The film neither entertained nor enticed me.
For the longest time, I believed that Rakjumar Hirani was the most brilliant man in Bollywood.
His screenplays never have a dull moment, his stories are delightful throwbacks to Manmohan Desai and Basu Chatterjee. His films possess the one quality that Indian audiences prize over all others - 'ability to watch it with the entire family'. And somehow, in the garb of a thoroughly entertaining movie, he manages to squeeze in a crucial message or two.
I was curious to see how Bollywood’s most cheerful director, would take on the darkest story in Bollywood.
Sanju, like the name hints, throws objectivity out of the window. The film employs a loving hand, pausing and fast-forwarding whenever it suits the film’s emotions. It has all the traits of a Raju Hirani film, and that is exactly what works against the film.
Instead of a gritty, honest portrayal, Hirani chooses a strawberry-flavoured-bubblegum approach to storytelling. When he made Munnabhai MBBS in 2006, Hirani created a sub-genre of his own. A world of lovable characters, a world where villains realise their mistake, shed tears, and ask for repentance.
Sanju, unfortunately, suffers due to the same reasons. The loud, omnipresent background score (an integral part of Hirani’s films) made me want to pull my hair out in frustration. The comedy scenes have all the nuance of a high school play. Also, old Hirani tricks like mistaken-double entendres, appear jaded. One jab at Vajpayee was particularly tasteless, making you wonder if Hirani’s bag of tricks isn’t very deep, after all.
For a story that spans four decades, the art department has no work at all. Apart from the token polka dots, there is nothing that distinguishes one era from the other. The art direction seems like it was done by a 10-year-old. Every scene painted in bright, candyfloss palettes. The background score is as manipulative as an 80’s step-mother. The drug scenes stick out like a bad trip.
Unfortunately Ranbir is only “playing” Sanjay Dutt. Image source: firstpost.com
At the core of the film is Ranbir Kapoor’s performance. Unfortunately, it remains a performance. In every scene, you see Ranbir Kapoor playing Sanjay Dutt. In spite of the impressive makeup and prosthetics, not once does he sink into Dutt’s character. Remember the first season of The Great Indian Laughter Challenge? He comes across as a mimic, not an actor.
The campiness of the protagonist ends up overshadowing the rest of the movie. I was interested to discover Sunil Dutt’s character. A superstar, a tireless father, a loving husband - unfortunately Hirani paints him in one shade - of a selfless, largehearted father. The same goes for Dia Mirza. We know nothing about her. And Sonam Kapoor, who is reduced to a whimpering doormat. Or Vicky Kaushal who begins impressively but gradually slips into hyperbole-Radha-bol. Boman Irani is given a cringe-and-you-miss-it role. Ranbir and Dia Mirza share all the chemistry of siblings on rakshabandhan.
But even keeping these issues aside, the film’s biggest problem is the blatant whitewashing.
Hirani’s films might not be avant-garde, but at the very least, they are honest. Sanju unfortunately seems crooked - like the school friend who asks you to meet, only to realise he was selling you a pyramid scheme membership. Raju ban gaya conman!
On the surface, Hirani attempts a no-holds-barred portrayal, with references to drugs, womanising, and links with terrorists. But scratch the surface, and you’ll find the script extremely manipulative.
Drugs? Oh, that’s because the guy couldn’t handle the pressure of his famous parents. Guns? They were to protect his family (even if it was an assault rifle that could kill hundreds in a few minutes). The film attempts to sugar-coat every negative shade, resulting in a phony version of Kyunki Gangster Bhi Kabhi Golu Tha.
The film wants you to believe that Sanjay Dutt was heroic in serving his sentence. It wants you to weep when you see dirty toilets in jail cells. It wants you to forget that the hero was in constant touch with terrorists during his trial and sentencing. It takes the infamous leaked tapes (where Dutt speaks about teaching a certain chikna a lesson), and makes it about a petty, emotional issue about Ganesh puja.
The film glosses over the fact that Sanjay Dutt had access to top lawyers and politicians, and instead of acknowledging the privilege (others accused in the same case continue to languish in jail to date), the film makes it a heroic father-son moment.
By the end, I had trust issues with the film. While Hirani’s earlier films were bold and innovative (the use of Gandhi, the mocking of religion and rituals), this film employs the beaten ‘presstitude’ track that Twitter trolls employ. Which is an insult to all the brave journalists who carried out exemplary work during the riots. To the policemen who charge-sheeted hundreds of suspects and nabbed the culprits.
Sanju sells its soul to baptise its hero, and ends up as a lame, limp effort. The film neither entertains, nor entices you. Instead of the honesty of a Raging Bull, the film is closer to the atrocious Azhar.
Of course, it will be a huge hit. And people will rave about Ranbir Kapoor’s performance. But at its heart, Sanju is a campy, tacky film that lacks a soul, brains, and some ethics.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com
By Hriday Ranjan
Cover photo credit: myservchoice.com