Between two ‘filmi’ men in her life, her father Sunil Dutt and brother Sanjay, Congress MP Priya Dutt had a tough time settling down with the man she loved, Owen Roncon, “an unknown Bandra guy”. While her father disapproved of their courtship, Sanjay was against them getting married. “Go around, but don’t marry,” Sanjay had told her. Priya, however, followed her father’s advice, much to Sanjay’s chagrin, who stayed away from the wedding.
Post-marriage, when Priya tried to call a truce, Sanjay set a year’s deadline. “I will watch Owen for a year. If the marriage lasts beyond that, I will meet him,” he told her. During the 365-day “test period”, Sanjay called up Priya more than he had ever done before. Each time she told him that things were working out, she sensed disappointment in his voice.
It was only when she was expecting her first child that things changed for the better. Sanjay, like Sunil Dutt,was ecstatic. “Better have a son. There are too many girls in the family,” Sunil Dutt had told his daughter. He, however, did not live to see Siddartha, who was born five months after his death.
Politics was not the first option for Priya, who’d been trained to be a film director. She studied TV production and directed a few documentaries, including one on her mother, Nargis.
Friends recall her ‘Florence Nightingale’ role during the Mumbai-Amritsar marathon for peace, when Punjab militancy was at its peak. She was assigned the job of nursing blisters and bleeding feet. “Almost everyone had wounds after walking several kilometres every day,” Priya recalls, having escaped a similar plight thanks to her worn-out pair of sneakers. The lesson learnt: new shoes can prove counterproductive since it takes time to adjust to them. Also put in charge of the food, Priya had a tough time meeting her father’s demand for toffees. “He would distribute them to the kids along the route. God save us if we ran short,” she recalls.
Priya is less possessive about her husband than about Sunil and Sanjay Dutt. In fact, once, she even stormed out of the screening of a Sanjay Dutt-Aishwarya Rai-starrer during an intimate scene. As for her dad, he loved to see his old pictures and boast about the ‘style’ of his trousers. A day before he died, he gave Priya two photographs: one of the family and the other of him holding her in his arms. The same night, he packed his belongings to move into his new flat. Fate had other plans.
In his lifetime, Sunil Dutt never allowed anyone to touch his prized collection of watches. Today, Priya dares to wear one. “My way of keeping Dad with me.”