While Judge Pramod Kode consoled Sanjay Dutt about making a comeback a la Gregory Peck, who played the lead in Mackenna's Gold at the age of 53, the actor's absence in Bollywood raises the question of who will step into his shoes?
His contemporaries include Jackie Shroff, Sunny Deol, Govinda and Anil Kapoor. While all of the above are still present and alive in the film industry, they no longer have the same kind of presence. If the Supreme Court turns down Dutt's bail petition, what Bollywood will lose is the most consistent and reliable actor between the age group of 45-50, whose box office clout is unquestionable.
<b1>For the record
Over the years, Dutt's contemporaries have either lost ground or done lesser films. Shroff does a lot of films, but his roles are insignificant. You really can't compare Jackie's roles in films like Bhoot Unkle or Apna Sapna Money Money to that of Dutt's in Shootout At Lokhandwala or even in a dud like Shaadi No 1, let alone the Munnabhai films. Kapoor, of late, hasn't had much success at the box office with films like Bewafaa, Musafir, Salaam-e-Ishq, My Wife's Murder and now he's busy playing producer with Gandhi My Father.
Deol's only success after Gadar (2001) has been Apne this year. Clearly the TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor seems to work for Dutt.
Money speaks louder
At 48, Dutt commands around Rs 4 crore per film, which is commendable. Most of his contemporaries charge below Rs 1.5 crore, says an industry insider. His directors swear by him. "As an actor he is tremendously gifted and has grown in terms of consistency over the years," says filmmaker Pradeep Sarkar who directed him in Parineeta.
<b2>He has also managed to show his versatility as an actor - playing the romantic in Parineeta, doing comedy in the Munnabhai films and action in Dus. While Deol and Shroff were stuck with the action hero image, only Kapoor gave some kind of a competition to Dutt. "He cannot be replaced. He is there and he will always be there," says filmmaker Sujoy Ghosh in whose film Aladdin and the Mystery of the Lamp, Dutt is slated to act.
Talking about what makes him different, filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, who directed him in films like Naam and Sadak says, "He has this doomed look in his persona that makes him accessible. This quality by default stands him apart."
Rs 100 crore still rides on Dutt's shoulders and right now no one's talking or looking for a replacement. "We'll take a call once the Supreme Court decides on his future," says Ghosh. Raj Kumar Hirani, too, has made it known that he is not keen on a replacement.