Sanju is a 2018 Indian biographical film directed by Rajkumar Hirani and written by Hirani and Abhijat Joshi. It was jointly produced by Hirani and Vidhu Vinod Chopra under the banners Rajkumar Hirani Films and Vinod Chopra Films respectively. The film stars Ranbir Kapoor as Indian actor Sanjay Dutt, and the story follows through various stages of Dutt’s life. The film features an ensemble cast with Paresh Rawal, Vicky Kaushal, Manisha Koirala, Dia Mirza, Sonam Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Jim Sarbh playing pivotal roles.
In a conversation with Hirani, Dutt shared anecdotes from his life, which the former found intriguing and prompted him to make a film based on Dutt’s life. It was titled Sanju after the nickname Dutt’s mother Nargis used to call him. Principal photography began in January 2017 and was completed by January 2018. The film’s soundtrack was composed by Rohan-Rohan and Vikram Montrose with A. R. Rahman as a guest composer. Fox Star Studios acquired the distribution rights of the film.
Sanju was released worldwide on 29 June 2018. It received mostly positive reviews from critics, who praised Kapoor’s performance as Dutt but were divided on the performances of the rest of the cast and the film’s accuracy. The film registered the highest opening for any film released in India in 2018.
D. Triparthi, a biographer, attempts to write a biography on Sanjay Dutt, comparing him with Mahatma Gandhi. An angry Dutt has him thrown out. The court delivers its verdict regarding the 1993 Bombay bombings and sentences Dutt to jail for violating Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act. Manyata Dutt approaches Winnie Diaz, a London-based writer, to write Dutt’s biography to present his story to the public. Although unwilling at first, Winnie is threatened by Zubin Mistry, a drug lord to not write the biography, which, on the contrary, intrigues her and compels her to do so. Winnie first interviews Dutt, and his life in early years is revealed in a flashback.
The son of Sunil Dutt and Nargis, Sanjay’s father plans to launch him with the film Rocky to help Sanjay establish an acting career in Bollywood. Upset with his father’s decision, Sanjay is encouraged by his friend Mistry to try drugs for the first time. Sanjay discovers that his mother Nargis is suffering from cancer and taken to New York for treatment. This sparks his descent into alcoholism and drug-addiction. Sanjay meets Kamlesh Kapasi in New York, and they become quick friends. His drug addiction eventually results in the break-up with his girlfriend Ruby. Nargis passes away 3 days before the release of Rocky. Sanjay agrees to attend a rehabilitation centre in the United States, and eventually recovers.
The later part of Dutt’s life is narrated by his friend Kamlesh. In the 1990s, Sanjay has built a muscular body, inciting comparisons with Muhammad Ali. After the Babri Masjid demolition, he acquires three AK-56 rifles to protect his father and sister Priya Dutt. A series of bombings occur in Bombay shortly herafter. Sanjay is arrested in 1993 for possession of illegal arms for which he is convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for 5 years. then after completing it, is released in February 2016.
Ranbir Kapoor as Sanjay “Sanju” Dutt
Paresh Rawal as Sunil Dutt, Sanju’s father
Vicky Kaushal as Kamlesh “Kamli” Kanhaiyalal Kapasi
Manisha Koirala as Nargis, Sanju’s mother
Dia Mirza as Manyata Dutt, Sanju’s wife
Sonam Kapoor as Ruby
Anushka Sharma as Winnie Diaz, a biographer
Jim Sarbh as Zubin Mistry
Karishma Tanna as Pinky
Boman Irani as Ruby’s father
Sayaji Shinde as Bandu Dada
Aditi Gautam as Priya Dutt, Sanju’s sister
Ashwin Mushran as an event manager
Anjan Srivastav as a minister
Prakash Belawadi as a newspaper editor
Mahesh Manjrekar as himself
Tabu as herself
Arshad Warsi as himself
Sanjay Dutt as himself
Director Rajkumar Hirani was first prompted to create a film based on Sanjay Dutt’s life by the latter’s wife Manyata Dutt in a casual conversation, an offer he refused, reasoning that “Sanju’s world is very different from my world”.] In an interview with Daily News & Analysis, Hirani revealed what eventually prompted him to create a film based on Sanjay Dutt’s life: “He was lonely. Manyata was in hospital and he used to go there and then come home to an empty house. So, he was just venting, speaking straight from the heart. And, he started giving me anecdotes that were just gems for a filmmaker”. In regards to gaining resources in constructing the film, Hirani said, “… we sat for a crazy amount of time and recorded everything… I also met others who knew him – journalists, cops, relatives and friends. I felt there was a movie that should be told.” In an interview with DNA After Hrs, Hirani confirmed that the film was named Sanju after a lot of deliberation as Nargis, Sanjay’s mother, used to call him ‘Sanju’.
Producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra was not a part of the project when Hirani initially approached him to produce the film. At first, Chopra was of the opinion that “it was hogwash… but when we started researching all that he’s said – from the 308 girlfriends he had to how he begged on the streets of US for the money to buy a bus ticket – we realised that everything he had told us was true!”. Hirani had a pre-condition with Dutt that if the latter requested to change any lines or scenes, he “would not make it”, upon which Dutt allowed Hirani to make the film in his accord. He was okay with Hirani not glorifying him in the film. Hirani showed aspects of Dutt’s life that the public would not have known, such as “what was happening in the Dutt household when Sanju was accused of the crime? What was his father going through? What was happening with his sisters? How were his friends reacting? Later I met his sisters, Namrata and Priya, brother-in-law Kumar Gaurav and US-based friend Paresh Ghelani.” Hirani stated, “The film is not about his romance. It has primarily two tracks, one is the gun story and the other is the drugs story and how he fought these two battles.”
Speaking about Dutt’s journey, Kapoor revealed in an interview with Filmfare that the biopic will reach out to the audience by teaching them something. He stated that “It will talk about human flaws, the emotional father-son story, his relationship with his best friend, with the women in his life. It’s emotional, it’s funny, it’s sad, it’s bittersweet. The youth have a lot to learn from his mistakes.” He also confirmed that “it’s not a propaganda film” intending to glorify Dutt. Kapoor also revealed that for him the hardest aspect of playing the role was to give himself the confidence to go ahead with the project. For him, Sanjay Dutt is “a flawed but a wonderful person… a pop icon” and that’s why it “was scary.”
In an interview with Rajeev Masand, Hirani disclosed that the story-telling procedure was “challenging as it’s not a story of an achiever” as most biopics are based on a heroic personality, yet Dutt is known for his tragedies and losses. He noted that “you can’t really tamper” and that the main scripting challenge was fitting “a very anecdotal story in a structured format”. Writer Abhijat Joshi also revealed that there was no “deliberate” attempt to make Dutt’s character sympathetic to the audience. Instead the team realised having listened to all the anecdotes conveyed by Dutt that it’s a “very engaging, incredibly fascinating” story based on a “conflicted person, a flawed person” who “deserved empathy”. Hirani then confirmed that he has “put out the truth” which includes “good things and bad things”. In another interview, Hirani also revealed that like his other films, Sanju would also deliver a social message: “there is the father-son story, a friendship and one is a question mark. For the last one, you’ll have to see the film. Hirani also revealed that he did initially get “attracted to all the anecdotes [that Dutt was conveying]” but soon “realized it was not enough – we had to be able to string it all together.” which led him to come to the conclusion that “people need to know is his gun story, because it is important. If there is no gun story, there is no biopic” which then in turn formed the “spine” of the film.
Actor Ranbir Kapoor was Hirani’s first choice to play Dutt’s character. Hirani stated, “I first thought of Ranbir and went straight to him and I can tell you, we were right.”. He also stated that he thought Kapoor is a fantastic actor and “at the perfect age.” He further revealed the similarities and differences between Dutt and Kapoor stating that “they have lived the life of actors all through. Ranbir is not someone from outside the industry who came here to be a hero. In a sense, it was easier for me to see him as Sanju.” He also revealed that Ranbir Kapoor worked very hard to get the correct physicality, spending days watching videos “to strike the right balance” Initially Kapoor was reluctant to portray the role. However, he agreed once “he saw the angle of the story” and that the story “broke certain notions I had about him “. Kapoor also revealed that his initial “hesitation” about playing Dutt’s role was that he is “still so relevant today” and is a “superstar” who is “working in movies today… has lots to achieve and lots to do”. Chopra was also reluctant to produce the film with Kapoor in the lead role, as he believed Ranveer Singh would’ve been a better fit to Dutt’s part by having the “flamboyance, the emotional depth as well as the ability to change himself completely to play Sanjay Dutt.”. Chopra however, “had to kind of eat words” once shooting began and he witnessed Kapoor’s capabilities playing Dutt. Kapoor responded to Chopra’s comments by stating that he was “very happy” to be a part of the film as it came at a time where “he was really in need of inspiration.” Like Kapoor, Koirala was also “scepital” about playing a mother to Kapoor due to the fear of being “typecast.”
Aamir Khan was also approached to play the role of Dutt’s father, Sunil Dutt. However, the role was turned down as Khan was already playing the role of a father at that time in Dangal. Khan had also stated that he wished to have played Dutt’s role instead as his “role is so wonderful that it won my heart… so don’t offer me any other role as I won’t be able to do it” The role was then passed onto actor Paresh Rawal who stated that his character is “human” and “doesn’t have a set mannerism, idiosyncrasy”.
Initial reports suggested that actress Anushka Sharma was approached to play the character of one of Dutt’s girlfriends, and then a rumoured journalist. However, Sharma denied these claims by stating that “my character is the only fictional character in the film” and “is not based on any living person”. At the trailer launch, Hirani stated that Sharma plays a biographer from London who comes to India, and in turn plays a “mix” of himself and Abhijat Joshi.
It was also reportedly initially that Sonam Kapoor would be playing the character of Tina Munim. Kapoor, however refuted these rumours and stated that “I have a small but important part in the movie. It’s not what everyone is thinking. I am not playing an actress.” Though, Hirani confirmed that Kapoor is indeed playing the role of “a girlfriend”.
Speaking on his role, Vicky Kaushal revealed that his character is an “amalgamation of three or four other friends” of Dutt and is thus “fictionalized”. Whilst Karishma Tanna’s role is yet unknown, Tanna revealed that it had been intended by Hirani and the rest of the team to keep her role a surprise and that Hirani “made it clear to that role would create a lot of speculation” as it is “exactly what [they] had anticipated.”
Ranbir Kapoor requested and was given a month’s break between every phase to complete his transformation into Dutt. Speaking about it at the teaser launch of the film, he stated that it was hard for him to look like the muscular Dutt as Kapoor has a thinner frame. “… there was a lot of team effort behind this. A year before that we did a lot of prep and screen tests… ” In regards to Kapoor’s transformation, father Rishi Kapoor revealed that Ranbir “took 6-7 weeks to get each of his different looks” In an interview, prosthetic artist, Dr Suresh Murkey said that he used prosthetics to make Ranbir Kapoor’s face and age resemble Dutt’s. Mirza also opened up on Kapoor’s role stating that “he would be the first to reach the location because he would need five, six hours to do prosthetic make-up to play the older part.” She also spoke about the uncanny resemblance of Kapoor as Dutt as a consequence of prosthetics revealing that “people who went on the sets thought Ranbir was Sanju sir. Koirala also expressed that she was “shocked at Ranbir’s capacity to transform”. Hirani also revealed that Kapoor was “meeting Sanju separately… had a full timeline of how Sanju looked in the 80s, 90s, 2000s… and made a whole collection of look videos.” Kapoor himself also stated that he “knew that there is a fine line between mimicry and representing someone who is loved by so many people” which is why “it took us six to eight months to get ready… to prep, do the prosthetic tests, acting and character rehearsals.” Kapoor further mentioned that whilst the physical transformation was significantly easier, emotional transformation and “being able to understand the emotional level of the character was really daunting.” He also mentioned that he “wanted to take a step back and didn’t want to be around him too much because I didn’t want to be obsessed with him. I would be always looking at him, trying to see what he is doing, how he is scratching his beard, how he is talking… but before any poignant moment in the script, for instance, the jail sequence, the drug sequence, his mother’s death, or when the TADA verdict Act came, I would always call him the night before the shoot. I just wanted to know what he was feeling, and very graciously, very honestly he would tell me and I would express that on screen. I wanted to represent him with respect” and a “true representation of what was going on in his head.” Hairstylist Aalim Hakim revealed that it took “22 days to finalise Ranbir’s different avatars” as it was a “challenge” to create the “receding hairline for Ranbir and give him a broad forehead”. Costumer designer Ekha Lakani, stated that in regards to Kapoor’s costume, she “discussed every look… spent hours trying to match every inch; how loose or how fitted it should be” by “matching different body types Sanjay Dutt has had a different body type all throughout his life”.
Manisha Koirala who essays the character of Nargis in the film spoke about her transformation as well stating that “we did a couple of tests, from when she had short hair to when she had long hair.” Koirala also revealed that she “did a lot of research on Nargisji” by studying “various photographs, books documentary”. She also admitted that it was “traumatic” reliving being a cancer patient as Koirala is an ovarian cancer survivor. She further mentioned that “it required a lot of inner strength… but was finally worth it as she tried to “capture essence, the core of her being”. Regarding Koirala’s costume, Lakhani stated that Nargis’ “iconic images” were taken and she then “recreated a look on that from every curl or twist in the hair to the way the body was or the makeup”.
Vicky Kaushal who’s “character’s name is Paresh and is “more like a brother” to Dutt revealed that he “went to Surat to study the body language and mannerism of Gujaratis” as his character, although originally from India has been living in America for the maximum time so “his Gujarati was ought to fade with time.” He also revealed that he went through a “huge physical transformation” by losing weight to “look like a lean young Gujarati guy to an aged man of the present time”. He also stated that “losing and gaining weight change in the body language” which thus enabled him get the “right look” and thus “perform better”.
Paresh Rawal expressed that he prepared for his role by trying to “maintain a distance off camera” with Kapoor in order to “stay true to the character”. He further added that “we were not pals who would chat together in between the shots” which went on to embody the real life relationship between Dutt and his father as Sunil Dutt “loved his son to death but never had a friendly equation with “. Rawal also stated that he could not “look like Sunil Dutt” following the look tests but had to “portray the emotions, the ‘jazba’ that he had for the country, for his family and for his son”
Dia Mirza however, stated that she prepared to play the role of Dutt’s wife through “workshops and look tests” but also by studying some of the “news clips released around the time” as well as “her interviews” and “body language”. Mirza also stated that she “wanted to understand Maanayata as a wife, woman and mother handled the public scrutiny that she was subjected to”. She added that she mainly focussed on “understanding and being honest to the emotion more than anything else.” Mirza also revealed that she had to “dye hair jet black” and eventually saw herself as Manyata Dutt once she “placed that mole on my face and saw myself in the mirror” as she saw Maanayata in her “reflection.” Mirza, also revealed that Maanayata was a “rock” in Dutt’s life and with all “sincerity and honesty understand “what it meant to be a mother and a wife”
On Sonam Kapoor’s costume, Lakhani revealed that Kapoor’s costume was designed to look like “the girl next door, pretty, giving out very delicate vibes really soft fabrics, pastel hues, delicate embroidery. Kapoor’s costume was given “peter pan collars in all her outfits… to make her from that era” except that the team stayed away from making her look like a “fashion diva” but more “real”.
Speaking about Sharma’s character, Hirani mentioned in an interview that he wanted Sharma to look “like an Indian who stayed in London and brought up there” which then led her to wearing a wig with voluptuous curly hair in the film. Aditi Gautam, who plays Namrata Dutt revealed that she was casted as Hirani thought she looked “exactly like” Dutt. Seiya further mentioned that she prepared for her role by watching interviews that allowed her to gauge on Dutt’s “strong personality… poised and dignified.”
Shooting for the film began on 12 January 2017 with Ranbir Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, Dia Mirza and other cast and crew. Shooting was wrapped on 21 January 2018. At the wrap party, the cast and crew were seen wearing personalised t-shirts with the hashtag “#duttstheway” in order to promote the film.
Initially, there were plans to bring Kapoor and Dutt together in the film at the end through a video chat where Dutt would interview Kapoor on his experience and journey. However, these plans were shelved due to both actor’s prior commitments. Instead, the film will showcase both actors coming together in the form of a peppy dance number at the end credits. Hirani revealed that the original running time of the film as supposed to be 2 hours and 25 minutes. However, the running time was reduced with an entire song cut out of the film as it “was obstructing the pace of the film and it was breaking the narrative”. Hirnai further commented on this decision by stating that “if you feel it does not work then you have to let it go.”