Sanju: More Than Drugs, Sex, and Rock-&-Roll!

After a four-year hiatus, ace filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani returns with Sanju – one of the most awaited biopics of the year. Sanju revolves around Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt (played by Ranbir Kapoor), exploring his life through a series of chapters and vignettes from varying perspectives, including his father Sunil Dutt (Paresh Rawal), his best friend Kamli (Vicky Kaushal), and his wife Maanyata (Dia Mirza). From escaping reality using drugs to the controversy surrounding his gun ownership and arrests, Sanjay Dutt’s life is depicted as an intense roller coaster of emotions and experiences, which journalist and writer Winnie Dias (Anushka Sharma) takes on the responsibility of compiling and publishing in his biography.

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Biopics about film stars can be presented in a number of different ways, with certain events and experiences emphasized over others. Raju Hirani’s choice to highlight excerpts and phases of Sanjay Dutt’s life, with lessons and messages woven into the narrative, is an appropriate style of direction that sustains interest throughout the film. Kudos and much appreciation to the filmmakers for integrating viewpoints of different people, which also help resolve mysteries and misunderstandings in relationships between characters. Needless to say, the movie is star-studded, featuring special appearances by Sonam Kapoor, Jim Sarbh, Boman Irani, and Manisha Koirala, among others, as significant individuals in Sanju Baba’s life.

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In any Rajkumar Hirani directorial, one can always find an underlying theme or message beyond the masala and entertainment value of his films. In addition to discussing actual incidents from the eventful life of Sanjay Dutt, the biopic focused quite a bit on news media and its impact in skewing public perceptions of a celebrity. The fact that major headlines in the press also affected the personal relationships between the actor and his friends and family struck a powerful chord similar to Hirani’s previous film PK, in which the director explored associations and assumptions about religion. This exploration of the far-reaching implications of news media flitted in and out of the film, both subtly through Sunil Dutt’s words of wisdom to his son through songs and overtly with Sanju’s FM radio show in prison.

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Like many biopics, Sanju is rather long and the editing could have been more crisp. The film’s background score also felt very repetitive and reminiscent of PK in sections. Coming to the performances, Ranbir Kapoor has outdone himself in and as Sanju. From imitating Sanjay Dutt’s body language and demeanor to capturing nuanced emotions and expressions, there is not a moment in this film where viewers doubt whether they are indeed watching Sanjay Dutt onscreen. Paresh Rawal is an actor par excellence, whose portrayal of a wise and mature father is impeccable. Vicky Kaushal essays the role of Sanju’s best friend wonderfully, and his conversation with Sunil Dutt about Sanju feeling burdened by expectations of his father’s legacy in the community resonates with anyone pursuing a similar line of career as their parents or family. The special appearance of Sanjay Dutt himself at the end, though not unexpected, provides a nice closure for this ode to his life.

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Final Verdict: In Sanju, Rajkumar Hirani and team deliver power-packed performances and a solid message about the role, impact, and interference of the press and news media in the lives of celebrities. Interspersing drama, comedy, and sentimentality, this R-rated biopic showcases that Sanjay Dutt’s life is much more than the public perception of drugs, sex, and rock-and-roll.

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