Which Sanjay Dutt has been punished?
The Mumbai blasts of 1993 left 257 people dead with its diverse cast of characters from film, crime and media had all the makings of a Russian novel. But it is time — the spans of time spent waiting for the verdict — that makes for the true protagonist of this story.
Twenty years ago, Mumbai was still Bombay, and Sanjay Dutt was somewhere in his early thirties. He was a Bollywood brat then and now he is a middle aged man with three children.
One of my friends remarked, the day after the judgment was passed against him, “While he is being punished on page one, he is pardoned on page three.” That made me think, like many Bollywood actors, Sanjay Dutt is also a combination of the real and imaginary. Then the question that arises is; which Sanjay Dutt are we punishing?
Who is Sanjay Dutt?
He is a child of cinema, a fact of cinema and a hybrid product of a city called Mumbai; a person who has layers to him and stands between simplicity and complexity. But the truth is that it does not take time to unravel these layers. So why wait? Let’s start.
Sanjay’s parents, Nargis and Sunil Dutt, are legendary figures who loom large in the Indian cinema. Nargis played the role of Mother India and epitomized the myth of sacrifice. Her marriage to Sunil Dutt — a celluloid giant in his own right — represented the integrative myth of Bollywood, where Hindu and Muslim could come together. Their son Sanjay, was the offspring of that grand romance.
His life was to be perfect filmy one which he then proceeded to ruin on his own, that too in a full filmy style.
Then there is Sanjay Dutt, the film star. Despite the legend of Rocky and Munna Bhai, despite his attempts to play cop and villain, he never made it to the list of big shot Bollywood heroes. What more often created news was his radical personal life. He was loud, spoilt, and confused, but the lady luck always smiled on him, enough to keep him in the lime light.
He took time to settle down but controversy hung onto him, like an obsessive fan. He fought and hammed his way through life and yet like Salman, was loved by his friends. His sister Priya, a MP, was a perfect foil to his high spirits.
The third Sanjay was an ambivalent man without any tie-ups of his identity. He was neither Hindu nor Muslim — unlike Sunil and Priya Dutt who were securely Hindu and Congress loyalists. His Muslim identity outside the film industry became a burden that he had to bear.
As a young man, the riots and blast must have created a slightly suspicious world of terror, where the guns provided a false security. During the Mumbai blast, his house looked like an armed fortress.
Twenty years later, Sanjay paid a heavy price for that misplaced machismo. He was found guilty of possession and guilt by association, as his guns were a part of a consignment smuggled in by Dawood Ibrahim and his associates in the year 1983.
I realize the law is impersonal, and one must respect the law as we see at the end of almost all the Bollywood movies. To ask pardon only for him, just because he is a star, makes law a fact of power. To say that one should appeal to the president is to be elitist, to believe justice can be softened for those with connections.
Yet the verdict leaves a strange after taste. It punishes a middle aged balding overweight man for his childish crimes. Sanjay’s life was like B-grade thriller and his behavior never reached the heights of villainy. As Sunil Dutt once said of him, Sanjay lacks the intelligence to be a terrorist.
He remained the happy boy from Sanawar school someone who was haunted by adolescence in his late thirties; a confused overgrown boy with a brawling style of life seeking comradeship, identity and love in the years of the Mumbai blast.
All we see of him today is a middle aged man unable to distance himself from the idiocies of adolescence. There is sadness here. If sentenced, he will serve a few years in jail and come back almost forgotten.
In the trial of an actor’s life, that may well be the ultimate punishment.
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