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Sanju isn’t just about Sanjay Dutt.

Even though the three-hour biopic follows the story of one man, Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt (Ranbir Kapoor), the film is a commentary on relationships, society and the media that simultaneously unfolds the many layers to Dutt’s character and highlights the shades of grey within his story.

Sanju follows the titular character through highs and lows; fighting his inner demons and struggling with the pressure of living up to the expectations of his film star parents, Sunil Dutt and Nargis. It also brings to light Sanju the drug addict, terrorist and misogynistic celebrity, while commenting on his mistreatment at the hands of the media.

The story of the film focuses heavily on Sanju’s relationship with his father and his best friend, which leaves little time for the female characters and cast members.

The film walks the audience through Sanju’s relationship with his father, the loss of his mother and his relationship with his best friend, who emerges as an important positive influence in his life. His relationships with his first two wives and firstborn child, however, are not depicted in as much detail.

The film is brought to life by Kapoor in the role of Sanju, which is so expertly done that it is easy to forget he is playing a character and is not Sanjay Dutt himself. Kapoor wholly adopts Dutt’s mannerisms and voice, delivering the character’s role with insouciance and gravitas. His performance leaves no doubt that he is the heart and soul of the film.

Other cast members include Paresh Rawal as Sunil Dutt, Manisha Koirala as Nargis, Sonam Kapoor as Ruby, Dia Mirza as Manyata, Anushka Sharma and Vicky Kaushal as Sanju’s best friend Gujju. The film was directed by Rajkumar Hirani, produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra and written by Abhijat Joshi.

Rawal’s portrayal of Sunil Dutt captures the tense relationship between the father and son in the first half while also doing justice to the softer and more supportive parts of the their bond, highlighting the way Sunil Dutt stands by Sanju through drug addiction, possession of unlicensed arms, false accusations and so on.

Kaushal too brings out the best in his character, Sanju’s best friend and moral support.

At the same time that Sanju acknowledges that darkness in Sanjay Dutt’s life, it also appears to absolve him of a lot, pinning the blame instead on the media and a gullible society.

Until the last song, Ab Bas Ho Gaya, Sanju repeatedly calls out the media, implying at times that the media industry is the true villain of the film, while broader society is willing to believe anything they read or hear about him.

Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2018