MUMBAI—He is the only director in Hindi cinema as of now who has not only never directed a flop movie but given us four blockbusters, each with great social messages: “Munna Bhai MBBS” (2003), “Lage Raho Munna Bhai” (2006), “3 Idiots” (2009/Hindi cinema’s first 200 crore grossing film) and “PK” (2014 / Hindi cinema's first 300 crore grossing film).
Rajkumar Hirani, King Midas as of now, is set to do the incredible and make a super success of his fifth film, “Sanju,” his first biopic. This is the untold story of Sanjay Dutt, who was “Munna Bhai” and did a small role in “PK.” Over to Hirani as we meet in his dazzling new office.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: How did you decide on this film? And why?
A: Actually, the idea was mooted first by Maanyata (Sanjay Dutt’s wife). At that point, I only thought that his life was quite dark and that drugs and the underworld were not really my domain – in theory, it did not inspire me.
When Sanjay Dutt came out on parole, I went to meet him and casually asked him about how he was doing in jail. He started narrating, and I was so fascinated that we spoke from 5 in the evening until 2 at night! The next day, I was sitting on the “PK” edit, and he called me again. The same thing happened. He told me about the mistakes he had made.
I finally met him for weeks and was amazed that here was a man with whom I worked in three films, and he was telling me things about himself that I never knew. We had had a professional relationship and were never close friends. Then I spoke to Abhijat Joshi, my writer, and we met him again together many more times.
Q: Since you took it up, what about the dark angle that you said did not inspire you?
A: See, every writer or director, on hearing a story, has different interpretations of it – a Ram Gopal Varma or an Anurag Kashyap would make different interpretations of Sanjay’s story. For me, it was about the dynamics of the relationships. I have covered his life from 1980 onwards. That was the time when he was into drugs, his mother was diagnosed with cancer, and he was shooting his debut film “Rocky.”
We were, in particular, fascinated by the father-son story, what Sanjay had told us about what his father went through, and what had happened with his friend in the USA. We were working on “Munna Bhai”’s third installment and decided to set it aside and go ahead with this script.
Q: How did you think of Ranbir Kapoor, a casting that now looks like a stroke of genius?
A (Smiles): I never cast anyone while scripting, because that limits our thinking and we start concentrating on that actor’s strengths weaknesses. But after the first draft, I immediately thought of Ranbir Kapoor, because I thought there was a lot of similarity between Sanjay’s “Rocky” and “Saawariya,” Ranbir’s debut, in their looks, height, and lean figure.
Now Sanjay built his body in the 1990s, and the second half was the challenging part because we wanted to see how he could convert into Sanjay. We would do prosthetics and look tests for hours every day for three whole months, and finally, we got all the different looks. Ranbir even wore shoes one size larger, which Sanjay does to get that swag and even did his own hard work.
Everybody was skeptical and told me that though we had done it, we would never succeed. Ranbir had told me that his father never appreciates him verbally, never calls him up after watching his films, or calls up and says, “Do better films from now!”
I met Rishi Kapoor-sir at a party and showed him the teaser I had in my phone. I watched him carefully and shot his reactions, and he had tears in his eyes. Then I sent this to Ranbir, who was shooting in Bulgaria, and he was so moved he said that this was the best gift I could have ever given him!
Q: What about the totally dissimilar Paresh Rawal as Sunil Dutt?
A (Smiles): We could not think of anyone to match the looks, and we considered and tried out some actors. How does one make a character look aged? With a beard, with the color of hair or its thickness, right? But then, Sunil Dutt had black hair till the end, and not even one standout mannerism! Finally, I told Abhijat, “Forget the looks, let’s go for the ethos!” We thought of Paresh Rawal and called him for a reading in this very office. And at that very time, I found that he is fantastic. Paresh had also largely played comic roles, so he too was excited.
Q: All your films have had messages. What about “Sanju?”
A: I never intended to give any messages! I just wanted to make entertaining films. People took home something from each film, so maybe they will do so here, about avoiding the mistakes Sanjay made. Look, Sanjay was brave enough to tell me EVERYTHING and gave me complete freedom. If he had not, I would not have made this film. I was working on something else anyway.
Q: What about the controversial angles?
A: I cross-checked everything. I could not afford to go wrong. I read newspapers and also went through police records. Though the story attracted me, it was not compulsory that I had to make this film itself. I could have, as I said, made just about any film.
Q: Which of Sanjay’s friends have you depicted?
A: In a biopic, you do not have the luxury of showing each and every friend. What we do in such cases is to blend the characters of many friends into one or two characters.
Q: How would you now describe Sanjay Dutt?
A: As a survivor. He would write letters to all from jail. I have every one of those letters. If you read his first letter, it is so depressing that you will feel that he would never have get out of jail alive. Six months later, the day he gave up hope, Sanjay said that he knew he could now survive! Yes, he is a survivor!