Sanjay Dutt Biography: What Makes a Bad Boy Truly Bad
Close your eyes and think of a Bollywood A-lister. Any A-list actor will do. Now imagine, one evening, sitting in his home, the actor, aching from a recent breakup and mind dulled by alcohol – and perhaps certain other substances – decides to take a gun and shoot mindlessly in the air. He shatters a few windows of his mansion in a posh Mumbai neighbourhood and also the windscreen of his imported car. The neighbours, alarmed by the loud gunshots, call the police. But before the police can seize the actor, he runs off, only to resurface and surrender the next day. His weapon’s licence is confiscated and his passport impounded. The police register a case against him for rash and negligent use of a firearm that could cause harm to human lives. The filmstar is arrested and then let out on a bail.
What would you imagine the next steps of said celebrity would be?
In order to deal with so enormous a public-relations disaster, the actor may express contrition. He could become an evangelist against alcohol and drug abuse, and for gun control. Or he could go the other route and find a pliant servant to pin the blame on and scrub his reputation clean. But not Sanjay Dutt. One evening in 1982, Sanju Baba went on exactly such a shooting spree after breaking up with Tina Munim, now Ambani. Though this episode has now been all but forgotten it created a media frenzy back then. Film weekly Screen India carried a story titled ‘Look, Sanjay’s Shooting’ with all the gory details. Another film magazine reported how ‘Sanju went berserk when papa was away.’ But instead of expressing regret, Sanjay doubled down. This was his badass quip: ‘How does it affect anyone if I target practice in the premises of my bungalow?’
This is what makes Sanjay a true bad boy: One, not only is he bad, he’s unashamedly bad -- he certainly doesn’t care what you think of him.
Two, he’s uncontrollably bad -- when a reporter asked his father, the noted actor and politician Sunil Dutt, about the incident, he seemed powerless and resigned. ‘He is a hunter … I don’t know what kind of a gun Sanju has. He buys what he wants. How do you expect me to know everything that he has.’ (Indeed, Sanjay’s love for guns is legendary. At one time he owned three licensed firearms: a bolt-action Bruno .270 rifle for hunting animals like the nilgai, deer, sambar and others that weigh less than 100 kilograms, a .375 Holland & Holland Magnum double-barrel rifle for larger animals such as the tiger and elephant, and a shotgun.)
And, three, he’s an original, the template that has spawned a long lineage – from Salman Khan to countless men around the country who wear leather jackets and have Saajan-style haircuts.
Early in his career the legend of Sanjay Dutt was sealed by the crazy and improbable stories about him doing the rounds. Said his make-up man Manoj, who worked with him during his initial few films, ‘Which ordinary man cuts the neck of a monitor lizard (ghorpad) and drinks its blood and then jogs for one hour to sweat out the toxic effect only because Shakti Kapoor challenged him to do so?’ Manoj also talked about an incident when Sanjay ‘slit his entire forearm with a bottle’ because he was ‘high’. When the doctor arrived to sew him up, Sanjay tried to do it himself – without anaesthesia!
But the quality that makes Sanjay a truly rare bird in Bollywood is his unhesitating honesty and forthrightness about his badassery. He’s been very forthcoming, for instance, about his addictions: ‘Whatever drugs there are in the book, I’ve done it. But I preferred cocaine and heroin. You sniff cocaine, you smoke heroin, you can inject it.’ Indeed, his doctors at rehab in the US were surprised that Sanjay was still alive given the extent of his addictions. ‘There was a doctor there who gave me a list of drugs and told me: “Just tick the ones you have done.” Toh maine woh list dekha aur bola [I saw the list and said]: “Yaar, yeh toh sab tick karna padega! [I’m going to have to tick them all],”’ Sanjay later recalled jocularly. Sanjay was similarly open about once having smuggled heroin into the United States.
Sanjay’s recklessness worked overtime when he was in ‘love’. Like the time he rushed into a crowd of onlookers and caught a man making obscene gestures at his then girlfriend and co-star Tina Munim. Sanjay proceeded to tear away all the man’s clothes and pulled him into his van, where he tied him up in the nude for an hour. ‘I was a wild guy,’ Sanjay proudly said. ‘In fact at the slightest provocation I did things like taking out a sword. I hit a lot of people.’
Sanjay made no bones about the fact that he was a possessive, interfering partner. He once said, ‘I have never interfered in my girlfriend’s career, except in the matter of her clothes. I am very possessive about her. She is mine and I don’t like her to expose herself on screen.’ About his new wife Richa Sharma, whom he disallowed from continuing a career in films, he once said, ‘She’s waiting for me with food, so I love that. It’s a great feeling to know that someone is waiting for you at home’.
Many years later when Sanjay was asked if he was ever in two relationships at the same time, he responded provocatively, ‘I was in three relationships at one point of time.’ When asked, how did he manage this feat, he said, ‘You need to be clever... one shouldn’t know what is happening with the other.’
Which other Bollywood star can you imagine saying things like this? Whatever else you may blame Sanjay for, he’s never been politically correct or hidden his true beliefs under layers of diplomacy. Perhaps no one other than Rishi Kapoor, another old timer – though even he has never admitted things remotely as controversial as Sanjay -- is as open and honest as Sanju Baba. Indeed, today at the slightest whiff of ugliness and scandal, the PR machineries of Bollywood star’s kick in with assassin-like efficiency. Images are brushed up, photo-ops are staged, and dramatic re-brandings ensue.
Take for instance the prominence of Salman Khan’s Being Human charity after his image took a beating post his numerous legal troubles, including a hit and run case. Or the images of happy domesticity starring Hrithik Roshan and his family in the immediate aftermath of his ugly public spat with Kangana Ranaut. These can’t be coincidences, can they?
Even as late as 2017, well into Bollywood’s PR age, when asked which actress he would like to marry, Sanjay Dutt said ‘I would like to marry Madhuri Dixit.’ It’s hard to think of another star who would so willingly dredge up a ghost from their past, a ghost that, according to some reports, is being whitewashed out of a film on Sanjay’s life that’s due to release later this year. In an image-obsessed Bollywood Sanjay stands out as a straight-shooter. And in a PR controlled Bollywood there simply will never be another Sanjay Dutt, a bad boy who isn’t afraid of what you think of him, of saying what he means and meaning what he says.