement about his projects,” Shetty recalls.
Their sunglasses business Shades is not doing too well but Shetty is hoping that the market conditions will improve soon.
The two had drifted apart briefly when Sanju decided to enter politics. “It was not a wise decision and I told him so. That got in a lot of changes in his family as well. But he had made up his mind. I was not even informed about his marriage to Manyata and I felt hurt. But, we made up and decided on a new venture. That can wait till Sanju is rid of all this. Personally, he is not a controversy child. He is an unlucky person in a wrong place at the wrong time,” he says.
Perhaps, in this troubled time, or when Sanjay Dutt goes to jail to pay for his misdeed, his hapless mother’s words would ring loud in his ears. When he was in school, she wrote to him: “You know you are our only son and we have great hopes on you. You must study hard and become a big man so that you can look after us in old age,” she wrote. He is a big man now, but his mother is not there to revel in that. That’s the story of Sanjay Dutt — a star child who has learnt that life is to be lived the correct way.