MUMBAI—That his life and career have been eventful is probably the understatement of the century. After starting off as a child artiste in father Sunil Dutt’s epic “Reshma Aur Shera” (1971) and as a leading man with “Rocky” (1981), Sanjay Dutt had a checkered career even as a star and a leading man.
The unsavory parts of his life included drugs, ill-fated relationships and severe conflicts with the law. His first marriage to actress Richa Sharma ended badly as well, though the result of their union was a beautiful daughter, Trishala. His star following continued, especially from the 1986 “Naam” to the 2000s “Munna Bhai” franchises and more. A happy second marriage to Maanyata with the birth of twins Shahran and Iqra followed.
Finally, in 2014, he went to jail to serve his last debt to society and many months back, he emerged fresh and radiant and optimistic, to sign a new plethora of films, the first of which, Omung Kumar’s “Bhoomi,” is set to release next week. “I am in a great space, completely calm, always with family, and making movies,” he said, when he, due to time constraints, met the Mumbai media in a group.
India-West caught up with the actor at his residence on the eve of the release of that film.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: What attracted you about “Bhoomi” as a comeback vehicle? As the film is a father-daughter love story, was that the special identification?
A: I thought that “Bhoomi” was a strong package as well as a commercially sound one. I am a father of two girls, but that was not really the point of identification.
The discrimination towards daughters and the girl child is strong, and I wanted to send a message to the country, that a girl-child is an important child, a ‘jigar ka tukda’ (a part of you). I believe in “Beti badhao beti padhao (Let the girl child get educated and move ahead).” A daughter is like Goddess Lakshmi; she is not a burden. All of you are fathers or daughters or have them, so you must know the depth of a father-daughter relationship.
In “Bhoomi,” my daughter gets raped. When I was in jail, even the inmates hated those who were inside for rape. One of the havaldars (constables) told me that in our country we worshipped Durga Maa and Kali Maa and yet treated women like this! Rape offenders must get speedy justice. When I read about Nirbhaya, I could not sleep for ten days. And that minor boy being spared was not fair. Even the Naina Poojary case shook me. (A day later, Dutt made headlines in another publication by stating that a crime like rape deserves capital punishment).
Q: Which are the films you are doing now?
A: I have “Torbaaz” and “Malang.” There is Ajay Devgn’s production with Farhan Akhtar and me. I am doing Tigmasnhu Dhulia’s “Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster 3.”
Q: “Saheb…” is a franchise in which the villain is always gray, not black – he has a perspective. And you have done a lot of gray characters. Do such characters have a special appeal for you?
A (Thoughtfully): I don’t know. Maybe I do. But essentially, it is about any character appealing to me.
Q: Aren’t you doing the next “Munna Bhai” film too?
A: Yes, I think it will happen now. But you should ask Raju Hirani this question!
Q: You are also doing Omung Kumar’s next, a biopic.
A: Yes, it’s a fantastic character. In the Second World War, 200 Jew kids were saved by the Maharaja of Jamnagar, who rehabilitated and educated them and sent them back to their country.
Q: A lot has changed in Hindi cinema in the last five years. This year has been an eye-opener in the very few successes that have come in. What is your view about this state of affairs?
A: I have no idea why films succeed and fail, and in whatever film I choose I do my best and give my best sincerely. The rest is in the hands of God and the audience.
Q: Sunny Deol opines that the marketing forces and corporate professionals are Hindi cinema-illiterate, and that heroism is lacking. Your father Sunil Dutt’s and your films have been replete with heroism.
A: Corporate entities have brought in a lot of professionalism, so even if something is wrong with them, we cannot move against the tide. But yes, I will say that basically, we should not lose Indian values and our culture of relationships. All our mega-hits, from my mother Nargis’ and father’s “Mother India” about a poor mother in a village, which came in 1957, to “Dangal” and “Bahubali” now, show that we have never left our Indian culture and values. You can say that the basic format has not changed.
Q: With so many new directors coming in, and many of the older masters around, like Hirani himself, do you now have a wish-list of directors?
A: I want to work with every director who has got a good script.
Q: You were to do Siddharth Anand’s film, then another movie, and finally “Bhoomi.” Why did you not do those films?
A: The scripts did not work out to my liking.
Q: People are calling “Bhoomi” your comeback. Did the gap affect you?
A: The gap only made me emotional when I faced the camera again. People seem to love the word “comeback,” otherwise I was away just for around four years.
Q: What about your relationship with your parents? Did you dislike anything about them?
A: It is never possible that I disliked anything about them. In fact, my advice to every son and daughter is to listen to their parents so that you do not have any problems. I would tell both sons and daughters to come back home on time and not have those sleepovers that are becoming common.
Q: Are you a strict father?
A: Not at all, though I thought I would become one.
Q: Nowadays, it is said that parents and offspring should be more like friends.
A (Shakes his head): We cannot be like that with our parents. A 60-year-old son is still a kid to his parents! Drinking alcohol, smoking and even walking in underwear in front of our parents is not something acceptable in our culture. When my father caught me smoking in the bathroom one day he beat me with a shoe!
Q: What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses?
A: My biggest strength is my ‘saburi’ (patience). My weakness is that I have a ‘mome ka dil’ (heart as soft as wax)!
Q: Your daughter Trishala is not interested in films. But if she was, who would you want her co-star with in films?
A (Smiles): Leonardo DiCaprio!
Q: You too are into social activities. Could you tell us about them?
A: I continue to work for my mother’s Cancer Foundation. I am also doing something with Sri Sri Ravi Sankar, with the mission ‘Drug-Free India.’ I have his blessings.
Q: What do you have to say about Ranbir Kapoor, who plays your role in the biopic Rajkumar Hirani is making?
A: Ranbir Kapoor is like my younger brother.
Q: We keep hearing about you wanting to write your story.
A: I have always wanted to write my own story. Let’s see.
Q: Is there any film of your dad that you would like remade?
A (Instantly): “Mujhe Jeene Do.”
Q: We know you have been a producer, with and without Sanjay Gupta. Would you want to revive Ajanta Arts, your father’s famous banner?
A: For so many reasons, that will not be possible. But I am making films under my own banner, and Maanyata is looking after the production aspects.