Today SANJU, Tomorrow NANDU , Day After Tomorrow SALLU , Audience LALLU
 
Sanju : Movie Review 
2 stars out of 5 (average)
Director : Rajkumar Hirani 
Hindi (English subtitles available) , 2018 
 
You gotta hand it to warm, visionary film-makers like Rajkumar Hirani. Tomorrow he'll make a film inspired by Narendra Modi titled  'Nandu'  - a heart-turning epic about one of India's most beloved leaders who heroically overcame the conspiracies hatched against him. After that, it'll be 'Sallu' - a loving naughty spin on Salman Khan who allegedly shot the black buck because it was about to leap into his jeep to kill his girlfriend, and who reportedly ran over footpath-sleepers because Harish Salve et al had prophesied that these incognito folks were scheming to pull off version 2.0 of the '93 Mumbai blasts. 
 
My close pals adored 'Sanju'. I respect their proclivities, but not to the point of endorsing them. When asked about my comment and after having replied that the film was a beautiful whitewash , I was deemed to be "judgmental" and allegedly trying churlishly to find a fly in a pristine expanse of cream. When you do a whitewash so exquisitely that folks fall over themselves in defending you, there is no doubt that you have become the undisputed Baadshaah of bastardized Bollywood (the Hindi film industry is different). 
 
Will this pikchar make Rs.1000 Crore ?  Why not ?  When you sell your carefully farted product the right way , the world is your Sanju. 
 
This article is not interested in charting whether this film closely conforms to the real life of actor Sanjay Dutt, whose film career is studded with ups and downs and whose stardom and being the son of veteran filmstar and Member of Parliament Sunil Dutt was not enough to extricate him from criminal charges of illegally possessing firearms.  An arrest in 1993 led to stints in and out of jail, which only ended for him in 2016.  
 
But it will certainly note director Hirani's obssession from start to finish in trying to provide a cover , a golden shawl of rehabilitation to dear Sanju while being devilishly careful not to paint outright shades of black lest we glimpse, God forbid, even one stray ray of wickedness. The first half is the drugs, the second half belongs to criminal charges of storing weapons connected to terrorists. In this practical world it is impossible for you to make a realistic movie about a person you're fondly affiliated to - you will hesitate to honestly draw the unsavoury parts and you will run a high risk of destroying your friendship. Rajkumar Hirani provided Sanjay Dutt with a big hit with " Munnabhai MBBS" and then again with a sequel - there's a huge conflict of interest in Hirani making a film about Sanjay Dutt's rocky life, especially when the film is made with Dutt's kind permission. It is this rampant dishonesty and happily ignored conflict of interest that destroys 'Sanju' . Try telling this to India's moronic mass audience and they will laugh at you ( Don't throw ye pearls before swine, lest they turn on you and rend you).  
 
There is little doubt however that Hirani is an expert in mainstream filmic narration. The film does not have dull stretches, smoothly pulling its wool, cracking its jokes and picking at its wounds assiduously from start to finish. You think music and cinematography should make a mark in cinema ? Damn music and damn cinematography. The songs here stink to high hell (decade after decade, Hirani has remained admirably tune-deaf to good music) and while the camerawork is passable , who wants memorable shots when the story has this much pulp to it ? 
 
Ranbir Kapoor is superb in channelling the dreamed-up version of a loveable Sanjay Dutt. He is a superstar of the right kind, knowing when to express (and make a mega buck in the process) true brotherhood with the industry.  With make-up and bulked up, he is so cute in projecting that vulnerable flawed persona, adroitly mixed with boyscout earnestness and even transcendent bursts of Dharmic resolve where he cuts through the crap of seniors (was that Ram Jethmalani whom Dutt grabs and throws out of the room?!). Yet, you only see the boy till the end wondering when the man is going to come out. It's not going to happen in this picture - for that, go back to his 'Tamasha'. 
 
It is a blunder to cast Manisha Koirala as Sanjay's mother and filmstar Nargis. Understandably, the cancer that felled Nargis Dutt in real life would have struck a chord in Koirala who has also battled cancer. But Manisha here, despite all her sick gaiety,  is a shrivelled ghost of the magical actress in 'Dil Se' and 'Moksha'. Hirani unwittingly attempts to smash to smithereens the legend of Manisha, the actress herself having little sense to preserve her legacy. 
 
A pillar of the film is the persona of Sunil Dutt essayed by Paresh Rawal. When the film notes that he had a dying wife on one hand, and a drug-destroyed son on the other hand and yet he found a way to soldier on, you realize the spine of these men. It could easily be a too-pristine Goody-two-shoes act but Rawal is amongst Hindi cinema's finest mainstream actors - his USP being an unmissable jawline of street-smart intelligence that lurks beneath the exterior. When his son's best friend tells him to just tell his son that it's okay to be an average Joe, Rawal's face quickly, gently changes and smiles, latching on swiftly to this game-changing nugget of wisdom even if it is issued by a junior. His son runs up to him with news of a death threat but Dutt smiles and tells him that he gets up late as the former has already received five such threats that day. 
 
Hirani and writer Abhijat Joshi also construct a solild role for Vicky Kaushal whose acting chops here bode well for his commercial film career but Kaushal's persona as a well-written character takes a grievous hit when he reads a newspaper headline and decides to blacklist his dear pal for whom he had often leapt across continents. What a joke ! You're not going to junk your close pal on the basis of a newspaper headline and half-heard statements - that's just poor screen-writing after a good build-up. 
 
The doting male chauvinism reaches nauseating levels. A supposedly world-class biographer ( Anushka Sharma looking weird with frizzy hair and fake blue eyes) asks him how many women he has bedded , and dear Sanju ( with his wife standing behind him wearing a ghost of a tight smile) racks up a figure of 308 while his interviewer fondly chuckles. You've made us sit  through a whole film centered on this man - is there any insight into his relationships with the women in his life after the drug-addled phase ? Nope, Sanju will loveably let us know his sex count but is too coy about the details of his romantic dalliances. 
 
There's an interesting scene from his first film where he is taught to fake dreamy romance with just a lady's photo beside the camera and our boy smartly catches on, maintaining his lovestruck face even when the page is mistakenly turned to reveal a villain's mugshot.  It would have been riveting to see him manage the tight-rope-walk of acting and emoting in his later films while courts and jail flayed him outside the film. There are no such sequences of that thespian drive cutting through the vortex - here it's not director Hirani but editor Hirani who will chide us by retorting that there only so many threads you can shove into a yarn when the lion's share has already been allocated to making the hero a cuddly martyr. 
 
Other critics have a tendency to spoonfeed their audience at the end with "bottomlines". Should you or should you not ? In the spirit of Sanju's stupidity, let me play this endgame this time. Should you watch "Sanju" ? If you're a naive sucker, go ahead and get your cockles magnificently roasted. If you're not, why the heck are you asking me that question ?
 
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