Sanju Review

Ranbir Kapoor’s performance in “Sanju” goes miles ahead of mere physical practice and prosthetic transformation. (photo provided)

Vinod Chopra Productions, Rajkumar Hirani Films & Fox Star Studios present “Sanju”

Produced by: Vidhu Vinod Chopra & Rajkumar Hirani

Directed and edited by: Rajkumar Hirani

Written by: Rajkumar Hirani & Abhijat Joshi

Music: Vikram Montrose, Rohan-Rohan and guest composer: A.R. Rahman

Starring: Ranbir Kapoor, Paresh Rawal, Vicky Kaushal, Manisha Koirala, Dia Mirza, Sonam Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Boman Irani, Prakash Belawadi, Sayaji Shinde, Jim Sarbh, Mahesh Manjrekar, Piyush Mishra, Ashwin Mushran, Aditi Seiya, Karishma Tanna and others. Guest App.: Sanjay Dutt & Tabu

MUMBAI—In theory, it was the most dicey movie of 2018. It could have gone terribly wrong in every sense – content, grammar, sensibility, identity and outcome. But now, I know simply that a great filmmaker can outclass all such barriers and cinematic limitations. This writer was himself almost sure that for the first time, after four classic blockbusters, a filmmaker of the caliber of Rajkumar Hirani would falter, simply by choosing the wrong story, or more particularly, the wrong person to glorify. It was one hell of a tightrope act!

The first inkling that I could be off-track (and I was hoping I would be proved wrong in the interest of the industry) came when I met the whizkid director (see India-West  interview) and noted his unassuming simplicity and candid approach to this film. He asserted that he was not glorifying Sanjay Dutt, but showing the fallible human side of a big star.

Today, I realize that a truly great filmmaker is a truly great filmmaker. Period!

In the box-office department, even if the audiences do not accept the film (and I do not think that will happen), Hirani will have scored a five on five. For he has now shown his métier in five completely different kinds of films. This is what V. Shantaram, Raj Kapoor, B.R. Chopra, Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy and Manoj Kumar did. And I can add to this list filmmakers who were more prolific and thus may have diluted their greatness quotient a shade – Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Vijay Anand leading a couple of others. Note how the genre did not matter to these all-time versatile geniuses! And for me, Hirani ranks highest among the young generation!

As writer and director, Hirani pieces together the saga of actor Sanjay Dutt, and his father Sunil Dutt, with a skill so deft and dexterous that despite the flip-flop between past and present, we stay riveted in our seats for the full 161 minutes run-time – just 5 minutes short of the last big release, “Race 3.” But what a chasm there is in content and grip!

Hirani uses his mastery at creating pathos within humor and fun within sad moments to heighten the emotional pitch as skillfully as in his earlier movies. There is no technical or other gimmickry to impress – just a direct way to express what the key characters are feeling. Also trust Hirani the editor to spare no one, including himself as writer and director. The film is crisp despite the length, never dragging even for a moment.

Yes, I did feel in parts that Sanjay Dutt is being a shade ‘disinfected,’ but whenever we do think like this, Hirani offers either a logical explanation or a twist. There is also a feel of a slight exaggeration to Sunil Dutt’s highly idealistic father, but again, we are not privy to details that Sanjay Dutt shared with Hirani, with candid, and we hope complete honesty.

The drug chapters, the legal imbroglios, the faithful friend in USA (blended here with many friends’ contributions, as Hirani informs), are all depicted with legal, moral or political correctness. There is no glorification of ‘Sanju”’s flaws, foibles and foolishness, and we are eternally thankful that Maanyata and Sanjay Dutt wanted Hirani to make this story on values rather than go to ‘directors’ like Ram Gopal Varma, Vishal Bhardwaj or Anurag Kashyap! And for the product that we now see, “Sanju” is the perfect title – the pet name for a young man who grew up a shade too late!

The second great triumph of the film is Ranbir Kapoor. And I am compelled to say that Hirani would have been super-foolish to even attempt this biopic minus a monumental talent like him! The biggest comment we can make on Kapoor is that as a viewer, I felt I was watching Sanjay Dutt, and not him, from beginning to end!!

Kapoor gets everything pitch-(more-than-100-percent) perfect. Move over, Ranveer “Padmaavat” Singh, you will now deserve the Best Actor In a Negative Role trophies at the end of the year. As with (IMHO) last year’s “Jagga Jasoos,” Kapoor nails it as the finest performer this year – and how! For it will be near to impossible for ANYONE else to equal this one in 2018!

Watch Kapoor when he talks to his father’s spirit in the speech, when he speaks out to his friend from the jail radio, all his sequences with his mother and even when he reacts to his friend’s admonitions, and you will know that his performance goes miles ahead of mere physical practice and prosthetic transformation.

Paresh Rawal as Sunil Dutt is humongous yet again. A complete surprise is Vicky Kaushal as Kamlesh – he is so realistic and lovable he almost steals the scene (if that is possible) many times from Kapoor and Rawal.

Manisha Koirala as Nargis is effective, as is Dia Mirza as Maanyata. Anushka Sharma is spot-on as Winnie the biographer, the only fictional addition. Sonam Kapoor as Ruby is alright, and Karishma Tanna is to this film what Mumait Khan was to “Munna Bhai MBBS” – that ‘tadka’ of erotica!

From the support, Boman Irani as Ruby’s father is the best. We appreciate the candid mentions of names like Hanif and Samir (producers) and Abu Salem, though we do understand and respect how Madhuri Dixit and Tina Munim have been respectfully bypassed.

It is also quaint to know personal traits, like the fact that Dutt senior always addressed Nargis as “Aap.” And we also hope that the touches we hear about Majrooh Sultanpuri, Sahir Ludhianvi and Anand Bakshi and the references to the old songs are actually true. Hearing songs like “Ruk Jaana Nahin,” Duniya Mein Rehna Hai To Kaam Karo Pyaare” and “Kuch To Log Kahenge” remind us of the days when Hindi film songs were like beacons in the path of life for everyone.

In contrast, the music of this film is a sore point, including the words. Puneet Sharma, Abhijat Joshi and Rohan Gokhale write the only meaningful song in the film, “Baba Bolta Hai Bas Ho Gaya.” The hook of “Kar Har Maidaan Fateh” is interesting, but we just cannot recall the song and its “contemporarily trendy” lyrics.

Technically, the film is upbeat, though some of the hallucination sequences look tacky, unlike the neater job in “Kaalakandi.” The background score (Sanjay Wandrekar and Atul Raninga) is minimalistic and thus most welcome. Vikram Gaikwad’s make-up, Clover Wootton’s prosthetics, and Viral Thakkar’s VFX help create the world in which Dutt rules. And we loved the re-created sequences from “Munna Bhai MBBS.”

This is a biopic that cannot be missed.

Rating: ****1/2

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