Even after all these years, Sanjay Dutt still manages to take me by surprise. For almost a week, I had waited to be connected to him on the phone… In Dubai, Delhi, Kanpur and Indore… Every day, I woke up hearing the interview would definitely happen… and every night I went to sleep waiting for it to happen… Eventually, hope dimmed. And then, last Tuesday, I was told he was going to call me in an hour. I almost laughed out loud… Sanjay Dutt calling a journalist for an interview? Unbelievable! Impossible!
Over the years, I have mounted innumerable flights of stairs… once even climbed a hill... I have waited hours in the blazing son… and once in a ‘lubaan’ (fog created through smoke machines) filled studio, only to be told that ‘Baba was not in the mood to talk’. Eventually, some of these interrupted, aborted, long-delayed interviews did happen. But never in all these years had Sanju ever called me and said, “Let’s talk.” But miracles happen! That Tuesday, just as I picked up my cell phone to message him, it buzzed. And the name that flashed across the screen was Sanjay Dutt. It was actually him. And we did talk, mostly about Agneepath that was to open in two days.
He admitted that Kancha had scared him too: “We often say that there’s a part of us in every character we play. But I didn’t see anything of myself in Kancha. In fact, I had to repeatedly reassure myself, ‘This isn’t you!’ while I was dubbing. Even at preview shows, I was told that he was the exact opposite of me. That was a relief but at the same time the best compliment I have received as an actor.”
I was intrigued enough to catch the late night show on Day One. The U/A certificate meant my daughter could come along too. Dressed in all black, his bald pate glistening, tattooed biceps flexing to squeeze out yet another life, his flashes of manic rage as devastating as his gleeful anticipation of death, Kancha was so exaggerated… so typically evil… that he should have been a laughable caricature. But somehow he was as menacingly believable as the Devil I’d grown up hearing about from the convent sisters, who kept hell’s fires burning within him and in us.
I wasn’t really surprised when halfway through the ‘gory’ war for Mandwa, my 13-year-old dozed off. It had never happened before because Ranjika is a hard-core Bollywood buff, and this being a Republic Day holiday, she had even managed an afternoon siesta that should have kept her up and awake long past midnight. But in the darkened theatre, as Kancha’s shadow loomed large, wrecking havoc on screen, I guess she realised that the only way to escape him was to retreat into a world of sweeter dreams and hope the nightmare wouldn’t follow her there.
Normally my little girl is full of questions after a movie: Why did this happen? Where did he go? What happened next? But Agneepath seems to have numbed her natural curiosity. Only once she wondered aloud what Rauf Lala was doing with girls her age. I couldn’t bring myself to explain the horrors of the flesh trade to her. So I took the coward’s way out and whispered, “Later.” The question never repeated itself. And none of the ones I had expected cropped up either. It was almost as if she wanted to forget Lala, Kancha and the darkness of the night. And I know Sanjay, being a father of one-year-old twins, would want that too.
What dark recesses had Kancha come out of, I’d asked him, pointing out that there were actors who remained sad for a year so their tears would flow naturally on screen. “I’m not such a great actor,” he had grinned. “For me, pack-up is switch-off. Vijay, Kancha, Lala, all these characters came out of director Karan Malhotra’s mind. And thank God for that!”
I could understand his relief, having burnt in the fires of hell himself. He has spent days in solitary confinement with only the occasional pigeon for company. When the only person he could talk to freely was himself. It’s not a place he’d want to revisit even in his mind.
I’m happy for him that before the year is out, like my little one, he will have shaken off Kancha’s dark aura to give Munna a ‘jadoo ki jhappa’. Like with Khalnayak, deadly Dutt, as he was once dubbed, has made bad good. But I know that Sanjay today would rather be a much-loved Munna than a much-hated Kancha.